During the 2014 World Cup, Costa Rica surprised the world. No, they didn’t. They shocked the world. Because they were able to make it to the quarterfinals despite being highly doubted by the critics. Costa Rica was in a tough group in 2014. They were drawn in a group alongside Italy, England, and Uruguay. Critics said Costa Rica had no chance and they’d be going home early. But that did not happen because Costa Rica instead topped the group with victories over Italy and Uruguay and a draw against England. They’d get past Greece in the first round via penalty kicks and come up short in the quarterfinals against Netherlands losing via penalty kicks after a scoreless game. Costa Rica, indeed, shocked the world and proved their critics wrong.
So, who’ll be the Cinderella team next summer?
Here are the nations that could be it:
Egypt is participating in their first World Cup tournament since 1990. The Pharaohs’ve been drawn to Group A along with Russia, Uruguay, and Saudi Arabia. Egypt is a talented team. As a talented and well-disciplined team, they’ve got potential. They’ve got a trusting forward in Mohammed Salah who’s capable of scoring goals. As we know, Salah is the one who sent Egypt to the World Cup when he scored on a crucial last-second penalty kick that sealed Egypt’s spot in Russia. However, Egypt cannot rely on Salah to carry the squad on his back. Egypt will have to work as a team and remain focused. While the odds are not in their favor, they can prove the doubters wrong like they did during their qualifying run.
Iceland is participating in their first World Cup tournament. As a matter of fact, Iceland is the lowest-populated country to qualify for a World Cup. In 2016, Iceland participated in their first European championship, advancing to the knockout stage where they upset England in the first round and lost to France in the quarterfinals. Iceland topped their World Cup qualifying group. However, they’re in a tough group. They’ve got Argentina, Nigeria, and Croatia. They’ll be facing Argentina in their first group game. If they can somehow find a way to fight Argentina to a draw or perhaps full off an upset of the century and beat Argentina, then momentum and resilience will spark and they’ll be able to possibly fend off Nigeria and Croatia. Iceland will certainly have their hands full, but if they can shock the world not only once, but twice in a span of three years, then there’s telling what they’ll do next. Iceland is no doubt a team that Argentina, Nigeria, and Croatia do not want to underestimate.
Senegal was truly the Cinderella team in 2002. It started when they pulled up a major upset with a 1-0 win against France who were the defending champions at the time! Senegal would go on to make it as far as the quarterfinals, becoming the second African team to make it to the quarterfinals. Senegal is in for the first time since their 2002 triumphant run. Senegal is drawn with Poland, Colombia, and Japan. If Senegal can beat Japan and Colombia, they’ll advance and perhaps go on another triumphant run. Poland’s the favorite to win the group and if Senegal finds a way to win all three games, they may have a better run than in 2002. Senegal could perhaps become the first African nation to reach the semifinals.
Nigeria has never had much success in their runs. They’ve never made it past the round of 16. Nigeria currently has a very young squad. The average of the squad is 24.9. However, the odds are again not in their favor due to the fact that they’re with Argentina, Iceland, and Croatia. Although the odds are not in their favor, they’re not to be taken lightly. Nigeria comes into this tournament in the hopes of reaching the quarterfinals for the first time in the national team’s history. In 2014, Nigeria really gave the Argentinians a good run for their money. As a younger and perhaps more talented team than in 2014, Nigeria can really be a dominant force in Russia. Like Senegal, Nigeria is not to be taken lightly. Just last month, Nigeria humiliated Argentina 4-2 in a friendly exhibition. If Nigeria somehow pulls off an upset against Argentina during their group match, there’s no telling what Nigeria will pull off next.
Like Iceland, Panama is participating in their first World Cup tournament. They were able to get in thanks to the United States’ loss, which prevented the Americans from qualifying as well as with a 2-1 win against Costa Rica. Panama is in a predicament because of the group they’ve drawn in. They’ve got to face England and Belgium, both of which are nations that are capable of easily thrashing Panama. If Panama was to somehow miraculously win the group, they’d without a doubt be the Cinderella team. Panama may the biggest underdog of this tournament. Martin Rodgers of USA Today Sports has Panama finishing last in their group. Unfortunately, that’s a very realistic prediction.