World Cup dark horses – back Chile & Serbia

by Matt Quinn

Monday, June 7th, 2010

I have just seen the Italian World Cup squad and I am amazed. In this blessed time of huge continental football exposure and coverage, I am unable to recognise more than a handful of names. Those I do recognise, such as Gattuso, Zambrotta and Cannavaro, could easily be classed as past their prime. Whether this is an indictment on my lack of Italian football knowledge or the standard of the Azzurri’s squad remains to be seen. If it is the latter, then I feel Italy will be in good company in South Africa.

To my mind, many of the larger nations, in footballing terms, are poor imitations of their former greats. Brazil, despite being the favourites, are far from a vintage team. Brazil’s approach will be pragmatic and based on a solid defence rather than outrageous attacking flair. Their near neighbours, Argentina, have arguably the strongest squad in South Africa but are likely to be crippled by Maradona’s ineptitude as a coach. Of the European contingent, Germany look poor again with a number of key players missing while France, unbelievably, still have the comical Domenech in charge as well as an ageing and divided squad. Portugal limped through qualification and last week only managed to draw with the Cape Verde Islands. Only Holland and Spain could argue to be worthy of comparison with squads from yesteryear.

So for these reasons, I feel this could truly be the year of the underdog and the dark horse. Indeed, this could have been the year for an African nation to really have a tilt at the trophy. Unfortunately, the draw has not been kind to any of their representatives so I have plumped for other nations to make more of an unexpected mark.

First up is Chile. I am very excited about Chile. The little I’ve seen of them suggest a team hell-bent on attacking, playing with wingers and more wingers with a sprinkling of playmakers. In Humberto Suazo, Chile possess the top scorer in the South American qualifiers; but it is behind him where their real strengths lie. Alexis Sanchez is the nearest thing to Cristiano Ronaldo aside from the pouting Portuguese himself. Full of tricks, pace and end-product, Sanchez is sure to be a star this summer. He will also be aided by Matias Fernandez, a gifted playmaker, and Jorge Valdivia. Valdivia in particular will be worth watching for his particular box of tricks and eye for the sublime. Indeed, it is worth being thankful that the Chile coach, Marcelo Bielsa, will certainly give license to these players to entertain and attack unrelentingly in South Africa. I really fancy Chile to shock this summer, and even if they don’t, they will certainly be worth watching. Spain vs Chile should be the game of the first round.

Next, I also like the look of Serbia. Uncompromising and impressive in qualifying, Serbia will be difficult to beat for any nation. I fancy them to topple Germany and top Group D. If this happens, it is obvious that this will be due to the defensive attributes of their back-line, which impressively includes Nemanja Vidic and Branislav Ivanovic. Ahead of them, Dejan Stankovic and Milan Jovanovic suggest that the Serbs have quality and strength all over the field. As an Englishman, I am crossing my fingers that England play Germany in the second round and not Raddy Antic’s men.

My final tip is another South American nation. While I think Paraguay have an excellent chance of causing an upset against Italy in Group F, I will plump for Uruguay as the team to emerge at the top of the tricky Group A and make more of an impact this summer. Once again, it is an impressive attacking triumvirate that sets the neutral’s pulse racing. Diego Forlan is well known to Premier league followers and his qualities do not need to be extolled here. His partner up front, Luis Suarez, however, may be more of an unknown package. Coming off the back of an excellent season for Ajax, he has been linked with £30m moves to Man United and Chelsea recently and it is not surprising. Suarez has a bit of everything about him, with quick feet and a creative eye; he is a decent each-way bet for the Tournament top scorer. Finally, behind these two, if he plays, the young Nicolas Lodeiro could cement his burgeoning reputation. Also on Ajax’s books, if Lodeiro is given the chance to bed into the World Cup, he could be the creative force behind any possible Uruguayan challenge.

Overall, I think this could be another South Korea/Japan 2002 scenario. Shocks galore. So, get your money on some of the dark horses this summer and enjoy watching the creative instincts of some of the lesser nations. Come on you Chile!!!

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  • Mike

    Chile? Two very handy forwards in Santa Cruz and Oscar Cardozo but I haven’t seen much else in their team. My moneys on another South American nation- and it’s not Chile or Brazil

  • Stevie

    the Argies? not with fatty at the helm, no chance!

  • dexylongshot

    Cream rises Matty boy and I pretty much agree with all your points I don’t want to give too much away before tomorrow night though when I go to an auction (pub) to pick my WC squads for fantasy footy). I definately thing group D is wide open, my preview is up in a bit and Chile do look hot.

  • Matt Quinn

    Mike- Thats Paraguay with those strikers.

    Chile have Mark Gonzalez, Alexis Sanchez (superstar), Humberto Suazo, Jorge Valdivia and Matias Fernandez up front. Soon to be household names!!!

    Plus they have the brilliantly named Waldo Ponce. Worth supporting just for him.

  • William

    Really enjoyed reading this. I’ve been touting Chile as my dark horse to anyone who’ll listen. They were second to Brazil in qualifying, after all. Bielsa is one of those coaches who always plays a particular system (in his case an unconventional 3-3-1-3) and they like to press and play at a high tempo. Not so keen on Uruguay though. Forlan is one of the world’s most underrated strikers but they were pretty dreadful against Argentina when they had the chance to knock Maradona’s team out last October.

  • Mike

    My bad Matt… I might consider putting a few bob on Waldo Ponce to be group top scorer now!

  • James Webb

    I have already put a couple of quid on Suazo (66-1) and Jovanovic (150-1) plus Forlan (50-1) to be the tournaments top scorers. Serbia (66-1) was worth a fiver as well.

    Other good bets are
    Fabiano & Brazil (25-1)
    Aguero & Argentina (66-1)
    USA (80-1)

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