The Qatar World Cup is on the horizon, and while the footballing powerhouses that are Brazil, England and Argentina are being favoured to win the esteemed trophy in the Middle East, sometimes the story of an underdog going far in the tournament can be just as enthralling as the winners’ themselves.
You only need to cast your mind back four years for the last time a nation proved a thorn in the side of the big guns. Croatia went on a fairy-tale-esque run in Russia, reaching the final in Moscow. But it ended in a nightmare, as they were out strengthened by pre-tournament favourites France at the Luzhniki Stadium.
The 2018 finalists are going in to the tournament on the back of some fine form, winning four successive games to top their Nations League group — which included world champions France. But their fellow League A Group 1 side Denmark, who finished just one point behind Croatia, could put in a serious claim to be this year’s dark horses.
The Danes, who are 50/1 in the World Cup odds, are no strangers to underdog stories at major tournaments after reaching the semi-finals of the European championships last summer, losing to England after extra time at Wembley in the last four, and could use their experience from that impressive run to guide them to the latter stages of the World Cup.
Kasper Hjulmand’s side, who are ranked 10th in the world by FIFA, will have to face off against France in Group D. However, after beating Didier Deschamps’ men in both of their recent Nations League encounters, they might not be too worried about the prospect of going head-to-head with Les Bleus in Qatar.
That matchday two game could be deceptive in who tops the group though, with both Denmark and France expected to beat Tunisia and Australia in their other matches, but for the purposes of this, let’s assume it is the world champions who take the top spot on the basis of being the favourites to do so.
Finishing second in Group D would mean Denmark must face the winners of Group C in the round of 16, and that looks likely to be Argentina. Lionel Scaloni’s men are the in-form side going in to the World Cup, going unbeaten in their last 35 contests and the odds would be stacked against the Danes in that scenario.
La Albiceleste will be under more pressure, however. They have arguably under performed during the Lionel Messi era and with the legendary forward confirming this will be his last World Cup there is perhaps an added weight on the shoulders of his teammates to ensure they perform to the high standards expected — especially after the form they have displayed in recent years.
A victory over Argentina would likely set up a clash with the Netherlands, another nation who have been criticised for underperforming in recent years, in the quarter-finals — the furthest Denmark have ever made it in a World Cup. Ranked eighth in the world, a matchup with the Dutch really could go either way.
There are a lot of if, buts and maybes. The reality is it’s impossible to tell what is going to happen at the World Cup. If the Denmark side that turned up to the Euros rear their heads in Qatar, then they go a long way, there’s no doubt about it!