Here is a look at 5 teams that have the potential to cause major upsets in Russia 2018:
Colombian coach Juan Carlos Osorio will be looking to do better than he and the team have done at the last two tournaments; semi-final loss to Jamaica in the CONCACAF Gold Cup (though it was with an experimental team) and an okay performance at the Confederations Cup where the team went out in the semi-finals.
Prodigal son Carlos Vela is back playing his football in his homeland and has found his way back to the national fold while fingers are crossed that all-time top scorer Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez will forget his horror show at West Ham and deliver the goods.
The Super Eagles as the Nigerian national team is known will be making its sixth appearance at the World Cup since it first qualified in 1994.
The West Africans were the first African team to qualify for the World Cup with a near perfect record of four wins and a draw in five matches comfortably displacing reigning AFCON champions Cameroon & pre-qualification favourites Algeria.
Led by German coach Gernot Rohr, the Eagles have been impressive since the team failed to qualify for both the last World Cup in Brazil and the last edition of the AFCON.
Out have gone some of the old players like Emmanuel Emenike while the country’s FA, the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) has embarked on a scouting tour that has seen the country poach dual nationality players from European club sides.
In have come players like Alex Iwobi (Arsenal player eligible for England), Olaoluwa Aina(England) Leon Balogun (Germany), Tyrone Ebuehi (Netherlands), William Troost-Ekong(Netherlands) and many others.
The infusion of these youngsters alongside established senior pros like Victor Moses (Chelsea), Elderson Echiejile (AS Monaco but on loan at Sivasspor), captain John Mikel-Obi and others have given the team the perfect blend of youth and experience allied with skill and passion.
With Radamel “El Tigre” Falcao back in goal scoring form, captain James Rodriguez playing again and youngsters like Tottenham’s Davison Sanchez coming of age, the Coffee Growers will be a handful for anyone who comes across their path in Russia.
Pékerman will feel he has a team good enough to go far at the World Cup but must do better with his tactics and set up as his record of reaching quarter-finals with his home country, Argentina (2006) & Colombia (2014) show how his tactical acumen failed two very good teams who had the skill set to go all the way to the final matches of these World Cup tournaments.
Led by captain and Real Madrid’s midfield maestro Luka Modri, Vatreni (The Blazers) have a squad with more genuine stars than even established football nations like the Netherlands and will be looking to these stars to lead them to the promised land.
With Argentina, Iceland, and Nigeria their opponents in Group D, expect coach Zlatko Dali and his team to give any ill-prepared “big team” a black eye.
The team is blessed with great options in virtually all positions with even the problematic full-back positions having decent players in Thomas Meunier (right-back for PSG) & Jordan Lukaku (left back who is Romelu Lukaku’s younger brother and plays for SS Lazio).
Eden Hazard isn’t the only world class player on the roster with Kevin De Bruyne, Toby Aldeweireld, goalie Thibault Courtois among the best players in the world in their respective positions. If Martinez & assistant Thierry Henry can get the squad to play as a team rather than a collection of individuals, they could go the distance.