The search for dark horses at the World Cup tends to prove a futile pursuit, at least in picking an outright winner. Only eight teams have won the tournament, with two nations last winning in 1950 (Uruguay) and 1966 (England), respectively. Furthermore, only five other teams have reached a final, with three achieving the feat in 1962 or earlier.
Bookmakers have acted accordingly, with 22 of the 32 entrants available at odds of 51.00+ to win the tournament. Therefore, it is unlikely that outsiders will prove to be the ultimate 2022 World Cup dark horses.
However, this doesn’t mean there isn’t money to be made from World Cup surprise teams. This article outlines a few potentially lucrative markets where you can make bets at medium to long odds with some chance of success.
Catching Favorites Cold
One of the most likely pathways involves looking at the group stages for instances where hot favorites start poorly. Sometimes, a strongly fancied team has a bad opening game or unexpectedly struggles in at least one of the three matches. Here are a few examples of major World Cup group upsets:
- Argentina 0 – 1 Cameroon (1990)
- Italy 0 – 1 Republic of Ireland (1994)
- France 0 – 1 Senegal (2002)
- Spain 0 – 2 Chile (2014)
- Germany 0 – 1 Mexico (2018)
There are many other examples, as each World Cup tends to see at least one underdog springing an early surprise. International football is often cagey; if a favorite concedes the first goal when playing in a major tournament, they’re in trouble.
What Are the Most Likely Group Games for Upsets?
There are several possible candidates, but we’ll focus on three, explaining why an upset is possible.
Germany vs. Japan
Only 13 places separate the teams in the FIFA rankings going into the World Cup, yet Germany is a prohibitive favorite to defeat Japan.
Granted, the Japanese team doesn’t face high-quality European sides that often, but it is far from the rank outsider the oddsmakers suggest. Japan made the last 16 in the 2018 tournament, blowing a 2-0 lead against Belgium to lose 3-2 in the 94th minute.
Meanwhile, Germany has underwhelmed for several years now. A tame 2-0 loss in the last 16 at Euro 2020 preceded a humiliating group-stage exit at the 2018 World Cup. The Germans benefited from a very easy qualification group that included Iceland and Romania as the best opponents. It also featured an embarrassing 2-1 defeat at home to North Macedonia.
A stunning 5-2 win against Italy aside, Germany didn’t fare well in the UEFA Nations League recently, with a home loss to Hungary the low point. If Germany doesn’t improve quickly, it could endure a similar World Cup to four years ago.
England vs. the USA
The United States famously beat England in one of the biggest World Cup shocks ever in 1950. Since then, the American team has played the English ten times, losing eight and winning just one. So, why should one be interested in backing an upset win for team USA?
England has failed to beat the USA in their only two World Cup meetings; the other was a draw in 2010.
More pertinently, the promise shown by England has faded spectacularly with a dismal UEFA Nations League showing, including a remarkable 4-0 home loss to Hungary. The English team is winless in six, with the manager, Gareth Southgate, coming under fire for his ultra-conservative approach.
This meeting is the group’s second game; both sides could be under huge pressure if the first match doesn’t go their way. The USA’s form isn’t stellar either, but in the unfamiliar surroundings of Qatar, there’s every chance of an upset.
Croatia vs. Canada
A brave pick, perhaps, given the perceived gap in quality between the two sides. Canada exceeded expectations en route to qualifying for the tournament and defeated the United States 2-0 in the process.
Croatia remains in good form with wins over France and Denmark in the UEFA Nations League. However, in Euro 2020, the Croat team showed signs of its age during an epic 5-3 extra-time loss to Spain. It relies on the brilliance of the 37-year-old Luka Modric, with the 33-year-old Ivan Perisic as another vital cog.
Yes, Croatia should win but could be susceptible to an upset from a ‘nothing to lose’ underdog Canadian team that boasts the exciting Alphonso Davies in defense.
Will There Be Shock Exits?
The World Cup has a history of fancied teams getting dumped out early. Here are a few examples of nations with designs on winning the tournament being eliminated in the group stage:
- Spain (1998)
- France and Argentina (2002)
- France and Italy (2010)
- Spain, England, and Italy (2014)
- Germany (2018)
Interestingly, the 2010, 2014, and 2018 World Cup winners were knocked out in the group stages while defending their crowns! This is a bad omen for current champions France.
Which Nations May Need to Book Unexpectedly Early Flights Home?
Here are three fancied teams that may not make it past the group stage at the 2022 World Cup.
The assumption is that England will cruise through a group featuring Iran, the United States, and Wales. After all, the English reached the final at Euro 2020 and the semi-final at the 2018 World Cup.
However, the team’s recent form is highly concerning, and it faces an Iran side that drew with Portugal in 2018. If England fails to win that one, a crunch match awaits against the USA. Certainly, Wales will be only too happy to send their rivals home in the final group match if possible!
The French are strongly tipped to get out of a group containing Denmark, Australia, and Tunisia, but could they fall victim to the recent defending champions curse? Indeed, France tumbled out of the World Cup group stages as the holders in 2002, and in 2010, Les Bleus were sent home early after reaching the final in 2006.
It seems unlikely that this talented group will suffer the same fate, but its UEFA Nations League form isn’t encouraging, with losses to Croatia and Denmark. Anything less than a win against Australia on the opening day could result in a nervy match against Denmark.
This seems a bit of a stretch since Portugal’s group contains Uruguay, South Korea, and Ghana. However, the winners of Euro 2016 haven’t made it past the round of 16 in the last three World Cup appearances, which included a group stage exit in 2014.
The loss of Diogo Jota will hamper the Portuguese, particularly with Cristiano Ronaldo no longer looking like the force of old. If the Portuguese fail to defeat Ghana in the first game, the subsequent fixture against Uruguay suddenly looks like a do-or-die affair.
Regarding the above, if you think a big team will get knocked out early, bet on the ‘Group Qualification’ markets offered by bookmakers.
It’s a Knockout! – Which 2022 World Cup Dark Horses Can Make the Round of 16 & Beyond?
Although there is a shortage of dark horse World Cup winners, quite a few teams have produced stunning tournament performances.
- Bulgaria (1994)
- South Korea and Turkey (2002)
- Croatia (1998 & 2018)
All of the above reached the semi-final stage, with Croatia losing the 2018 final to France. Countless other teams have made surprise appearances in the last 16 and quarter-finals. So, who will be the surprise of the World Cup? Here are three possible contenders.
There’s a strong chance that Senegal will qualify from Group A, which contains the Netherlands, Ecuador, and Qatar. From there, they would face off against a team from Group B, with England, Wales, and the USA the likely candidates. The Senegalese would not fear any of those sides.
A possible quarter-final against France or Argentina could prove the end of the line. However, if either giant underperforms, the path could be clear for Senegal to reach the semi-finals.
Much depends on whether Uruguay can top Group H because Brazil would likely await in the round of 16 for the runner-up. As a group winner, a match against Serbia, Switzerland, or Cameroon could prove more winnable.
Group G seems to revolve around Brazil, a team expected to cruise through as the winners (although this is no certainty). Assuming there isn’t a major upset, it is between Switzerland and Serbia for the runner-up spot. Neither team will fear a possible showdown with Portugal or Uruguay and could make their way to the quarter-finals.
Try to find a bookmaker that offers 1/4 each-way odds on the top four teams when selecting an outright winner. Suppose you back Switzerland to win the World Cup each way at 81.00 (80/1); you get paid out at 21.00 (20/1) if the Swiss make the semi-finals.
Can You Win Big on the Golden Boot?
One final option for a big win involves betting on the top goalscorer at the tournament. There have been many dark horse World Cup Golden Boot winners, including:
- Oleg Salenko – Russia & Hristo Stoichkov – Bulgaria (1994)
- Davor Sukur – Croatia (1998)
- James Rodriguez – Colombia (2014)
The thing about the World Cup Golden Boot is that six goals are usually enough to win it. Ronaldo’s eight-goal haul in 2002 for Brazil is an exception. Therefore, most winners score plenty during the group stages, with the knockout rounds usually featuring lower-scoring matches.
Indeed, Salenko shared the Golden Boot in 2002 on the strength of scoring five goals in one group stage game! Russia didn’t make the round of 16 that year. Salenko remains the only Golden Boot winner to play for a team eliminated in the group stage.
World Cup Golden Boot Dark Horses
When looking for a longer odds option, focus on players with outstanding international goalscoring records who play for a team with a chance to make the knockout stages. Ideally, they will also have at least one weak team in their group.
To this end, Romelu Lukaku is worth a look. The Belgian striker has notched 57 goals in his last 60 games for Belgium since 2016. With a group featuring Canada, Morocco, and Croatia as rivals, he may find the net a few times before helping his country to the round of 16.
Robert Lewandowski continues to score for club and country, and the Polish striker may command support at long odds. However, the big issue he faces is that Poland faces Mexico and Argentina in the group and isn’t certain to make the next round. On the plus side, there’s a chance he scores a few against Saudi Arabia.
One final option at very long odds (101.00+ in some places) is Sadio Mane. The Senegalese striker has been a top performer in the English Premier League for many years and now scores goals in the German Bundesliga. Although his overall international record isn’t spectacular, Mane has scored 15 in his last 24 appearances for his country since 2020.
He will surely have opportunities to score against Qatar and Ecuador and could perhaps lead Senegal a long way in the tournament.
Is There a Possible Long Odds World Cup Winner This Year?
Will the 2022 World Cup be a tournament for dark horses? History tells us that we won’t see an outsider lift the famous trophy in Qatar. However, it is undoubtedly a World Cup like no other, so perhaps Senegal will become the first African winner at odds of 81.00. Alternatively, it might be the tournament where Belgium finally breakthrough at odds of 15.00, or maybe the Netherlands will succeed where Total Football failed at 13.00?
Even if you don’t fancy a big outright winner upset, there are many opportunities to profit. Investigate the World Cup Golden Boot market, and look into the possibility of backing a team to win the tournament each way with a view to being paid out should it make the semi-finals. You can also bet on favored nations being humiliated and sent home, and there are plenty of individual matches with the potential for an upset.