Despite the final 8 in Brazil being all of the group-topping teams, the World Cup has been very unpredictable. The tournament thus far has been blessed with a mountain of goals, a bundle of red cards and no shortage of controversial moments. All of these factors has ensured that teams that were massively under the radar before the tournament have shined, often displaying fearless, attacking brands of football.
One of those teams is Colombia, at the beginning of the tournament they were 28/1 to win the World Cup which was 14th favourites. All the hype was for South American giants Argentina and host nation Brazil to boss the tournament with their destructive attacking flair players, namely Messi and Neymar. Without their star player Radamel Falcao, most pundits swept Colombia under the rug and expected them to struggle in this World Cup. They got it all wrong. Colombia have been arguably the most entertaining team in Brazil, they have exhibited an eye-catching attacking, bold brand of football thanks to their skilful attackers James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado. In the two named players, they have the tournament’s top scorer in Rodriguez and the top assist-maker in Cuadrado, best goal difference with +9 and they even possess the joint-best defensive record at the World Cup conceding just 2 goals so far. Their flair players have well and truly made a name for themselves and have created significant buzz from top European teams who after their performances are actively chasing their signatures. Clinical performances glittered with brilliant goals, Colombia have been surprisingly one of the best teams at the tournament becoming one of the best to watch.
Pre-tournament Costa Rica were 3000/1 to win the World Cup and 100/1 to qualify from a group containing Uruguay, England and Italy. To see their name in the quarter-finals just illustrates the unpredictably of this brilliant tournament, even the most ardent and dedicated Costa Rican fans wouldn’t have forseen their team to progress to this stage and compete more than capably with the aforementioned teams. Amazingly despite being up against some of the best teams world football, their defence has been the best alongside Colombia by only conceding 2 goals. They have the best defensive record, yet they play with a 3-5-2 attacking formation which just shows they deserve all the plaudits they are receiving. The likes of Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz have impressed in the final third spearheading the quick, counter-attacking style they enjoy playing. Whilst keeper Keylor Navas has been another player which has excited the football world with his defiant keeping which has caught the eye of the likes of Athletico, Arsenal and Liverpool who are said to be interested in the Costa Rican. It is difficult seeing Costa Rica progressing to the semi-finals with the impressive Dutch outfit facing them in the Last 8 but as we have seen thus far, no result is a given, we could witness the Costa Ricans pull another surprise on The Oranje.
The USA have already been edged out of a quarter-final burst by Belgium in the Last 16, but I think their performances in Brazil has merited a spot on this list. The Americans before the World Cup were 100/1 outsiders and the most unfancied team to progress from the ‘Group of Death’ with Germany, Ghana and Portugal in their group yet despite this expectation that they’d be pummelled from the very first game – they progressed to the Last 16. In the group stages, they definitely surprised many fans. Firstly with their fearless football coupled with a never-say-die attitude engrained by their adventurous manager Jurgen Klinsmann, they have earned praise from the football world. Players like Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley made a name for themselves showing their grit and superb vision from the heart of the midfield whilst veterans Clint Dempsey, scoring 2 brilliant goals, and Tim Howard who made a record 16 saves in the keeping performance of the tournament vs Belgium, didn’t disappoint either. Against Belgium in extra-time, they put up a tireless effort, playing aggressive football whilst showing off arguably the most intelligent set-piece routine, were edged out as their finishing let them down. Still the Americans will take great pride from their World Cup showing, the USA will only develop further with the young squad they possess and could surprise football fans in future international tournaments.
Another team that isn’t in the tournament as of now but still has thoroughly entertained and surprised the footballing world is Algeria – who have been by far the most impressive African outfit of the tournament. 2000/1 rank outsiders pre-tournament and out of all the African teams such as Ghana, Ivory Coast and Cameroon who have star names such as Yaya Toure, Samuel Etoo and Didier Drogba, they were the most underrated and most tipped to be the tournament’s pushovers yet they progressed further than any other African nation. They have put up a valiant World Cup display, showing signs of brilliant football and staunch defence. Their most notable performance vs South Korea, where they scored 4 goals (becoming the first African team to ever score 4 goals in a World Cup game), some of which any team in the world would be proud to score as within that game Brahimi scored arguably the team goal of the tournament with an exquisite one-touch team goal. Their attackers Djabou and Slimani have 2 goals each and have been the cornerstone for the Algerian success in Brazil. Even in their losses Algeria have captivated footballing fans. Against Belgium they were only undone by a late winner despite fighting toe-to-toe with the quarter-finalists and they did incredibly well vs Germany, before the Last 16 game against the Germans everyone (me included) expected a German riot but what we witnessed was anything but German dominance as in the first half the Algerians could have easily been 3 goals up and it was a great achievement for them to take Germany all the way to extra time in the end – many pundits after the game claiming Algeria deserved the victory.
There are teams that haven’t made the cut that have surprised fans both with their performances and individual brilliance i.e. Switzerland and their defiance against Argentina as well as Shaqiri’s hattrick and Mexico with brilliant performances vs Brazil and Holland whilst possessing one of the best keepers of the tournament in Guilermo Ochoa. Even though there have been some revelations in Brazil, the more fancied teams have come to the party as well with Holland, Brazil and France impressing with the distinct exception of 2010 winners Spain. The best team always is the winner in World Cups, whoever wins it will be deserving of it, as this World Cup has exhibited some of the best football you will ever see and this in my opinion is the best World Cup in living memory.
By Hesham Bilal-Hafiz (@hesham786)