The FIFA World Cup fever is at a tipping point with the opening ceremonies only hours away and everyone is now gearing for who to support in the competition.
Teams like Spain, Argentina, Germany, France and Brazil are common-ground for neutrals to support, but there are certainly a few teams that are worth looking at.
Whether they are able to produce one night of magic to topple the big names or simply have an inspired performance throughout the competition, surprises are abound and very welcome in the biggest event in international football.
And for those looking for alternative teams to cheer for in the World Cup, below are three dark horses that have realistic chances of winning it all.
CROATIA (FIFA Ranking: 20)
Boasting a lot of talent on paper, Croatia may have what it takes to lift the World Cup at the end of the competition.
However, they have stumbling blocks ahead, starting with a tough draw in the group stages where they are up against Iceland, Nigeria and Argentina.
Still, the Croatians have a realistic chance in the competition given the balanced team that they possess with a threat in the midfield as their biggest asset.
Expect them to run the offence through Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic as they command the ball very well and can turn a dead ball into instant offence with their vision and passing ability.
Up front is a capable striker Mario Mandzukic who can produce great goals from almost nothing – similar to what he’s done for Juventus.
If they can play together throughout 90 minutes, it will be a tough task to keep Croatia silent in front of goal.
COLOMBIA (FIFA Ranking: 16)
A relatively unknown commodity back in the 2014 World Cup, Colombia made a splash after crushing their opponents in the group stages to finish first in their table.
From there the fairy tale ride continued as they upset Uruguay in the round-of-16 and moved on to the quarters to face Brazil where they held their own before exiting the competition with a loss.
This year, they still have relatively the same core that impressed in 2014 and they are bringing in the experience they had to try and continue their run in the competition.
The return of Radamel Falcao should be another inspiration for the team as he was sorely missed in 2014. Now that Falcao is in the fold, he is very likely to play a big role and it will definitely lift the load for the team’s other stars.
Speaking of, the breakout star then was James Rodriguez. For this year, he is now the undoubted leader of the team and everyone will look for him to inspire the squad.
At 26 years old, James has had a lot of big-match experience with Bayern Munich and he will definitely lead the line in Russia as they hope to lift the title at the end of the competition.
URUGUAY (FIFA Ranking: 14)
For a nation that has won the World Cup twice in its history, it is quite surprising that Uruguay are coming in as underdogs in the competition.
Looking at their line-up, they certainly have the capacity to make a splash in the competition as their strikers up-front are certainly stars in their own rights. Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani are surely going to give opposing defences nightmares as they attack in the final third of the pitch.
Looking at their group stages as well, they are certainly the favourites going up against Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Russia so they must win convincingly in order to get as much momentum as possible heading into the knockout stages.
Four years ago they were surprised by Colombia in the last-16 but expect Uruguay to make the necessary adjustments this year for that not to happen again.
Their captain Diego Godin should also play an integral role in the squad as he will lead the team out in hopes to win the trophy in mid-July. They certainly have the personnel to complete the job, and playing as a collective unit should be their goal if they want to achieve their goal.
PORTUGAL (FIFA Ranking: 4)
Oftentimes considered a weak team due to the lack of big names in the line-up, Portugal are on the list as they still have one of the best players in the history of football, Cristiano Ronaldo.
The 33-year-old is older and may not have the pace he once set night after night, but his experience on the pitch will pay dividends for Portugal as they try to shock the world one game at a time.
One thing working to the team’s advantage is that they may not be star-studded, but the team have capable players and play to Ronaldo’s strengths. This was shown in their European Championship run where they ended up as champions.
With that momentum, Portugal’s confidence should be riding high and that could spark a flame that they could use to topple opponents in the World Cup.
The fact that Portugal are even considered as dark horses in the competition gives rise to the greatness that Ronaldo emanates on the pitch and how that plays a huge role on the team’s performances collectively.