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The build-up to a major tournament is packed with ‘dark horse’ picks. Some prove accurate, like Turkey taking third place at the 2002 World Cup. Others are quickly proven to be incorrect.

The nature of tournament football lends itself to underdogs going on a run and knocking out supposedly superior teams. Sometimes teams are wrongly dubbed as underdogs, perhaps due to bookies misjudging their talent. 

Best odds for the World Cup dark horses

TeamOddWhere to bet
Netherlands14/1William Hill
Uruguay5/1Boyle Sports
Belgium10/3Boyle Sports

To Reach The Quarter-Final: Serbia

5/1 (Bet365)

Serbia haven’t appeared in the last eight of a World Cup since they were part of Yugoslavia. This is their best chance of a lengthy run in a long time thanks to a core of Sergej Milinković-Savić, Dušan Vlahović, Dušan Tadić and Aleksandar Mitrović.

Group G is challenging alongside Brazil, Switzerland and Cameroon. Qualification is a reasonable expectation, though, and then it’s probably Uruguay or Portugal in the round of 16. 

Serbia took 13 points from six Nations League fixtures and were unbeaten in qualification, including a group-sealing win over Portugal on the final matchday.

The Eagles are 15/8 favourites at Paddy Power to finish second in Group H, and out at 50/1 to be the top European team. There is value to be found with Dragan Stojković’s side – 5/1 to reach the quarter-finals looks the best option.

Winner: Netherlands

14/1 (William Hill)

With six teams at shorter odds to lift the trophy than the Netherlands, they fall into the dark horse category in Qatar. Louis van Gaal’s side will cruise through Group A, especially after Sadio Mane’s injury, and will likely meet Wales or the USA in the second round.

They didn’t qualify four years ago and fell at the round of 16 in last summer’s Euros, but the Oranje have form players in attack, led by Manchester United target Cody Gakpo. The defence has elite talent, including Virgil van Dijk, and a lot of experience of high-stakes matches at club level.

Van Gaal led the Dutch to the semi-final eight years ago. They have lost just once in 23 matches, which came against the Czech Republic in Euro 2020.

Top South American Team: Uruguay

5/1 (Boyle Sports)

Picked as a dark horse so frequently in the lead up to this World Cup, it is hard to know if Uruguay can possibly still be underrated. 

La Celeste obviously trail tournament favourites Brazil and Argentina in this market, but it isn’t hard to see a scenario where the Brazilians and Argentinians fall before Uruguay.

Diego Alonso’s team have a real shot at winning Group H, which would likely leave Brazil facing Portugal, while Uruguay take on Serbia, Switzerland or Cameroon. If out-of-form France slip up in their group, Argentina would probably meet the defending champions in the last 16.

Uruguay are not a better side than Argentina or Brazil, but with a core of top-tier players, they have what it takes to go on a run in Qatar. Even if the draw doesn’t fall in their favour, Darwin Nunez and co could cause an upset or two this winter.

To Win All Group Matches: Belgium

10/3 (Boyle Sports)

Belgium have been a popular pick at the last few tournaments. They reached the last four in Russia, but fell at the quarter-final stage in the last two Euros and the 2014 World Cup. Several key players have aged or retired, and the players succeeding them are generally not of quite the same calibre.

Roberto Martinez’s side have their work cut out in the knockout rounds, as they are expected to meet Spain or Germany in the round of 16 meeting. Their group, however, is favourable, with Canada, Croatia and Morocco.

Like Belgium, Croatia are not the same force they were four years ago. The Red Devils have more than enough to beat Canada and Morocco comfortably. 

The 10/3 price is good value for Belgium to take all nine points from the group stage – Martinez’s teams will always play on the front foot and chase victories.  

To Reach Quarter-Final: Denmark

2/1 (Bet365)

Denmark are one of the world’s in-form teams. They reached the semis of the Euros last summer, won nine of their 10 qualifying matches and beat France twice in the Nations League. 

Drawn with Les Bleus in the group stage this winter, Denmark have a very real shot at winning Group D.

Beating France, Australia and Tunisia to top spot would probably put the Danes against Poland or Mexico in the round of 16. That’s a match they would rightly be favoured to win.

Given their results over the last couple of years, 2/1 on De Rød-Hvide to reach the quarters is a worthwhile wager. 

A look at the past underdogs of the World Cup

  • 2018: Croatia (runners-up)
  • 2014: Costa Rica (quarter-finalists)
  • 2010: Uruguay (semi-finalists)
  • 2006: Portugal (semi-finalists)
  • 2002: Turkey (third place)
  • 1998: Croatia (third place)
  • 1994: Sweden (third place)
  • 1990: Cameroon (quarter-finalists)

All odds are subject to change

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