Dark horses of the FIFA 2018 World Cup

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With the latest edition of the FIFA World Cup just around the corner, the focus will once more shift to who will be the nation that earns global supremacy by going on to lift the trophy in Moscow on July 15.

The tournament will see a flurry of betting activity both before and during the competition, and fans have already put their money where their mouths are by placing a wager on stakers.com to see who will come out on top in the early group-stage fixtures.

Germany will go into the tournament as favourites as they look to become the first nation to defend the World Cup since Brazil did so in 1962 – since then, no one has been able to win back-to-back editions of the competition, though Brazil did win two out of three finals between 1998 and 2006.

Brazil will be hotly tipped to push the Germans all the way in the pursuit of glory as the likes of Neymar and Philippe Coutinho look to end a 12-year trophy drought. At the same time though, if that is considered a drought, then England will be absolutely parched.

England fans will be fully aware of the fact that it is now 52 years since Bobby Moore lifted the trophy at Wembley, and although there have been far too many disappointments since then, this summer does at least give cause for optimism.

In fact, it could well be England that are the dark horses for the tournament. Gareth Southgate has named a squad that is brimming with youthful exuberance rather than experience, a point that is made evident by the fact that there are only 449 caps between the 23 players that were named by the former Middlesbrough manager.

The fact that it is such a young squad may well work in England’s favour. In tournaments gone by, the weight of expectation has been one of the overriding factors in their failure to progress to the business end of the competition.

However, with expectations slightly less than before, it may well give Southgate and his players the chance to fly under the radar without the pressure and demands that the sometimes unrealistic hope of victory brings them.

If it is not to be England shocking the world this summer, then could it finally be time for Belgium? Roberto Martínez is the current Belgium manager and he arguably will never have a better crop of players to work with as the nation looks for their first-ever major tournament success.

The likes of Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Jan Vertonghen will be ready and waiting to perform on the world’s biggest stage, and to be fair to the Belgians, you could list a lot more world-class players who may well be able to set the tournament alight.

What might let them down though is that they never seem to perform when it really matters. You only need to cast your mind back to 2016 when Wales pulled off a shock quarter-final win in the European Championships. However, if Martínez can put all the pieces of the Belgian puzzle together, they could well go all the way in Russia.

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