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The concept of a Dark Horse in football

Several examples in recent football history illustrate the ‘dark horse’ phenomenon. These teams not only surprised with their performances, but also etched memorable moments in the history of the sport.

In football, a dark horse refers to a team that is not widely expected to succeed or make a significant impact in a tournament, but which exceeds expectations and performs remarkably well.

These teams often fly under the radar due to their perceived lower skill level or lack of star players compared to the traditionally dominant teams.

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Belgium, often regarded as a football powerhouse with a squad full of world-class players, faced an unexpected challenge from Slovakia. Slovakia managed to secure a victory over Belgium in the group stage of the 2024 European Championship. This result was surprising considering the Belgian ranking and the caliber of players in their squad, such as Leandro Trossard and Kevin De Bruyne.

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Another notable example: Romania recorded a stunning 3-0 victory over Ukraine. This match illustrated how a well-organized team with a clear game plan can exceed expectations. Romania’s decisive victory was unexpected and demonstrated their potential to compete at a high level despite not being favourites.

Croatia on their way to the 2018 World Cup final

Perhaps one of the most remarkable dark horse stories in recent football history is Croatia’s journey to the 2018 World Cup final.

Croatia, a team with talented players but not considered among the favorites ahead of the tournament, showed incredible skills, teamwork and determination.


Their road to the final included an important 3-0 win over Lionel Messi’s Argentina in the group stage, which was a testament to their intent and quality.

Croatia’s run continued as they defeated Denmark, Russia and England in the knockout stages, showing resilience in penalty shootouts and extra-time victories.

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Led by their inspirational captain Luka Modric, who later won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player, Croatia’s unexpected journey to the final attracted worldwide attention and admiration.

Although they ultimately lost to France in the final, their performance remains a testament to the impact a dark horse can have in football.

The term ‘dark horse’ in football captures the excitement and unpredictability that make the sport so fascinating.

These often underrated teams rise to the occasion and defy expectations, creating unforgettable moments and inspiring future underdogs.

Slovakia’s victory over Belgium, Romania’s emphatic victory against Ukraine and Croatia’s remarkable World Cup run are prime examples of how dark horses can leave an indelible mark on football history.

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