Sixty-four matches. Thirty-two teams. One gold trophy and millions of dreams. The 2018 FIFA world cup is almost upon us, and each tournament produces the odd surprise package or two. From South Korea besting Italy and Spain to reach the semi-finals of their own World Cup in 2002, to Costa Rica eliminating England and the Italians in a “Group of Death” in 2014, the group stage always provides a team with a platform to shock the world.

Therefore, I assess three squads [VIDEO] that have the ability to outplay their group counterparts and succeed, to some extent, in the tournament.

Peru

Betting markets suggest that the Peruvians will finish 3rd in Group C, behind the formidable French and the seemingly dangerous Danish teams.

Beating the former could be a big ask for La Blanquirroja, however overcoming Denmark is not a far-fetched idea. The match-up takes place at the start of their World Cup campaign in Saransk. While the squad is hardly filled with household names and world beaters, it faired rather well in the qualifying campaign. Peru claimed the final play-off spot in CONMEBOL qualification, condemning Chile, the Copa America holders, to an early exit.

They may have started qualification poorly, but a victory over Uruguay and two draws against Argentina suggested that they were worthy of a place in the finals, after their win against New Zealand in the inter-confederation play-offs. Jefferson Farfán will likely be the target man for the squad, notching up 24 goals in 81 at international level. However, midfielder Edison Flores scored as many in qualifying as Luis Suárez, helping his nation to an unbeaten streak that stretches back to 2016.

While Denmark are favourites to overcome Peru, the Danes did not experience the easiest of qualifying journeys, losing to Montenegro and Poland in 2016. Their form seems to have changed, yet any inconsistency could be pounced upon by the South Americans come 16th June.

Nigeria

It is safe to say that their kit has gathered much admiration on social media, yet Nigeria’s style of play could be as classy in the group stages. Being drawn against Argentina and Croatia is hardly ideal for the Super Eagles, with Iceland also proving difficult for a few notable teams at Euro 2016. In reality, anyone could battle through Group D to the second round, and 4 points may be enough to secure such a feat. Nigeria come into the finals in good form, losing only once as Algeria received a win due to an ineligible player violation.

They also boast pace, strength and goal scorers, with Iheanacho, Iwobi and Ighalo continuing to add to their national tallies in recent matches. Such acceleration in the final third could ask questions of an ageing Argentinian defence.

The back four of the African side may also be deemed weak, but the likes of Victor Moses, John Obi Mikel and Wilfred Ndidi could assist in the method of conceding but outscoring each opponent. Regardless, Nigeria have the ingredients to prove exciting this summer, no matter what the result.

Mexico

Arguably one of the most consistent sides in their CONCACAF qualification pathway, Mexico accumulated 2.31 points per game, higher than Brazil, France and Argentina. This is also greater than the average points earned by their group rivals – Sweden and South Korea – who received 1.9 and 2.16 points per match respectively. In qualification, the Mexicans lost only once, in a dead rubber against Honduras.

It may well be a final World Cup competition for the side’s ageing stars, such as 39 year-old defender Rafael Márquez, or captain Guardado, but El Tricolor certainly have firepower in abundance. No matter how he has fared for West Ham this year, Javier Hernández always seems to hit form for his country, as proved in past tournaments. His partnership with Hirving Lozano, who currently plies his trade with PSV, could cause headaches for defenders in Group F.

Germany, with their ever-present strength in depth, will likely be too strong for Juan Carlos Osorio’s team. Nevertheless, the Swedes and South Koreans could have reason to worry about Mexico, particularly since each has a tendency to concede questionable goals.

The three teams could rightly qualify for the second round, and each will be hoping to produce the remarkable against the Germans in order to secure this. Mexico are no stranger to this feat, going unbeaten in the 2014 World Cup group stage, holding hosts Brazil and dismantling Croatia and Senegal along the way. The key figures in that squad remain for the tournament in Russia, and could achieve great things in the upcoming match-ups.