The 2022 FIFA World Cup is inching closer and the general sense is that South America's leading duo are galloping ahead of a pack of strong European contenders who all have question marks hovering over them.

Brazil and Argentina will be motivated to end 20 years without a non-European winner, while reigning champions France, Euro 2020 finalists England and Luis Enrique's Spain will also be keen to have a say by the time 18 December rolls around.

Netherlands under Louis van Gaal have been impressive, Belgium's fading golden generation will hope to make a mark and Germany can never be counted out in spite of putting in their least Teutonic World Cup performance in living memory during the 2018 edition.

Even in the midst of continued instability for Cristiano Ronaldo at club level, Portugal have a strong supporting cast, while Luka Modric remains evergreen four years on from leading Croatia to the final.

But outside of those teams, who are the dark horses that perhaps won't be in contention to win it all but have potential to make a deep run to the latter stages?

Let's take a look at the quartet of Denmark, Senegal, Serbia and Uruguay who have the potential to reach at least the quarter-finals in Qatar.

DENMARK

In many ways, the Danes were the team of Euro 2020 such was the way in which they galvanised themselves in the wake of Christian Eriksen's cardiac arrest during the match against Finland.

Without their totemic talisman, Kasper Hjulmand's team rallied on the way to a semi-final finish in which they were unfortunate to be knocked out by England.

The team spirit remains and, coupled with the joyous return of Eriksen to the squad, has seen Denmark maintain an impressive momentum over the past 18 months.

Since losing 4-2 to the Netherlands in a March friendly, they have won five of their next seven games in 2022, including home and away victories over reigning world champions and Qatar 2022 group rivals France in the UEFA Nations League. The only defeats have come against Croatia and during the qualifiers they won nine from 10 to breeze through.

Eriksen made an emotional return to international football earlier this year against Netherlands

It's a united and settled squad which is also tactically flexible, capable of flitting between a back-three and four, bolstering a balanced midfield which sees Thomas Delaney and Tottenham's Pierre-Emil Hjojberg providing support for playmaker Eriksen.

While beating France in the Nations League doesn't necessarily mean they will do so again in a World Cup, it's not inconceivable that the Danes could get a result against them whilst seeing off Australia and Tunisia to top Group D and potentially avoid Argentina in the last-16.

And buoyed by their Euros performance, who knows how far they could go.

SENEGAL

The reigning Africa Cup of Nations champions' place on this list was a little less tenuous just a couple of weeks ago.

At that time, Sadio Mane was fully fit and set to lead his country to their third World Cup having played a key role in getting them there.

Exactly as he did in the Nations Cup final in February, it was his penalty in a shootout against his old Liverpool team-mate Mo Salah's Egypt in a tense play-off tie back in spring which ensured the Teranga Lions qualified for the finals.

However, an untimely injury while on Bayern Munich duty has left a question mark over how much of a role he will be able to play when the World Cup kicks off.

Sadio Mane enjoyed a memorable Africa Cup of Nations

Mane is included in Aliou Cisse's squad and should he be able to feature anywhere close to full capacity, he could make the difference in helping Senegal to get out of a tricky yet very open group against the Netherlands, Ecuador and hosts Qatar.

He would spearhead a strong and experienced spine with Chelsea goalkeeper and centre-back, Edouard Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly along with Idrissa Gana Gueye in midfield.

It's not a free-scoring side as was evident during the Nations Cup group stages but it is a well-organised unit which has recent experience of what it takes to navigate through a major tournament. Successfully in their case.

At the last World Cup, they only missed out on the last-16 by dint of having more yellow cards than Japan. Mane's full availability could be crucial in helping them to get the better of the tight margins this time.

And if they were to get through, potentially England lie in wait in the last-16, and if it's not Gareth Southgate's side, then Senegal will fancy their chances against any one of Wales, USA or Iran.

SERBIA

Their head-to-head record against an Ireland team which fell well short of World Cup qualification, reads 4-3 over two games last year.

A late Irish fight-back last September earned a 1-1 draw, six months after the Serbian's 3-2 victory in Belgrade set Stephen Kenny's side back in the qualification group before the Boys in Green's more consequential blow of losing to Luxembourg days later.

But it was the way in which Dragan Stojkovic's side finished the campaign against favourites Portugal which really got onlookers sitting up and taking notice.

This time last year, Serbia travelled to Lisbon knowing that a defeat to a star-studded outfit would consign them to the play-offs.

Instead, led by goals from their all-time record marksman Aleksandar Mitrovic and captain Dusan Tadic, the Balkan nation won 2-1 to qualify directly for the World Cup and leave Portugal to sweat through a pitfall strewn play-off route.

Their reward for getting to a fourth World Cup in five attempts is to be grouped once again with 2018 opponents Brazil - the consensus tournament favourites - and Euro 2020 quarter-finalists Switzerland. Cameroon round out the group.

In Russia four years ago, Serbia lost to the Brazilians and Swiss but they appear better equipped this time, especially in attack.

Mitrovic headed in the early opener in the tempestuous 2-1 defeat to Switzerland in Kaliningrad but in the long span since then, he has stepped up his game further for club and country.

His impressive brace against Ireland just over 18 months ago is among the 50 he has netted in just 76 games at international level, but for Fulham this season the target man has already weighed in with nine Premier League goals in 12 games, having scored freely during the Cottagers' promotion campaign.

The 28-year-old has been hampered by a recent ankle injury in the short build-up to the World Cup but that's where Serbia are blessed with strength in depth up front to provide support for him.

In-form Mitrovic will hope to shake off an ankle injury

Dusan Vlahovic had not yet emerged as a senior international back in 2018 but the Juventus striker has become a prolific goalscorer in Serie A for the Bianconeri and before that Fiorentina.

He has also set about replicating that for his country since making his debut in October 2020, with a healthy goal rate of one for every two appearances, including the other goal in their 3-2 win over Ireland.

And Luka Jovic, who has replaced Vlahovic at Fiorentina, adds another option should either of the front two misfire over the next month.

The supply lines for Serbia are strong. Former Southampton playmaker Tadic, who could also play inside left in a 3-4-3, goes into the tournament off the back of an excellent span for Ajax, while midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic remains one of Serie A's finest performers for Lazio.

Filip Kostic has also begun to prove his worth for Juve in recent weeks on the left flank after playing his part for Eintracht Frankfurt last year when the Germans won the Europa League.

Serbia's defensive record may not be watertight but Fiorentina defender Nikola Milenkovic is highly-rated and the country goes into the World Cup with some momentum from a Nations League campaign in which they earned promotion to League A ahead of Norway after winning four of their other five group fixtures.

While Brazil will be favourites to top Group G in Qatar, Serbia will be dangerous opponents for anyone who crosses their path in the knockout stages.

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URUGUAY

According to South American football expert Tim Vickery, the two-time World Cup winners are "one of the most fascinating sides" going into the tournament.

On one hand, they could be looked at as an ageing team with captain Diego Godin and veteran forwards Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani in the very twilight of their illustrious careers.

But they have one of the most in-form midfielders in world football right now in the shape of Real Madrid's Federico Valverde.

Vickery told this week's RTÉ Soccer Podcast that if Uruguay get the balance right, "then look out!"

That would entail a trio in midfield that would complement Valverde, with Tottenham's Rodrigo Bentancur and Matias Vecino the prime candidates.

While their tactics for the tournament remain unclear at present, a back three could also allow more flexibility further forward such as Darwin Nunez to provide the legs in support of one of Suarez or Cavani or as an impact sub.

They also happen to be in one of the most balanced groups at the World Cup with Portugal, South Korea and Ghana and should they click, there is potential to top the group and potentially avoid Brazil in the last-16.

"No one is going to relish facing them. No one is going to relish facing that midfield and remember statistically at two of the last three World Cups, Uruguay were South America's best side," said Vickery.

"If they get the balance right, they are capable of making real progress. Their pre-tournament ambition is to win this thing. They're not going there to take part, they're going there to win it.

"But if they get the balance wrong, they're going out in the first round."

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