Dark Horses. They never really win it, do they? In football tournaments, teams referred to as dark horses always come up short. Tournaments are either won by the top 3-5 favorites or the underdogs but hardly ever the dark horses. In the Euros, for example, the Danish team of 1992 and the Greek team of 2004 won both tournaments against all odds while tournament dark horses, France and Czech Republic respectively were left empty handed. Over recent years in the EPL, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspurs have been referred to as both title favorites and dark horses at different times but all they’ve done is flirt with the title and never win it while the ‘real title contenders’ and more recently, the underdogs – Leicester City – have won it. The tag “dark horse(s)”, more often than not, is a compliment and a recognition of a team’s abilities despite, in most cases, the absence of a winning history of that particular group of players. Putting it in other words, “You’re a very, very good team but you’ll require the total collapse of all the favorites for you to be Champions”. Long odds, that.
In the SociaLiga, 3 teams have been dubbed the favorites to be crowned 2017 League Champions in December; reigning champs Saints FC, last year’s finalists Royals FC and Foundation Cup winners, Knights FC. You wouldn’t get bonus points for picking either one of them to be crowned champions seeing as they’ve been head & shoulders above their peers for well over 2 years now. For the dark horses, look no further than newcomers, Bravos Knights and the returning Cubs. Let’s take a look at the former, shall we?
To a large extent, Bravos Knights is built like no other. Predominantly made up of players affiliated with the University of Lagos, they are a closely knit bunch off and on the pitch that rely heavily on its team work. Just like the Latin inscription on the team’s logo says, they’re prepared to give their “blood, sweat (and) nothing but the best” whenever they get on the pitch. With 2 wins in 3 games, Bravos Knights sit on top of the Mainland Conference, a spot occupied by Royals FC for record 8 months in a row. Even sweeter for them, Bravos Knights beat Royals FC to claim that spot in a tense battle on Matchday 2. The foundation for this season was properly laid during the pre-season when they won Guns FC’s hosted Swap.ng Cup; a four team tournament that also included Citizens FC and Cubs FC. Going into the Swap.ng Cup, their style of play was somewhat predictable judging by the statue of most of the players. Their tall and bulky players spelt out a physical and direct style of play. As expected, they went for a direct style of play and emerged victorious. Their SociaLiga season opener was no different as they beat Raineri Ghost to get all 3points courtesy a long ball played into the path of Alaba Otukoya who bullied his way into the heart of the Ghost’s defense before viciously smashing the ball into the old onion bag. However, what makes Bravos Knights dark horses in the 2017 League season isn’t really an impressive start to the season or their style of football, after all, these aren’t unique to them. What makes them dark horses is a combination of two key factors; the relatively less competitive Mainland Conference and, perhaps most importantly, the impending arrival of last season’s League MVP, Emmanuel Eze on a free transfer in August.
It’s no secret that the Island Conference has been stronger than the Mainland Conference and, to be entirely honest, this isn’t the worst thing in the world (short hairy guys with bow legs rocking rompers IS the worst thing in the world). In the NBA, for example, the Eastern Conference has been weaker than the Western Conference for well over half a decade now but, in that period, the Eastern Conference has produced equal number of champions with the Western Conference. With the Knights and Saints battling for the Island Conference title last season (both teams combined for 35 points), Royals had an easy walk to the Mainland Conference title with 3 games to spare.
This season, with the Cubs and Guns (renowned for making resurgent runs during the latter stages of leagues) joining the Island Conference, it has gotten even tougher. The Mainland Conference, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be as tough as their rival conference, at least not from what we’ve seen so far, which, admittedly is a small sample size to judge by. Having gained 6 points from a possible 9 and with back to back matchups against All Black on Matchday 3 and 4, Bravos Knights could quite possibly find themselves in double figures when the League season goes on a 2-month break and with the resumption of the league in September comes some good news.
Bravos Knights and Royals were embroiled in a 7-week long battle on the transfer of reigning league MVP, Emmanuel Eze to the men in Green & Black. The case, we were told, contained no less than 80 e-mails, 7 hours of phone calls, 2500 WhatsApp messages and 1 international Peace Negotiator. At the end, with no transfer fee/deal agreed between both clubs, Emmanuel opted to see out the remaining 5 months left on his contract with Royals from the sidelines and join Bravos Knights on a free in August. His arrival will be a huge boost for the Bravos Knights, without a shadow of a doubt. Last season, he scored 10 of Royals’ 17 goals in the league averaging a goal per game despite just 6 starts, a SociaLiga record. Without him, Royals FC have scored 3 goals less than they had at this stage of the season last year with 3pts less, a testament to his importance. Add him to a Bravos team which already looks like a sure lock for 1 of the 3 playoff spots in the Mainland Conference, and we just might be in for a surprise in December.
Royals remain favorites for the Mainland Conference title and, together with Island Conference duo, Knights and Saints, all 3 remain title favorites. However, if ever there was a time for a team labelled the dark horses to go all the way, the stars just might align for new boys, Bravos Knights.
Originally posted on The 12th Player