It’s always fun to support the weaker sides at the most important football tournaments.
Of course, it often does not pay off as those teams are underdogs for a reason. Yet it can be fun if they actually grow up to the fans’ support and become World Cup overachievers. Online sportsbook news sites in Russia love such stories and so do all football fans. Let’s take a look at the biggest World Cup overachievers from the previous tournaments!
5. Costa Rica at World Cup 2014
Costa Rica were definitely one of the most popular teams in Brazil: they were drawn in one of the toughest groups of World Cup 2014: Costa Rica faced Uruguay, England and Italy. Yet they qualified from such a group upon beating both Uruguay (1-3) and Italy (0-1), and playing a goalless draw against England.
They played 1-1 and knocked Greece out on penalties in the Round of 16. However, unfortunately the run ended as soon as the Quarter-Finals arrived. Another goalless draw, this time, against the Netherlands. They were less lucky in the penalty shootout, so the Dutch team went on, eliminating Costa Rica. You must realize that they were knocked out without losing a single game in 90 (or 120) minutes. And they played Uruguay, England, Italy, Greece and the Netherlands…
4. Croatia at World Cup 1998
Croatia itself exists since 1991. Yugoslavia were quite a strong team but after the collapse, the smaller nations couldn’t come out as strong as they used to when they were one force. Up until 1998, when Croatia went big. They made it to the semi-finals of the World Cup, surprising the entire Planet.
The biggest star of the team was obviously Real Madrid striker Davor Suker. He won the Champions League with Real Madrid that year, and he was World Cup 1998 top scorer by 6 goals. Croatia beat Romania and Germany, lost to World Cup winner France in the semi-finals and went on to get the third place upon beating the Netherlands. Quite a run for a 7-year-old country!
3. Uruguay at World Cup 2010
One of the most surprising World Cup teams in 2010 were definitely Uruguay. Okay, they had top quality players in the back, like Godin and Lugano, and they had the trio of Cavani, Suarez and Forlán in the front. A superb squad, yet nobody expected Uruguay to go far in the tournament.
But they qualified from the group, eliminating France. In the Round of 16 they knocked South Korea out, and beat Ghana on penalties, which was quite a memorable game. They played an impressive semi-final against the Netherlands, losing 3-2, and lost the bronze match to Germany, also 3-2. But the 4th place is still an amazing achievement for the team and we can definitely call them one of the best World Cup overachievers ever!
2. Bulgaria at World Cup 1994
Ever heard of Bulgaria? Not so much, right? Apart from being the most corrupted country in the European Union, they are not too famous on the Western side of Europe. However, they used to be, especially when they had the best football player in the world: Barcelona star Hristo Stoichkov was a great deal back in the days.
And the Bulgarian football legend was good enough to lead his team to achieve pretty great things as well. In 1994, they lost their first match to Nigeria, but wen ton to beat Greece and Argentina in the group stage, qualifying for the Round of 16. They won against Mexico and beat the 1990 World Cup holder Germany 2-1 which put them to the semi-final. They finished 4th upon losing the semi-final to Italy and the bronze game to Sweden.
1. South Korea at World Cup 2002
Okay, it wouldn’t feel right to put South Korea on top of the list of the best World Cup overachievers, but based on solely the results, we must. South Korea is a tiny country with no relevant football history. Yet in 2002 they made it to the World Cup semi-finals. They lost and they finished 4th which is still quite an outstanding result.
However, we just simply cannot bypass the fact how they made it to the final. They were the hosting nation of the tournament (together with Japan), and the referees were disgustingly pushing South Korea towards winning at all games. They knocked out Spain and Italy on matches full of controversial decisions by the referees.
Surviving that match against Italy without any player being sent off…and getting Spain finish a match with a 0-0 final result even though they scored two fair goals… it was probably the most disgusting sporting event of all time, but it definitely made South Korea the biggest World Cup overachievers in history. Let’s hope Russia won’t hope for a similar tournament.
+1: Panama at World Cup 2018?
Okay, that’s not far: Panama has never played a single World Cup game in the history of the country, so they didn’t really fit in this list. But then again, Panama has never qualified for the tournament until this year’s competition. The come from the Central American region, where all is usually decided even before the Qualification round begins.
The USA and Mexico have a clear and safe spot in the World Cup, and the two remaining seats are usually decided between Costa Rica, Jamaica, Honduras or whatever. However, this year, it was Panama who qualified for World Cup, upon knocking out the United States of America! How far will they go?