The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is upon us, and all eyes are on the likes of five-time winners Brazil, the in-form Argentina, defending world champions France, Euro 2020 finalists England and 2010 winners Spain — otherwise known as the favourites to win the tournament in the World Cup betting.
However, there’s every chance that a nation from left of field could swoop in and steal the limelight from one of football’s powerhouses — not necessarily going all the way and winning the sought-after gold trophy, although some underdogs have come close before, but upsetting the odds by reaching a stage no one could have predicted or sending a favourite packing earlier than expected.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the underdogs who have been there and done it — disturbing the status quo. Read on to find out more.
Croatia now have two underdog stories at the World Cup, as they were the surprise outfit at the 1998 tournament — reaching the semi-finals before losing to eventual winners France. However, we’re going to focus on their more recent fairytale run, making to the final of the 2018 tournament in Russia.
Not exactly ranked outsiders at 30/1, but for context that was the same pre-tournament odds as the hosts, Croatia topped their group with three wins from three — beating Nigeria (2-0), Argentina (3-0) and Iceland (2-1). They then dispatched of Denmark and Russia (both on penalties) before beating England in extra-time to reach the final.
Les Bleus once again proved too strong for the Croats, however, as Didier Deschamps’ side won 4-2 at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
2014: Costa Rica
Costa Rica have little luck when it comes to World Cup draws, as they find themselves in the ‘Group of Death’ again this year — paired with Spain, Germany and Japan in Group E. But if the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is anything to go by, they could be dark horses in there.
Drawn alongside Uruguay, England and Italy in Group D eight years ago, Costa Rica were tipped to finish bottom of the standings with a point if they were lucky. But they came flying out of the blocks, stunning Uruguay with a 3-1 win before beating Italy 1-0. A 0-0 draw with England secured the top spot, while Italy and the Three Lions crashed out.
Costa Rica didn’t stop there, beating Greece 5-3 on penalties in the round of 16. They came oh-so close to another giant killing in the quarters, holding the Netherlands to a draw. But the Dutch finally burst Los Ticos’ bubble, winning 4-3 on penalties.
A handball away from reaching the semi-finals of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa — which would have marked the farthest an African nation has ever gone in football’s greatest tournament — the Ghanaian’s probably still haven’t forgiven Luis Suarez 12 years on.
The Black Stars finished second in Group D to Germany, beating Serbia, drawing with Australia and losing to Die Mannschaft. They would go on to beat the United States Men’s National Team in the round of 16, winning 2-1 in extra time, but the quarter-finals is where things turned sour.
Up against Uruguay, Sulley Muntari gave Ghana the lead on the brink of half-time before Diego Forlana equalised early into the second half. 1-1 is how it would stay until the 120th minute, when Suarez used his hand to deny the Africans the winner on the line. Asamoah Gyan missed the subsequent penalty, and Uruguay would go on to win the shootout.
2002: Turkey and South Korea
The first (and still to this day only) World Cup to be held in two different countries, there was rather fittingly two underdog stories at the 2002 Japan/South Korea tournament — as both Turkey and South Korea made it to the last four.
Turkey failed to win either of their opening two games, losing to Brazil before drawing with Costa Rica, but a 3-0 win over China gave them the goal difference to pip Costa Rica to second after they lost 5-2 to Brazil. The Crescent-Stars then dispatched of co-hosts Japan before seeing off Senegal in extra-time. The dream came to an end when Brazil beat them for the second time in the semis.
As for South Korea, they topped a tough group — beating Poland and Portugal either side of a draw with the United States. The Taegeuk Warriors giant killings didn’t stop there, as they knocked out both Spain and Italy. Germany proved a step too far, with Michael Ballack sealing a 1-0 win in the 75th minute. South Korea would disappointingly go on and lose 3-2 to Turkey in the third place play-off.