World Facts

Cinderella Stories of the FIFA World Cups

10 surprising success stories from FIFA World Cups.

The World Cup is arguably the most exciting sports spectacle in the world where the world’s best players from respective nations battle it out for the World Cup trophy and the golden boot crown. Since its inception in 1930, the World Cup has provided an arena for the world’s best football teams to display their talent in sixty-four matches. The World Cup has plenty of plucky Cinderella stories of nations that have succeeded to various levels of the tournament against odds. Below are the greatest Cinderella stories in football history.

10. Argentina 1978

In 1978, the World Cup tournament returned to South America after Argentina was granted the hosting rights by FIFA. At the time, there were political upheavals in the country that led to the assassination of the president of the World Cup Organizing Committee and the defect of the greatest starts in the national team. Albeit the political downturn, there was no violence during the tournament. Argentina made it through the group levels to the finals where they reordered their first World Cup win on home soils in fifty years over the Netherlands during the extra time.

9. Bulgaria 1994

Although Bulgaria had qualified for five prior World Cup tournaments and knock out stages, they had never scored in any game of the tournament. In 1994, the Bulgarian team picked up wins over Greece and Argentina in the group stage. In the next round, they recorded a win over Mexico and Germany in a 2-1 victory to proceed to the quarterfinals. They ousted Italy in the semifinals but lost to Sweden in the third place of the match. Bulgaria made their next appearance in the 1994 World Cup and has not made it back to the tournament since.

8. United States 2002

Until the 2002 World Cup, the United State had only recorded the success of holding the third position during the initial tournament in 1930. However, they had qualified for the tournament on five accounts (1934, 1950, 1990, 1994, and 1998). In 2002, US made it past the group stage by featuring a pre-tournament against Portugal and knocking out Mexico in the Round 16 making it to the quarterfinals. They lost to Germany in the quarterfinals in 1-0 loss. It is claimed that the referee missed a handball in the goal line, which could have led to a penalty that would have aided their win to the semifinals. Making it out of the group level still stands the most celebrated football moment for the United States team in the World Cup.

7. Ghana 2010

The first World Cup tournament held in Africa almost got the first African country to the semifinals. Ghana made it out of the closet by battling out of the group stage and taking lead over the USA in Round 16. During the quarterfinals against Uruguay, they had taken lead until the 120th minute when a deliberate handball by Lous Suarez on the goal line saw Ghana miss their chance to score. They lost to Uruguay in the penalty kick out.

6. South Korea 2002

The 2002 World Cup was a golden moment for South Korea. Having automatically qualified as co-hosts of the tournament, not much was expected from the team. Previously, they had qualified in the previous four World Cups but had never made it past the first round. In 2002, South Korea made it past the group level against Portugal, US, and Poland. They made a dramatic win against Italy in Round 16 during the extra time making it to the quarterfinals where they shocked Spain in the penalty knockouts to the semifinals. South Korea became the first Non-UEFA and CONMEBOL country to proceed to the semifinals since the US in 1930. They finished in fourth place after losing to Turkey.

5. Cameroon 1990

Prior to 1990, Cameroon had only qualified for 1982 World Cup and failed to make it to the second round after drawing 1-1 with Italy. In 1990, what was meant to be an easy win for Argentina changed after Cameroon pulled a 1-0 win. They followed their win by beating Romania to a 2-1 victory and ousted Colombia during the knock out stage with a 2-1 win. Cameroon became the first African team to qualify to the quarterfinals of the World Cup and nearly made it to the semifinals but England took the win during the extra time.

4. Netherlands 1974

For the first time since the inception of the World Cup, Netherlands qualified for the 1974 FIFA World Cup. At the time, the Dutch National Football team implemented the concept of Total Football, a theory in football in which any outfield player can take over the role of any other player in a team. The idea of Total Football by the Dutch landed them in the World Cup championship games in 1974 and 1978 respectively. However, their success was short-lived, as they did not qualify for the championship games again until 1990.

3. Ukraine 2006

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, all the football accomplishments were handed over to Russia. On its own, Ukraine did not qualify for the any European Cup or World Cup tournament until 2006 when they made their appearance in the World Cup. Led by football legend Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine made it out of the group stage even after losing 4-0 to Spain. It then qualified to the quarterfinals in a 3-0 penalty win against Switzerland in Round 16. However, they lost in the quarterfinals to the eventual champions, Italy, and have not made any other appearance in the tournament.

2. Croatia 1998

The year 1998 was the first year that Croatia made it to the World Cup as a sovereign nation after breaking out from Yugoslavia. Being in group H, Croatia did not have a hard time as they qualified second behind Argentina and ahead of Japan and Jamaica. In the knockout stage, Croatia knocked out Romania in a 1-0 win, then Germany to a 3-0 win to make it to the semifinals. They were however knocked out of the semifinals by the hosts, France, but then beat Netherlands to take up the third place. Davor Suker won the golden boot as the tournament’s top scorer.

1. Iceland 2018

Iceland shocked the world by qualifying for the first World Cup appearance in 2018 after beating England during the 2016 Euros. Unlike most of the European countries, Iceland lacks professional football clubs to pool talent for the World Cup. In addition to this odd, Iceland has only 660 qualified coaches in comparison with England, which has 11,000 coaches with UEFA B license, which is the minimum requirement to coach players above ten years. Moreover, the country experiences harsh winter condition for the better part of the year making it difficult to pool talent to the miniature indoor pitches. Irrespective of the odds, Iceland qualified for the World Cup where it will battle out against Croatia, Nigeria, and Argentina.


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