We as football fans love to hear underdog stories. Except for the fact that most followers of the sport lay their allegiances with the top teams. In fact, everyone loves to be on the winning side of things. However, the most beautiful thing about this sport is its unpredictability. Underdog stories do happen, we have seen it time and around. There have been numerous Underdogs in FIFA World Cup history not just in regular club football.
It’s what makes this game so special, it is the resemblance to David vs. Goliath. It does not matter how big the challenge is, sometimes, all it takes is the courage and resilience to overturn the situation and emerge victorious. Today we are going to take a look at such underdog stories in FIFA World Cup.
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Ghana’s run to the Quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was a memorable one. It was the first World Cup hosted on African soil, hence the pressure on African sides to perform was immense. Ghana’s performance remains one of the greatest in the continent’s sporting history.
Ghana was put alongside Germany, Australia, and Serbia in Group D which they came second meaning qualification for the knock-outs. In the round of 16, Ghana was tested by the USA, in a game where they prevailed 2-1. However, the real test was yet to come as they matched up with former champions Uruguay in the Quarters.
African teams had managed to reach the World Cup quarterfinals only on three occasions, but no team got closer to the final four than Ghana, who had to suffer elimination at the hands of Uruguay through penalties after a 1-1 draw. This was the game where Luis Suarez’s infamous handball prevented Ghana from scoring and took the game to penalties.
Costa Rica 2014
In 2014, Costa Rica qualified for the World Cup in Brazil after an 8 year’
s absence. They were drawn into a group full of world cup winners in England, Uruguay, and Italy. Understandably, they were predicted to finish bottom of the group. However, they stunned Uruguay 3-1 before whipping Italy 1-0. They managed to hold England to a draw while keeping a clean sheet to book their place in the round of 16.In 2014, Costa Rica qualified for the World Cup in Brazil after an 8 years absence. They were drawn into a group full of world cup winners in England, Uruguay, and Italy. Understandably, they were predicted to finish bottom of the group. However, they stunned Uruguay 3-1 before whipping Italy 1-0. They managed to hold England to a draw while keeping a clean sheet to book their place in the round of 16.
In the knockout stage, they matched up against a much-fancied Greece and kept them quiet for 120 minutes before beating them in the penalties. This was a dream run for the North Americans but it was all coming to an end.
They met the Dutch in the quarters which proved to be the real challenge for the Costa Ricans. However, like every fairy tale, this had to end too as the Netherlands eliminated Costa Rica on penalties.
This one-of-a-kind performance turned out to be a blessing in disguise for keeper Keylor Navas. His heroics in goal got him a much-deserved move to European giants Real Madrid, where he won three Champions league titles.
South Korea 2002
The World Cup was being hosted in Asia for the very first time co-hosted by Japan and South Korea.
South Korea was put in Group D alongside Portugal, Poland, and the USA. In their opening game, they triumphed with a 2-0 win over Poland followed by a tough draw against the United States, leaving them in pole position to qualify. In their final group encounter, South Korea was set to face a Portugal side who could boast of However, their last game was against Portugal, who could boast of Luis Figo, Rui Costa, and Nuno Gomes in their squad. The Koreans, on the other hand, paid no heed to the star names and surprised everyone by beating the Portuguese 1-0.
In the round of sixteen, the Koreans were drawn against Italy, as they edged them 2-1. This was followed by a quarterfinal matchup against Spain, with most expecting their fascinating run to come to an end. However, South Korea had other plans as they took the game to extra time, where Spain was only able to convert three of their spot-kicks, while the Asians scored with all five. This made the South Koreans the first Asian team to reach the semis of the World Cup.
Sweden had been awarded the opportunity to host the World Cup in 1958. To everyone’s surprise the Swedes took full advantage of their home turf and turned this opportunity into a dream campaign.
The hosts kicked off the tournament with a 3-0 win over Mexico before getting the better of Hungary with a 2-1 result. Luckily, two victories were enough to take Sweden to the next round, because as the last game saw Wales holding the hosts to a 0-0 draw.
In the Quarters, Sweden took out the Soviet Union with goals from Kurt Hammrin and Klas Simonsson. Soon after the hosts faced their first big challenge in the semi-finals, in which they faced defending champions, West Germany. Sweden showed no mercy, as they flew past Germany with 3 goals to one to reach the Finals.
In the final, Sweden went against Brazil at the Rasunda Stadium in Stockholm. The crowd saw the home side take the lead within four minutes, while, the whole nation put their faith in a shock victory for Sweden. Unfortunately, Brazil quickly took charge of the game and gave Sweden no chance.
A seventeen-year-old Pele ran riot against Sweden, scoring a brace while playing silky football. Brazil eventually finished the game as 5-2 winners. This was a sad moment for Sweden but one that made them proud, while Brazil won their first-ever World Cup before winning two more consecutively.
Going into the World Cup in 2018, no one thought Croatia would be in the final. A campaign where they showed character, resilience, and determination. Croatia wasn’t a team full of superstars but Luka Modric’s leadership and other senior players stepping in turned out big for the country.
The tournament began in Russia and Croatia found themselves in group D alongside Argentina, Nigeria, and Iceland. Croatia led by Luka Modric got past Nigeria with a 2-0 scoreline before shocking Leo Messi’s Argentina 3-0 in the second round. In their final group encounter, they edged past Iceland 2-1 and qualified for the round of 16 as group leaders.
Although Croatia fancied an easier draw, Denmark gave the Croatians a run for their money. Eventually, Croatia edged past the Danes 3-2 on penalties. Next came the hosts Russia, who once again gave Luka Modric’s side a tough time, but it wasn’t enough as the Croatians once again won on penalties. Moving on to the semis, came the mighty English. Gareth Southgate’s men, despite scoring first conceded two as Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic shared the spoils.
This was it; Croatia was in the Finals of the FIFA World Cup. A team that had been carrying the tag of Dark Horses during every past tournament had now finally fulfilled its destiny. In the finals, France awaited Croatia, a team full of superstars like Pogba, Kante, Varane, and Griezmann in their ranks. Croatia puts up a great fight but it wasn’t enough to beat France. The match ended in a 4-2 scoreline in favor of the French.