The World Cup is probably best known for its long history of winning teams, great players and classic matches; however, there is another side to the World Cup’s rich heritage that often goes unnoticed, ‘surprise packages’. Teams classed as World Cup surprises packages are those sides who defy the pre-tournament odds to reach the later stages of the competition.
No surprise package has ever won the World Cup in its 80 year history, although Uruguay’s win in 1950 was the closest seen to a shock winner of the tournament, followed by France’s victory in 1998. However, neither team were totally out of the reckoning prior to the respective tournaments kicking off and cannot go down as surprise packages in World Cup history.
Heavyweights of International football have dominated the World Cup, with just seven teams sharing the previous 18 World Cups between them. Brazil, Italy and Germany account for 12 of those 18 between them. This stat alone puts in to perspective just what an achievement it is for one of the less-fancied nations to make an impact at the World Cup.
The last surprise package seen in the finals came in 2002 when both Turkey and South Korea made it to the semi finals in Japan and Korea. Neither team had ever progressed beyond the Group Stages at previous World Cups and it this was only Turkey’s second ever appearance. Both teams came close to reaching the final itself, going down to single goal defeats to Brazil and Germany respectively.
Also in 2002, World Cup debutants, Senegal, must also be classed as a surprise package, reaching the Quarter Finals, going unbeaten in the tournament, before getting knocked out in extra time at the hands of Turkey.
Four years earlier, Croatia were the surprise team at the 1998 World Cup, losing in the Semi Finals to eventual champions France, a remarkable achievement for a country that only joined Fifa in 1992, with this being their first appearance at a World Cup.
The 1994 World Cup in America produced two surprise packages in the form of Sweden and Bulgaria, both of whom reached the Semi Finals. Sweden did have some previous World Cup pedigree prior to the tournament, having made the Semi Finals twice before and most recently prior to 1994; they were beaten finalists in 1958. Since then, they had never surpassed the Group stage and were not fancied to make an impression in the USA.
Similarly, Bulgaria had never made an impression on the World stage, only making the last 16 once in five previous World Cup appearances and having failed to qualify for the last three tournaments, their efforts in 1994 can only be described as a surprise package.
Whilst there were no surprises in the four teams who contested the Semi Finals of the 1990 World Cup, with West Germany, England, Italy and Argentina all making the last four, two teams who surprised many by reaching the Quarter Finals of Italia ’90 were Cameroon and the Republic of Ireland. Cameroon were making only their second appearance in the Finals after loosing all three games four years earlier in Mexico and were labelled ‘whipping boys’ prior to the tournament whilst the Republic of Ireland were also written off on their World Cup debut after failing to qualify for the previous 13 tournaments.
The introduction of the three rounds of Knockout matches at the 1986 World Cup has resulted in many more surprises occurring at the World Cups since and whilst there were no such surprise packages four years ago in Germany, several of the underdogs heading to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup will fancy their chances of replicating what South Korea, Turkey, Bulgaria, Croatia and Sweden have all achieved in recent years.
One such team hoping to be a surprise package in 2010 will be the Ivory Coast who will be hoping to improve on failing to progress past the group stage four years ago. Many would argue that the Ivory Coast doing well wouldn’t be a surprise with a squad boasting some talent such as Chelsea forwards Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou, together with the likes of Kolo and Yaya Toure and Emmanuel Eboue. However, it would be a surprise to see Sven Goran Eriksson’s side upset the odds to get out of Group G ahead of opponents Brazil and Portugal and if they were to even reach the Quarter Finals it would mean that they’d have more than likely beaten Spain in the last 16.
One group that could provide a likely surprise team is Group D, which consists of Germany, Australia, Ghana and Serbia. Germany are the favorites to win the group but the other three will all fancy their chances of causing an upset against a German side who it is safe to say, are not the force they once were in International football.
Other possible surprises include Chile and Paraguay, who were both very impressive in South American qualification and come in to the tournament very much unknown quantities with the majority of the two teams players based in South America. They are drawn in groups which could well see them progress to the last 16 and may well be capable of causing an upset to some of the more fancied teams.
Whether a surprise package emerges in South Africa remains to be seen but with many of the leading teams seemingly with questions to answer, the stage could well be set for a few shock results at the 2010 World Cup and whilst it would be a major shock if one of favourites didn’t win the World Cup, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that a surprise package makes it to the semi finals once again, or perhaps even the World Cup final!