Being the underdog has its positives and its negatives. It’s certainly beneficial to be underestimated by your opponent in any setting, as you can overturn their complacency and make them regret their arrogance. On the other hand, if you succeed, the story becomes about how you surprised everyone and what a fairytale it all is. Win or lose, you’re patronised, and you’ll rarely be applauded for the work and effort – not to mention skill – that earned you the win.
Many non-soccer fans will have looked at Canada’s superb run to the World Cup and thought “Ah, good for them! They’ll be happy just to be there!”, without really stopping to think that there are players in the squad that have Champions’ League, Bundesliga and Ligue 1 titles to their names, among other top-tier honours. Below, we will look at a few other sides who have gone to the World Cup, had people pat them on the head and dismiss their actual skills, and then gone on to provide a nasty shock for the pundits.
Cameroon (Italy, 1990)
Drawn in a group that also included Argentina, Romania and the Soviet Union, the African “minnows” were very much an afterthought in Group B, right up until the tournament’s opening game. In Milan’s San Siro Stadium, Cameroon beat defending champions Argentina 1-0.
This alerted the world to the fact that a team of players who were mostly playing professionally in France’s top flight might be pretty good, and this was reinforced when they also beat Romania and secured a place in the knockout stages before the final round of group games. With striker Roger Milla belying his 38 years of age, they then knocked out fancied dark horses Colombia, before a 3-2 defeat against Englnd ended things at the quarter-final stage. Cameroon had led 2-1 in that game.
South Korea (Korea/Japan 2002)
Sure, they had home advantage, but South Korea’s footballers were still not a team you would have used your bet365 promo code to bet on when they were drawn with Portugal, the USA and a strong Poland side. Once again, though, they topped the group, in the process sending home a Portugal squad that included Luis Figo in his prime. They kept up a steady progress, defeating Italy in the last 16 before eliminating Spain on penalties to reach the semi-finals. There, they lost 1-0 to Germany after having pushed the European side hard for 75 minutes.
Costa Rica (Brazil 2014)
When the groups were drawn, discussion of Group D revolved around which two of England, Uruguay and Italy would make the second stage, followed by a brief, contractually-obliged mention of Costa Rica. As it turned out, Uruguay made it – but only as runner-up to a Costa Rica side that had handed them a 3-1 pumping in the opening game of the group. The CONCACAF side then beat Greece on penalties before facing the Netherlands in the last eight. They pushed the 2010 finalists for 120 goalless minutes before exiting the tournament on spot-kicks themselves, but were within touching distance of the semi-finals – while England and Italy made it home before their postcards.
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