The FIFA World Cup has had plenty of surprises throughout its history. The biggest surprise in the 2018 World Cup was perhaps Germany's first round elimination. Most pundits expected the former world champions to reach the last eight at least, but South Korea pulled off a shock win against Germany in the final group game to dump the Germans out. However, South Korea were not among the surprise packages in the cup as they also went out in the group stage.
A FIFA World Cup surprise package is a team that has much more impact in the tournament than expected. Russia were the surprise package of the 2018 World Cup. Few pundits expected a Russian side ranked 70 in the world going into the tournament would reach the last eight. Yet, the Russians marched through their group with 5-0 and 3-1 wins and then beat Spain on penalties to reach the quarterfinals. The Croats defeated Russia in the quarters, but it was still a great cup campaign for the hosts. These are some of the other teams that have sprung a few surprises in previous FIFA World Cups.
Senegal made their World Cup début in the 2002 finals. They were a somewhat unknown side drawn in a group with heavyweights France and Uruguay. As such, Senegal were undoubtedly one of the outsiders in that tournament.
Yet, Senegal pulled off the shock win of that tournament by defeating France, then both the world and European champions, 1-0. Senegal were far from finished as they drew 1-1 with Denmark in the next match despite being reduced to 10 players. A pulsating 3-3 draw against Uruguay in Senegal's final group game ensured their place in the knockout stages.
Senegal played Sweden in the second round. Sweden went in front during the first half, but Senegal rallied with an equalizer and scored a golden goal in extra time to win the game. Senegal became only the second African team to reach the last eight, but Turkey knocked them out of the tournament in the quarterfinals with a golden goal.
Poland had played in just one World Cup prior to 1974 and were a relatively unknown team from behind the Iron Curtain. Yet, Poland took the World Cup by storm in 1974. Even before the finals, Poland shocked England in a crucial qualifier by holding them to a 1-1 draw. That draw ensured Poland's place in the finals at England's expense.
Poland's surprises kept on coming during the 1974 World Cup. The Poles topped a group that included Italy and Argentina, and they beat both those sides with 2-1 and 3-2 victories. In the second round group stage, the Poles won two more games against Sweden and Yugoslavia. However, Poland's defeat by West Germany ensured the Germans reached the final. Poland finished that tournament with a 1-0 win in the third place playoff against the dethroned 1970 champions Brazil.
Costa Rica are usually among the outsiders in the FIFA World Cup. That was especially the case in the 2014 World Cup after getting drawn in a group that included Italy, Uruguay and England. Most pundits predicted that three teams could get out of that group, but Costa Rica wasn't one of them.
Yet, Costa Rica came from behind against Uruguay to run out 3-1 winners in their opening match. The Ticos pulled off another big surprise with a 1-0 against the Italians to book their place in the second round with a game to spare. A 0-0 draw against England ensured Costa Rica topped a tough group.
The World Cup got all the better for Costa Rica in the second round. Costa Rica beat Greece on penalties to reach the quarterfinals. However, the Ticos went out off the cup on penalties after a 0-0 draw against Holland in the quarterfinals.
West Germany was still a war-torn country recovering from World War II in 1954. Nor were West Germany among the seeded teams in the 1954 World Cup. Thus, the Germans would have probably been delighted to reach the quarterfinals of that tournament.
Hungary were the red-hot favorites to win the 1954 World Cup after their amazing 6-3 and 7-1 victories against England in friendly internationals. The Mighty Magyars had already won Olympic gold and showed their class in the first round of the World Cup with a 8-3 hammering of West Germany. Nevertheless, the Germans still made it the quarterfinals with an impressive 7-2 win against Turkey.
West Germany proceeded to reach the final with 2-0 and 6-1 wins against Yugoslavia and Austria. Yet, the Germans saved the biggest shock for the final against Hungary. In a rain-soaked Wankdorf Stadium, the Germans defeated the Hungarians in a match now known as the Miracle of the Bern. Hungary went two goals ahead, but the Germans rallied to run out 4-2 winners. Some dubious refereeing might have helped them, but the Germans' triumph in the 1954 final remains one of the tournament's biggest shocks.
Croatia weren't a completely unknown outfit in the 1998 World Cup. The Croats had reached the quarterfinals of the European Championships and possessed players of genuine quality, such as Suker and the playmaker Boban. However, the Croats were still making their cup début in France and weren't among the favorites to lift the trophy. Few pundits foresaw a third place finish for Croatia in this tournament.
Croatia got a favorable group draw that included Jamaica and Japan. The Croats brushed aside the Reggie Boys 3-0 and defeated Japan with a single goal. A defeat to Argentina mattered little as Croatia still went through to the second round.
Croatia saw off Romania in the second round with Suker converting a penalty. However, Germany were the favorites against Croatia in the quarterfinals. Nevertheless, the Croats tore Germany apart after Worns' red card reduced the Germans to 10 menu. Croatia ran out 3-0 winners in that match to set up a semifinal showdown with France.
Croatia even gave France a scare when they went a goal up, but Les Bleus still won the game 2-1. To wrap up a terrific début tournament, Croatia beat Holland 2-1 in the playoff game to finish third in the cup. Suker also won the Golden Boot with six goals.
South Korea had never gone beyond the World Cup group stages before 2002. So few, if any, footie pundits predicted the co-hosts for the 2002 FIFA World Cup would reach the semifinals. Yet, with fervent home support behind them, South Korea finished fourth in the 2002 tournament. With Hiddink as coach, the Taeguk warriors, as S Korea were otherwise known, were a much better team tactically than had previously been the case.
The FIFA World Cup really took off for the Taeguk warriors when they beat Portugal 1-0 in the group stage to secure a place in the second round. Then the Koreans dealt out two big shocks with a 2-1 win against Italy and a penalty shoot out victory over Spain. However, some dodgy refereeing went in South Korea's favor in the second round and quarterfinal triumphs. The referee dubiously ruled out two Spanish goals scored against the Taeguk warriors.
Thus, South Korea might have been a little lucky to reach the semifinals. Yet, the Taeguk warriors made it through to the semis nonetheless where they played a resurgent German team. One Ballack goal clinched victory for the Germans. The Taeguk warriors finished fourth in the tournament after losing 3-2 to Turkey in the playoff game.
African teams had made relatively little impact in the FIFA World Cup before Italia 90. Thus, the rise of Cameroon in Italia 90 was a surprise. Cameroon had a shambolic Cup of Nations shortly before Italia 90 with defeats to Zambia and Senegal. Even one of Cameroon's goalkeepers, who was subsequently dropped, predicted his team would be eliminated in the first round.
The group draw was not ideal for Cameroon as they had to play the world champions Argentina in the first match. However, Cameroon pulled off one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history when they beat Argentina 1-0. Milla took center stage in Cameroon's next match when he scored twice against Romania after coming off the bench to secure a 2-1 win. Consequently, Cameroon were already through to the second round when the Soviets beat them 4-0.
Milla was at again in the second round as he scored twice against Columbia to clinch Cameroon's place in the quarterfinals. Thus, Cameroon became the first African team to reach the last eight of the FIFA World Cup. Cameroon also gave England a scare in the quarterfinals as they went 2-1 up in the second half of that game, but England still ran out 3-2 winners after the extra-time period.