Everyone loves a good underdog story. From Sylvester Stallone in Rocky to Troy and Gabriella in High School Musical to the GE14 in Malaysia, people just love having their expectations subverted.
The World Cup 2018 has been drawing a lot of attention from the general public because of several unexpected upsets where more prominent teams lost to less prominent, historically less successful teams.
This article aims to take a look at 5 of these underdogs that made it to the Round of 16 and their interesting histories relating to the World Cup. Whether they win or lose in the end, fans won’t forget the great strides they made at the world stage to get here.
Source: The Independent
The Danish team first entered the tournament in 1958; Sweden was the host country at the time. However, they did not manage to make it past the qualifying stage and were eliminated thanks to England and the Republic of Ireland.
Their first qualification came in Mexico, 1986 where they managed to climb all the way up to the Round of 16 after beating West Germany, before being eliminated by Spain.
Since then, they have managed to qualify five times, including Russia, 2018. The furthest they’ve gotten in the tournament was reaching the Quarterfinals in the 1998 World Cup hosted by France.
Denmark drew with France 0 – 0, and Australia 1 – 1, and won against Peru 1 – 0, to get to the Round of 16.
Current status: Eliminated after a 3 – 2 penalty shootout with Croatia, who will go on to play Russia.
Source: The New York Times
To call the Swedish team underdogs might seem odd to some, considering the fact that they are historically considered one of the more successful teams in the tournament. They have reached the semi-finals 4 times, were the runners up in the 1958 tournament held on their home turf, and managed to get third place in 1950 and 1994.
Despite this, they have yet to win a tournament out of the 11 times they’ve qualified to the World Cup Finals.
The Swedish team is also known for their long standing rivalry with the Brazilian team; they’ve met multiple times but Sweden has never managed to win. The current record stands at losses and 2 draws. They may meet again this year is if both teams manage to qualify to the final match somehow.
Sweden beat Mexico 3 – 0, South Korea 1 – 0, and lost to Germany 1 – 2, and recently beat Switzerland to get to where they are now.
Current status: Qualified to quarterfinals after a 1 – 0 victory over Switzerland and will face England.
Russia’s history with the World Cup is quite complicated. They first entered the tournament in 1958 as the Soviet Union, reaching 4th place in the England 1966 tournament. They played a total of 7 tournaments before the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991.
Then came the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) national football team in 1992. However, this team did not participate in the World Cup.
Russia as we know it entered the World Cup for the first time in the 1994 cup, held in the USA. Since then, they have qualified 4 times, including the current World Cup being held on their home turf.
Russia was in the same group as Uruguay this time around and beat Saudi Arabia 5 – 0, Egypt 3 – 1, and Spain in a penalty shootout to get to where they are right now.
Current status: Qualified to quarterfinals in a 4 – 3 penalty shootout against Spain and will face Croatia.
Source: Evening Standard
The Japanese team has appeared in the World Cup on six different occasions, starting with France 1998. Despite missing the first 16 tournaments, they have qualified since then without fail.
They’ve hosted the cup once with South Korea in 2002. The furthest they’ve gone in the tournament is the Round of 16, which they reached this time as well.
Japan won against Colombia 2 – 1, drew against Senegal 2 – 2, and lost against Poland 0 – 1 to get to the Round of 16 this year.
Current status: Eliminated after a 2 – 3 loss to Belgium, who will go on to play Brazil in the Quarterfinals.
Source: SB Nation
The Mexican team is one that has a long history with the World Cup, starting with the very first one in 1930.
They have since then qualified 15 times and has hosted the tournament twice, once in 1970 and once in 1986. They are also stated to host it again in 2026 the USA, and Canada. The Mexican team reached the Quarterfinals both times they hosted and have been consistently reaching the Round of 16 since 1994, giving them the record for the most second round appearances. They share this record with Brazil.
Mexico beat returning champions Germany 1 – 0, South Korea 2 – 1, and lost to Sweden 0 – 3, to reach the Round of 16 again.
Current status: Eliminated after a 0 – 2 loss against Brazil, who will go on to play Belgium in the Quarterfinals.
Which team will triumph above all this year?
Header Image Source: Evening Standard