31 of the 32 teams that have qualified for the FIFA World Cup 2022 have already played in a World Cup.
These countries from all four corners of the world have had drastically varying fates on international football’s biggest stage, from making the quickest departure to winning the entire thing.
Some people have realistic expectations of winning the trophy, while for others, simply making it out of the group would be a personal record.
Qatar, a first-time qualifier
Qatar has never made it to the World Cup before, despite winning the 2019 AFC Asian Cup and defeating South Korea and Japan, two of the traditional AFC heavyweights, in the semifinals and final, respectively.
They will make history by being the first host nation to play in the tournament since Italy in the 1934 edition by doing so on home soil (and that was only the second time ever).
Iran — Group stage, first round (1978, 1998, 2006, 2014, 2018)
Will Iran be fortunate six times this winter? The three-time Asian winners have so far exited every World Cup they have entered at the opening hurdle.
Last time around in Russia, Team Melli finished third in their group, one point behind Spain and Portugal – having held the latter to a 1-1 draw – and came the closest to advancing to the second round of the competition.
Group stage for Tunisia (1978, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2018)
The first African team to win the World Cup was Tunisia, which created tournament history in 1978 by defeating Mexico 3-1 in their opening game after coming from behind.
The Eagles of Carthage, on the other hand, had never advanced past the group stage, losing their next 13 finals contests before winning 2-1 against Panama in their last group encounter four years ago, when they also came close to holding England to a draw.
Group stage: Canada (1986)
It shouldn’t be difficult for Canada to outperform their performance from their lone prior appearance at the World Cup after a 36-year absence.
At the time, Les Rouges, led by former England international Tony Waiters, had lost all three of their group games against France, Hungary, and the Soviet Union in Mexico without scoring a goal.
Last 16: Ecuador (2006)
Ecuador is preparing to compete in their fourth World Cup and has at least one victory in each of their previous three finals appearances.
At the 2006 tournament in Germany, La Tri won two of those matches. They defeated Poland and Costa Rica to finish second to the hosts in their group, setting up a match with England in the round of 16, which they barely lost to David Beckham’s beautiful 30-yard free kick.
Last 16: Saudi Arabia (1994)
Saudi Arabia has only ever made it to the elimination round of the World Cup, losing 8-0 to Germany four years prior, 4-0 to Ukraine in 2006, and 5-0 to the tournament’s hosts, Russia, in the tournament’s first matchup.
In their first finals, USA 94, the Green Falcons defeated Belgium and Morocco before losing to Sweden. Against Belgium, Saeed Al-Owairian went on a maddening run and scored one of the greatest World Cup goals.
Australia, a round of 16 (2006)
Anyone who is over a certain age will undoubtedly recall Italy winning the World Cup in 2006, but will they also recall how hard Australia pushed them in the Round of 16?
In Kaiserslautern, the Socceroos gave the Azzurri a serious fight, succumbing only to a questionable penalty awarded to Francesco Totti in stoppage time. The Azzurri played the majority of the second half with 10 men after Marco Materazzi was controversially sent off.
Japan, a round of 16 (2002, 2010, 2018)
Japan, who had lost all three of their games in their opening World Cup in 1998, fared considerably better as co-hosts in 2002, winning their group to set up a match against surprise package Turkey, which they ultimately lost by a score of 1-0.
The Samurai Blue have qualified for every competition since, twice repeating their performance from 2002. They fell to Paraguay on penalties in 2010 before completely crumbling to Belgium in 2018 after blowing a 2-0 lead with 21 minutes remaining.
Morocco, a round of 16 (1986)
Morocco has only won two of its 16 World Cup games so far, but their first triumph in 1986 helped them get out of the group stage.
The Atlas Lions defeated Portugal 3-1 to take first place in their group. They then only lost 1-0 to eventual champions West Germany in the round of 16 thanks to a goal from Lothar Matthaus in the 88th minute.
Senegal, a round of eight (2002)
Senegal had one of the most memorable World Cup debuts in the 2002 competition in South Korea and Japan, getting things started in spectacular fashion when the late Papa Bouba Diop’s goal upset the defending champions France in the opening match and sparked that famous corner flag celebration.
They reached the knockout stages thanks to draws with Denmark and Uruguay. Henri Camara’s golden goal eliminated Sweden in the round of 16, but Turkey upset the Lions of Teranga in the quarterfinals.
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Quarterfinals: Wales (1958)
Wales is unlikely to equal the novelty of their tournament debut 64 years ago as they prepare for just their second World Cup.
James Murphy’s team came from behind to defeat Hungary in a play-off and advance to face Brazil in the quarterfinals after they drew all three of their group games. Pele, a 17-year-old forward, scored the game-winning goal as the most successful country in World Cup history moved closer to their first victory.
Quarter-finals: Mexico (1970, 1986)
Mexico has advanced past the group stage in each of the last seven World Cups, together with Brazil, although they have lost in the round of 16 on each of those seven occasions.
El Tri has twice advanced farther, although both times they lost to the eventual runners-up in the quarterfinals: 4-1 to Italy in 1970 and on penalties to West Germany 16 years later.
quarterfinals: Denmark (1998)
Despite being the unexpected European winners in 1992, Denmark missed out on the 1994 World Cup but came back to France in 1998 and appeared to have a chance to shock everyone once more.
The Danes defeated Nigeria 4-1 in the round of 16 to go to the quarterfinals, where they faced the defending champions Brazil. Martin Jorgensen’s second-minute goal momentarily put the Brazilians on the ropes, but a Rivaldo-inspired comeback ended Danish aspirations.
Quarterfinals: Costa Rica (2014)
Costa Rica emerged as the tournament’s biggest surprise when they advanced to the World Cup quarterfinals in Brazil eight years ago.
They overcame Greece on penalties in the round of 16 after defeating a group that included past world champion Uruguay and Roy Hodgson’s (admittedly hopeless) England.
This set up a matchup with the Netherlands in the quarterfinals, and after 120 minutes without a goal, Los Ticos entered another shootout with much larger stakes. However, Dutch manager Louis van Gaal outsmarted his Costa Rican rival Jorge Luis Pinto by substituting penalty kick expert Tim Krul, who stopped two attempts to destroy the Costa Rican dream.
Switzerland, the round of eight (1934, 1938, 1954)
Three of Switzerland’s World Cup quarterfinal appearances have taken place either on home soil or in neighboring nations.
They were defeated on penalties by Germany in France four years after their tournament debut when they fell to Czechoslovakia in Italy in 1934.
However, the Swiss’ most illustrious exit occurred while they were hosting the 1954 finals: after trouncing Italy in a group play-off to go to the round of 8, they lost 7-5 to neighbors Austria in the highest-scoring World Cup game ever.
Quarterfinals: Cameroon (1990)
Powered by the goals of 38-year-old fan favorite Roger Milla, who came out of international retirement at the behest of Cameroonian President Paul Biya, the Cameroon team from Italia ’90 has gone down as one of the greatest cult teams in World Cup history.
After shocking tournament favorites Argentina in the first round, they won their group and narrowly defeated Colombia in the round of 16 to set up a quarterfinal matchup with Bobby Robson’s England.
And as the match in Naples entered the final 10 minutes, Cameroon was poised to advance to the semifinals. However, they gave up a penalty, which Gary Lineker converted to send the game into extra time, where the Indomitable Lions were eventually defeated.
Quarterfinals: Ghana (2010)
Ghana, following in the footsteps of Senegal and Cameroon who came before them, carried the African flag all the way to the last eight as the World Cup made its debut in Africa in South Africa 2010.
And for the Black Stars, who lost their quarterfinal match against Uruguay on penalties following one of the biggest sliding door moments in World Cup history, it could have been even better than that.
Lucius Suarez intercepted Stephen Appiah’s goal-bound header in stoppage time of extra time, giving Ghana a penalty, earning Suarez a red card, and giving Asamoah Gyan the chance to save the day.
However, the striker (who oddly wore the number 3) could only hit the crossbar with the game’s final kick. Although he gave Ghana its first penalty in the shootout, Uruguay won it 4-2.
Semi-finals for the United States (1930)
At the 1930 World Cup, eight of the 13 participating teams—including the United States—were from the Americas.
Of course, it must be noted that there were only three rounds in the tournament’s first iteration, but it doesn’t negate the fact that the US came within one game of winning the championship.
Unfortunately, after topping their group, they fell to Argentina 6-1 in the semifinals, suffering one of the worst World Cup knockout losses ever.
Semi-finals: Poland (1974, 1982)
The Polish national team’s “golden age,” which spanned from the early 1970s until the mid-1980s, was when they reached their World Cup pinnacle.
The Eagles defeated defending champion Brazil 1-0 in the third-place playoff of the 1974 West German tournament after falling to the hosts and eventual champions 1-0 in the semifinals.
With a team led by legendary midfielder Zbigniew Boniek, they finished third in 1982 after exiting at the group stage against Argentina in 1978. This time, they defeated France in a thrilling game, 3-2, after losing to Italy (like West Germany, the eventual champions, eight years earlier) 2-0 in the semifinals.
Semi-finals for Belgium (1986, 2018)
One of the greatest underachievers in the history of international football will likely be Belgium’s golden generation.
The Red Devils had their finest chance to win the World Cup four years ago in Russia, when they eliminated Brazil in the quarterfinals, lost to France 1-0 in the semifinals, and then defeated England 2-0 to finish third.
Technically speaking, that was their finest World Cup performance since 32 years prior, they lost 4-2 to France in the dreaded third-place play-off and 2-0 to a Diego Maradona-led Argentina in the semifinals.
Semi-finals: Portugal (1966, 2006)
Eusebio and Cristiano Ronaldo, two of Portugal’s all-time greatest players, both assisted their nation in advancing to the World Cup’s last four.
Eusebio scored four goals in 1966 as the Portuguese overcame a 3-0 deficit to defeat North Korea 5-3 in their quarterfinal at Goodison Park. The 1965 Ballon d’Or winner left the field in tears as his late penalty kick was unable to halt the Three Lions’ ascent to victory, setting up a matchup with the hosts England in the semifinals.
In Germany forty years later, Portugal defeated Sven-Goran Eriksson’s England in the quarterfinals (with the help of Wayne Rooney’s red card, Ronaldo’s wink, and England’s terrible penalty record), but lost to France at the Allianz Arena on the basis of a Zinedine Zidane penalty (before losing 3-1 to the hosts in the third place play-off). It’s time for Ronaldo to cry again, 40 years after Eusebio did.
Semi-finals for South Korea (2002)
South Korea’s improbable run to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup, which they co-hosted with Japan, is not as clean as some of the other underdog success tales of the World Cup due to charges of corruption following a succession of puzzling refereeing decisions.
Ahn Jung-golden hwan’s goal helped the Taeguk Warriors defeat Italy in the round of 16, but their opponents were particularly miffed, with Italian authorities alleging that FIFA had fixed the Azzurri.
Spain had reason to be upset as well after losing their quarterfinal on penalties after two contentious offside calls went in South Korea’s favor during a goalless draw. Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA at the time, had already called some of the assistant referees working the tournament “a catastrophe” (now that seems kind of ironic, doesn’t it?).
South Korea appeared to have a chance to go to the final as their semifinal match edged toward extra time, but Michael Ballack’s penalty for Germany in the 75th minute ended any such chances.
Semi-finals (1930*, 1962*) including Serbia
Serbia was officially recognized by FIFA and UEFA as the successor to Serbia and Montenegro and Yugoslavia, and it took over the latter’s achievements.
They were one of only four European countries (along with France, Romania, and Belgium) to compete at the first World Cup, which was held in 1930. They won both of their group matches, defeating Brazil 2-1 and Bolivia 4-0, before losing the semifinal match 6-1 to the tournament’s hosts and eventual champions, Uruguay.
In order to finish second in their group in the 1962 finals in Chile, they exacted revenge on Uruguay. They then defeated West Germany in the quarterfinals to go to a matchup with Czechoslovakia, ultimately losing 3-1.
The Netherlands finished second (1974, 1978, 2010)
The Netherlands is the nation with the most World Cup semifinal appearances without winning the competition.
One of the greatest teams to not win the world championship is generally recognized as Rinus Michels’ legendary 1974 “Clockwork Oranje” squad. Johan Neeskeens’ second-minute penalty gave them the lead against West Germany, the fastest goal ever scored in a World Cup final. Their adversaries, the tournament’s hosts, nevertheless rallied for a 2-1 victory.
They forced the final against the hosts into extra-time four years later in Argentina, this time under the direction of the legendary Ernst Happel, but ultimately lost 3-1. Johan Cruyff, who claimed in 2008 that he chose to skip it because his family had been abducted at gunpoint by kidnappers in their own house a few months previously, was not with the Oranje when they participated in that tournament.
And in South Africa in 2010, Bert van Marwijk’s team came within four minutes of forcing Spain to a shootout only for Andres Iniesta to crush Dutch hearts. It was not to be the third time lucky.
Croatia finished second (2018)
In their first World Cup appearance, Croatia made a big impression, finishing third following a strong run to the semifinals, where they fell to the eventual champions and hosts.
They were to find France standing in their way once more as they lost 4-2 to Les Bleus in the 2018 final, which they reached as the 13th nation. The unfortunate distinction of being the first player to score an own goal in a World Cup final was earned by Mario Mandzukic (although he later found the right net).
Surprisingly, Croatia’s triumphs over Denmark, the hosts Russia, and England in the quarterfinals and semifinals of the tournament all required extra time, with Zlatko Dalic’s team winning the first two on penalties.
England – winner (1966)
Gareth Southgate’s semi-finalists went some way to easing the pain in Russia four years ago, but it’s now been 56 years of hurt for England.
Alf Ramsey masterminded the Three Lions’ greatest triumph, secured through that iconic 4-2 win over West Germany in the final at Wembley.
Geoff Hurst – who remains the only player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final – ultimately sealed it with two goals in extra time.
Winner: Argentina (1978, 1986)
Argentina’s victories in the World Cup in 1978 and 1986 are well known for quite different things.
In 1978, La Albiceleste won the tournament at home against the Netherlands in extra time after defeating Peru 6-0, a performance that sparked allegations of bribery. The victory occurred against the backdrop of a military takeover.
Eight years later, they defeated Brazil 3-2 to win one of the greatest finals in history, with Jorge Luis Burruchaga scoring the game-winning goal. However, Diego Maradona made sure that Argentina’s 2-1 quarterfinal victory against England was more permanently engraved in history.
France is the winner (1998, 2018)
The last host nation to win the World Cup, France, led by future manager Didier Deschamps, easily defeated Brazil in the 1998 championship game. Zinedine Zidane scored twice in the first half, and Emmanuel Petit completed the 3-0 victory in the last seconds of the second half.
Les Bleus made it all the way once more in 2018 under Deschamps, playing up to their reputation as pre-tournament favorites. They scored 11 goals only in the knockout rounds, beating Croatia 4-2 in a nail-biting final in the pouring Moscow rain.
Spain is the winner (2010)
Spain reached its zenith during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when they won the competition’s top prize for the first time. During the late 2000s and early 2010s, Spain dominated international football and won three major tournaments in a row.
It’s true that there have been greater championship games, but when the game was about to go to penalties, Andres Iniesta suddenly appeared, sending the entire country into raptures (Spain also became the third side to win the World Cup after losing their opening match of the tournament).
Germany winner in 1954, 1974, 1990, and 2014.
Germany, the most successful European nation in World Cups, first experienced victory in the neighboring country of Switzerland in 1954; they did not, however, achieve it without difficulty, coming back from a 2-0 deficit within just eight minutes to defeat Hungary 3-2.
While they hosted the event in 1974, they were close enough to host it in 1954. Captain Frenz Beckenbauer raised the new World Cup trophy after Gerd Muller’s goal secured a 2-1 victory against the Netherlands in the final.
Sixteen years later, in Rome for Italia ’90, Beckenbauer presided over the German team as they defeated Argentina 1-0 thanks to Andreas Brehme’s 85th-minute penalty.
Brazil winner (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
The only nation to have competed in every World Cup and the record-setting five-time champion, Brazil, is the nation whose name is most closely associated with the tournament. Additionally, they are favorites to win the World Cup 2022(opens in new tab).
The Selecao’s first victory in 1958 is still their most illustrious since it was the year Pele, then a 17-year-old forward, made his name known to the world by scoring six goals, including a brace in the final as Brazil defeated hosts Sweden 5-2.
The injury forced Pele to miss most of the 1962 tournament in Chile, but that didn’t stop Brazil from retaining their title and beating Czechoslovakia 3-1 in the final.
In Mexico four years later, they made it three victories from four competitions; Pele scored what would be his final World Cup goal, leading the Selecao to a 4-1 victory over Italy in the final. Mario Zagallo, a member of Brazil’s 1958 and 1962 teams, became the first person to win the World Cup as both a player and manager.
After that, Brazil would go through its longest World Cup drought, not winning the illustrious trophy (well, the trophy we know today since they kept the Jules Rimet after that third victory) until USA 94, when Italy lost in a shootout as a result of Roberto Baggio’s (un)famous penalty miss following the only 0-0 draw in World Cup final history.
Brazil won their fifth and most recent World Cup at the 2002 competition in Japan and South Korea when Ronaldo stole the show and sealed victory with a second-half brace against Germany in the final. Brazil finished as runners-up to hosts France in 1998.
Uruguay – the victor (1930, 1950)
The greatest international football spectacle began 92 years ago in Uruguay when the hosts made it all the way to the final and defeated arch-rivals Argentina 4-2 to win the title for the first time in history.
The Jules Rimet Trophy was won by Uruguay for the second time 20 years later when they repeated their feat, memorably upsetting the tournament’s hosts Brazil in the final group stage (this was the only World Cup without a special championship game).
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