Home BEYOND THE LIMITS Underdogs, who became ‘surprise entrants’ in Football World Cup semi finals over...

Underdogs, who became ‘surprise entrants’ in Football World Cup semi finals over the years


When Morocco defeated Portugal in the quarter finals of the FIFA World Cup 2022, they entered the league of surprising semi-final participants in Football’s greatest stage.

Morocco created history as they became the first African country to ever reach the semi-finals of a FIFA World Cup. Their victory against Portugal was celebrated by the entire Arab world because Morocco share a close boundary with the Middle-East Asian countries and considered as one of the Arab world.

Morocco team after their win against Portugal in the quarter final of FIFA World Cup 2022

Morocco were placed in Group F where they started the campaign with a 0-0 draw against Croatia. In the next match, the Moroccons pulled up an exceptional 2-0 victory against World No 2 Belgium. Morocco’s third match in the group stage was against Canada that was easily won with a scoreline of 2-1. The North African country finished the group stages at the top of Group F.

After Belgium, the second victory against a heavy weight team came when Morocco knocked out Spain 3-0 on penalties in the Round of 16. With Morocco’s goalkeeper Yassine Bounou stopping two penalties, the Atlas Lions became the first Arab country to ever reach the tournament’s last eight.

The improbable run of Morocco continued in the quarter final when they defeated highly-placed Potugal 1-0. The players overcame every obstacle and indeed emerged as the underdogs in World Cup history. As Morocco play France in the World Cup semi finals, we look back to some of the surprise semi-final participants of the past.

Bulgaria and Sweden in 1994

Sweden team in 1994 FIFA World Cup
Hristo Stoichkov, the star player of Bulgaria in 1994 FIFA World Cup

The surprise packages of 1994 World Cup, held in the USA, were no doubt Sweden and Bulgaria. Both the teams advanced to the round of 16 after finishing second in their respective groups. Sweden eliminated Saudi Arabia in the round of 16 and Bulgaria knocked out Mexico on penalties to reach the quarter finals.

In the quarter finals, Sweden won against Romania in penalty shootout while Bulgaria, guided by their star player Hristo Stoichkov, produced a huge upset by defeating Germany 2-1.

However, both the teams were defeated in the semi finals but they met against each other in the third-place play off. Sweden won it 4-0.

Croatia in 1998

Seven years after they gained independence from the former Yugoslavia, Croatia participated in the World Cup for the first time ever in 1998 and went to finish third.

The road to their World Cup campaign started in 1996, when the red-and-white checked shirts reached the quarter-finals at the European Championship. Though they lost to the eventual champions Germany, yet the technically-gifted players who were once part of Yugoslav side showed enough signs to bring glory for their newly-formed nation in the World Cup.

Davor Suker, the Croatian star who became the highest goal scorer of 1998 FIFA World Cup

In the group stage, Croatia finished second after defeating Japan and Jamaica. Led by Zvonimir Boban, they were a highly-talented side that included Davor Suker, who went on to become the tournament’s top scorer. Suker scored the very important penalty in the Round of 16 match against Romania to help his team qualify for the quarter finals against Germany.

It was a high-voltage encounter where Germany’s Christian Woerns was shown red card in the 40th-minute of the match. As Germany were reduced to 10 men, Croatia took full advantage and goals by Robert Jarni, Goran Vlaocic and Suker secured a stunning 3-0 victory.

But, Croatia lost to France in the semi final and ultimately finished third, beating the Netherlands 2-1 in the third place play-off match with goals from Robert Prosinecki and Suker.

South Korea and Turkey in 2002

South Korea team after one of their wins in 2002 FIFA World Cup
Turkey had an inspiring run in the 2002 FIFA World Cup

South Korea defeated Poland and Portugal in the group matches and Italy by 2-1 in the Round of 16. They beat Spain on penalties in the quarter-finals before losing to Germany in the semi-finals.

Though people thought of South Korea as a probable underdog due to the presence of Dutchman Guus Hiddink as their head coach, Turkey, on the other side, took everyone by surprise. They lost their first match to Brazil and had a 1-1 draw with Costa Rica. But they won their final group game against China with goals from Hasan Sas, Bulent Korkmaz and Umit Davala.

In the Round of 16, Umit Davala scored again to take his team to the quarter finals by defeating Japan. Against Senegal in the semi finals, the golden goal from İlhan Mansiz took them to the semi-finals for the first time.

Turkey lost to Brazil in the semi finals, but finished third after defeating Korea Republic in the third place play-off.

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