We are now approaching the business end of the World Cup – the knockout stages. This is where we will find out which teams will rise to the challenge and which teams will wilt in the Qatari heat.
There are some interesting round-of-16 ties already, featuring some teams who might not have been fancied to make it through the group stage, but who have overcome the odds to do so. For England, a clash against Senegal awaits, and they’ll need to be on top form to live up to their favourite status among those who are having a bet on England v Senegal.
As we gear up for the last 16 at the World Cup, let’s take a look at a few teams from the past who made the second round against all the odds.
Football fans now recognise the Cameroon side of Italia ’90 as one of the most iconic World Cup teams of all time. A big part of that is down to the fact that they were highly unfancied going into the tournament. Placed in a group with Argentina, Romania and the Soviet Union, it didn’t look likely that Cameroon would reach the knockout rounds.
However, a sensational 1-0 win over defending champions Argentina in the opening game of the tournament in Milan set the tone for an inspiring run. 38-year-old Roger Milla was the star for Cameroon that summer, as the African side made it all the way to the quarter-finals before falling at the hands of England.
12 years later, another African side caused a stir in the opening game of the World Cup, as Senegal defeated defending champions France 1-0 in Seoul thanks to Papa Bouba Diop’s winner. It was a result that spurred on Senegal to reach the quarter-finals, where they ultimately lost to Turkey.
In Qatar this year, Senegal are summoning that same spirit, qualifying for the last 16 after finishing as runners up to the Netherlands in Group A.
Little was expected of first-time World Cup qualifiers Ghana in Germany in 2006. However, the African side proved everyone wrong by advancing out of a difficult group that contained the USA, the Czech Republic, and eventual champions Italy.
After losing their first match to the Italians, Ghana made it their business to put things right, and enjoyed successive victories over the USA and Czech Republic. That set up a mouth-watering last-16 tie with Brazil, who proved to have too much quality for the plucky Ghanaians.
Costa Rica, 2014
When the draw was made for the groups stage of the 2014 World Cup, nobody gave Costa Rica a prayer. Having been drawing with England, Italy and Uruguay, the central Americans were seen as the likely whipping boys in a true ‘Group of Death’.
But a 3-1 win over Uruguay in their first game inspired real belief among the Costa Rica squad. From there, they beat Italy 1-0 and drew 0-0 with England to qualify as group winners. Their good form continued in the knockout stages, as they knocked out Greece before falling at the hands of the Netherlands in the quarter-finals on penalties.
Another team who upset the odds in their first appearance at the World Cup finals, Slovakia produced some stunning results at the 2010 tournament in South Africa to qualify for the round of 16.
In a group with Paraguay, New Zealand and defending champions Italy, the Slovakians looked right at home. They drew with the South Americans and the All Whites before dramatically beating Italy in their final group game to secure qualifications and eliminate the Azzurri from the tournament.