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Top 5 surprise teams at the World Cup

Robin Bairner
SENIOR ANALYST
Top 5 / Top 10
3.65K   //    Timeless

The history of the World Cup is dominated by the historical giants of the game. Brazil, of course, has enjoyed more success than any other nation, having won the title five times, while the likes of Italy and Germany have multiple crowns.

Meanwhile, European nations have increasingly controlled the competition. Since Diego Maradona inspired Argentina to success in 1986, only Brazil have prevented them taking a monopoly on the tournament, with France and Spain among the sides having come out on top since then.

That has not stopped many so-called ‘lesser’ lights of the game making a big impression on the world stage. Recent tournaments have proven that even in the modern world, in which information flows so freely, teams are still capable of coming from apparently nowhere to cause major upsets.

Here are five teams who have caused a stir in recent World Cups. None, of course, went on to win the title, but ahead of Russia 2018, they will provide inspiration for others who hope to be unlikely winners, as all of these nations came so close to glory.

Cameroon (1990)

Cameroon v Argentina - 1990 World Cup
Cameroon v Argentina - 1990 World Cup

Before Cameroon in 1990, African teams were often thought of as makeweights in World Cup competition. Images of Zaire player Mwepu Ilunga breaking from a defensive wall to boot clear a Brazil free kick in the 1974 edition of the competition had become synonymous with the infamously poor performances of teams from the continent.

Cameroon changed everything at Italia ’90, though. In the opening match they produced one of the great World Cup shocks as they beat defending champions Argentina, and while they displayed a rather brutal approach in that game, having two players sent off in the process, it is their freewheeling enthusiasm they are remembered for.

This was best embodied by striker Roger Milla, whose samba dance with the corner flag after finding the net is one of the enduring images of the whole competition. Remarkably, he had to be coaxed out of retirement to play in the tournament at 38 years old. It made a star of him and he even returned four years later in the USA.

Cameroon were seven minutes away from reaching the semi-finals as they led England 2-1, but conceded late on and ended up losing the match in extra-time. Still, it was a remarkable effort from a trailblazing team.

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Robin Bairner
SENIOR ANALYST
UK-based freelance football journalist for the last decade, I've appeared in publications such as the Guardian, the Blizzard, When Saturday Comes, but can most frequently be found on Goal.com. I write about European football, and have worked at both World Cup 2014 and Euro 2016.
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