With Russia’s surprising 3-1 victory over Egypt all but guaranteeing the hosts safe passage to the round of 16, plenty of pundits and fans who expected them to crash out in the group stage – allowing Uruguay and Egypt through – have been firmly proven wrong. What’s more, the right results could see the Russians pull an even bigger upset by winning the group.
Russia, of course, aren’t the first World Cup hosts to upset some higher-profile rivals – while established hosts like Germany (2006), Brazil (2014) and France (1998) were all expected to have some success, the following four were able to prove their critics wrong in some surprising turnouts.
#1 USA – World Cup 1994
When the World Cup went stateside in 1994, soccer wasn’t anywhere near as established as a sport in the USA as it is today. Major League Soccer had only been founded months before the tournament; the USA’s squad was filled largely with unknowns, and the previous World Cup had seen their team crash out in the group stages after losing all three games.
Despite being hosts, few people saw them going any further in the 1994 tournament – they were drawn in a tough group against two highly-touted sides in Romania and Colombia, as well as a tough Switzerland outfit who had qualified ahead of Portugal and Scotland and had even beaten Italy.
Driven by a lot of pride, though, the Americans proved everyone wrong. First, they picked up a valuable point by drawing 1-1 with the Swiss, and then in one of the upsets of the tournament, they managed to defeat Colombia 2-1, partly thanks to Andres Escobar’s fateful own goal.
The result eliminated Colombia from the tournament and despite a 1-0 loss to Romania in their third game, the USA managed to make the knockout stages.
Even there they put up a surprisingly tough fight against eventual tournament winners Brazil, only losing 1-0 after a late Bebeto goal. Thanks to their performances in their own World Cup, the USA gained the respect of the football world.