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Dublin: 18 °C Thursday 6 August, 2020

10 other underdogs that 'did a Wales' at a major tournament

Greece, Denmark and others who have sprung a surprise over the years.

1. Wales – 1958

Soccer - The World Cup 1958 - Eliminator Matches - Second Leg - Wales v Israel - Ninian Park - Cardiff - 1958 The 1958 Welsh World Cup team - Alan Harrington, Stuart Williams, John Charles, John Kelsey, Melvyn Hopkins, Ivor Allchurch, Melvyn Charles. Front Row, L to R: Terence Medwin, Ronald Hewitt, David Bowen, Clifford Jones. Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Getting to the semi-finals of the Euros isn’t Welsh football’s only notable achievement. The small nation went all the way to the quarter-finals of the 1958 World Cup before narrowly losing 1-0 to eventual winners Brazil. Special mention too for Northern Ireland, who also reached the last eight of that competition, before being beaten 4-0 by France.

2. Poland – 1974

Soccer - FIFA World Cup 1974 West Germany - Third Place Match - Brazil v Poland - Olympic Stadium, Munich Poland ahead of the 1974 World Cup third-place playoff. Source: EMPICS Sport

Few people gave Poland much hope in the qualifiers, let alone the competition proper. However, they famously stunned an England side that had been champions eight years previously at Wembley, before finishing third at the tournament in West Germany having lost 1-0 to the hosts and eventual victors thanks to a 76th-minute Gerd Muller strike.

3. Belgium – 1986

Soccer - World Cup Mexico 1986 - Semi Final - Argentina v Belgium - Azteca Stadium Belgium pictured ahead of the 1986 World Cup semi-final. Source: EMPICS Sport

While the Belgian side of 2016 ultimately underperformed, the same cannot be said for their 1986 counterparts. Despite only finishing third in their group behind Mexico and Paraguay, they advanced to the knockout stages, beating the Soviet Union and Spain before falling 2-0 in the semi-finals against a Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina.

4. Denmark – 1992

Soccer - European Championships - Final - Germany v Denmark - Ullevi, Gothenburg The Denmark team ahead of the Euro 1992 final against Germany. Source: EMPICS Sport

A wildcard entry following the expulsion of Yugoslavia, few people fancied the Danish side as potential winners of Euro ’92 having been dragged from their holidays to compete in Sweden. Yet with the talented likes of Peter Schmeichel and Brian Laudrup in their side, people were clearly unwise to underestimate the eventual champions.

5. Bulgaria – 1994

Empics5, Italy v Bulgaria .... Soccer World Cup 94 Nicol Berti, Italy and Krassimir Balakov, Bulgaria at the 1994 World Cup. Source: EMPICS Sport

Bulgaria had never won a match in five previous World Cup finals, and they didn’t look like reversing that trend after losing 3-0 in their opening game against Nigeria. However, led by then-Barcelona striker Hristo Stoichkov, Bulgaria proceeded to go on a scarcely believable run. They knocked out holders Germany with a spectacular 2-1 victory enabled by a memorable Yordan Letchkov header. They eventually were beaten in the semi-finals by a Roberto Baggio-inspired Italy, but will nevertheless go down in history as comfortably the best-ever team the country has produced.

6. Czech Republic – 1996

Euro 96 final Berger celeb Patrik Berger (14) celebrates after opening the scoring for Czech Republic from a penalty against Germany in the Euro 96 Final. Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Not a vintage tournament in terms of quality, which perhaps partially explains how the Czech Republic made it all the way to the finals before losing 2-1 against Germany thanks to Oliver Bierhoff scoring the first-ever golden goal. However, the Czechs did have some fine players in their side, including a then-little-known Pavel Nedvěd, who would move to Lazio on the back of his performances that summer and go on to become one of the top players in European football.

7. Croatia – 1998

Soccer - World Cup France 98 - Quarter Final - Germany v Croatia Croatia's Davor Suker (left) and Zvonimir Boban (right) celebrate at the end of the Germany 1998 World Cup match. Source: EMPICS Sport

Sure, the 1998 Croatia side had some extremely talented players including the above-pictured Davor Suker and Zvonimir Boban. And yes, they had already shown evidence of their potential with a quarter-final finish at Euro 96. But for a country of a little over four million people to reach the last four of the World Cup, in the process dumping out Germany — their conquerors from two years previously — still surely deserves to be up there among the biggest achievements in international football history.

8. South Korea – 2002

Korea Football Fans South Korean fans celebrate. Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

They may have benefited from a few questionable refereeing decisions, but getting to the semi-finals was still quite an achievement for a team that was more or less without stars or any real experience of playing at the top level – Anderlecht’s Seol Ki-hyeon and Perugia’s Ahn Jung-hwan aside, every other member of the squad at the time played their football in either Japan or Korea.

9. Greece – 2004

SOCCER GREECE ZAGORAKIS Greece lift the Euro 2004 trophy. Source: AP/Press Association Images

One of the biggest sporting upsets in football history, Greece scraped out of their group on four points, before successive 1-0 victories over France, Czech Republic and hosts Portugal saw them crowned unlikely champions at Euro 2004.

10. Turkey – 2008

Soccer Euro 2008 Germany Turkey Semih Senturk, left, celebrates with teammates after scoring their side's 2nd goal during the semifinal match between Germany and Turkey in Basel, Switzerland. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Even now, many football fans would struggle to recognise the majority of the Turkey side that reached the semi-finals of Euro 2008, before losing 3-2 to Germany. Only six members of their 23-man squad played their football outside of Turkey at the time — Bayern Munich’s Hamit Altıntop and Newcastle’s Emre Belözoğlu were probably the two best-known members of the side. However, a 21-year-old Arda Turan — then of Galatasaray and now playing with Barcelona — announced himself on the international scene, scoring two goals and generally excelling at the tournament.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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