While there were some massive shocks upon the conclusion of the eight respective groups at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, as the likes of World No.2 Belgium, four-time world champions Germany and Euro 2020 semi-finalist Denmark crashed out much earlier than expected in the Middle East, there were also some surprise names in the draw for the round of 16.
That said, let’s take a look at three of the nations who exceeded the bar of expectation at this year’s World Cup.
Australia have progressed from the group stages of the World Cup on just one previous occasion — when their Golden Generation of Tim Cahill, Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka and Mark Schwarzer helped them secure second place behind Brazil in Group F of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, which ended with defeat to Italy in the round of 16.
Fast forward to today, and without a real household name and ranked 38th in the world, few would have placed a bet on World Cup for the Socceroos to make it of the groups for a second time — especially when it contained defending world champions France and World No.10 Denmark alongside Tunisia.
However, they proved they weren’t just in the Middle East to make up the numbers when they took a 1-0 lead against Les Bleus early on. The Socceroos couldn’t hold on against France, eventually losing 4-1, but 1-0 victories over Tunisia and Denmark secured an unlikely second.
Another nation you never would have predicted to progress from the opening stages, as they were paired in the ‘Group of Death’ with European powerhouses Spain and Germany, Japan not only progressed to the round of 16 — but they did so in first place against all the odds.
The Samurai Blue stunned Germany in their opening game of the group, which was dubbed as the second biggest upset of this year’s tournament after Saudi Arabia shocked Argentina with a 2-1 victory just 24 hours earlier.
But when they lost to Costa Rica next time out, it looked like that win was nothing more than a flash in the pan from the Samurai Blue. However, Japan have proved themselves as real dark horses after coming back from a goal down to beat Spain 2-1 and top the group ahead of Luis Enrique’s side.
Another country who finished top of their respective group when they weren’t even expected to progress, a Hakin Ziyech-inspired Morocco took the No.1 spot in Group F — leaving 2018 finalists Croatia, Belgium and Canada starring up at them in awe.
The Atlas Lions held Croatia to a bore draw in their opening game — stopping the Blazers from scoring for the first time in their last 12 World Cup games — before beating Belgium 2-0, which meant a victory over Canada would see them through.
Morocco came flying out of the blocks at Al Thumama Stadium, Ziyech scoring within four minutes of the first whistle before Youssef En-Nesyri doubled their lead in the 23rd minute. A Nayef Aguerd own goal before half-time allowed Canada back in the game, but Morocco held on for the 2-1 win.