Croatia and Morocco are the surprise guests in the World Cup’s final four, but the two remaining steps to becoming world champions can be the steepest. In 21 World Cups with 79 nations, just eight have won, and 13 have reached the final. After France in 1998 and Argentina in 1978, Spain became a champion in 2010.
Since then, a few “outsiders” have reached the final four, but they’ve all lost. Poland and Belgium fell to eventual champions Italy and Argentina in 1982 and 1986, respectively. Former winners England would not wish to be included in the “long-shots” group, yet they reached the semis in 1990, where they lost to West Germany. 1994 seemed to tip the apple cart.
Can Morocco or Croatia win the World Cup?
Bulgaria has never won a World Cup match in 16 attempts and lost their first game. They won two group games, overcame Mexico on penalties in the last 16, and stunned Germany in the quarterfinals. Sweden won a last-16 shootout against Romania. Italy stopped Bulgaria’s fantasy run in the semis, and Brazil beat Sweden.
Bulgaria’s golden generation, inspired by Hristo Stoichkov, aged and failed to qualify for the finals four years later. After Yugoslavia broke up, Croatia made the semis as an independent nation in 1998. Their thrilling run to the final four was highlighted by a 3-0 quarterfinal win over Germany.
They were finally eliminated 2-1 by hosts France in the semifinals. In 2002, two outsiders reached the final four but were stopped by tournament heavyweights. South Korea built in confidence after leading their group and then astonished the world by beating Italy in extra time and Spain on penalties to become the first Asian team to make the semifinals. Senegal and Turkey’s quarterfinal meant another semi-finalist, and Turkey advanced. Germany and Brazil won 1-0 against Korea and Turkey.
Turkey’s second World Cup appearance was their last. Portugal reached their second semi in 2006, losing to France. Four years later, Spain, who had never made it (though they were in the second group stage in 1950), and Uruguay, who last did in 1970, were “surprise” semi-finalists.
Spain arrived in South Africa as European champions, so beating the Netherlands in the final was scarcely a surprise. Croatia reached the 2018 semis and conquered England but lost to France in the final.
Morocco is the first African team to make the last four. They beat European giants Belgium, Spain, and Portugal to get there. France and Argentina will be favourites to break the fairy-tale runs, but neutrals will want one of the outsiders to win and become the ninth world champion.