World Cups are famous for bringing the most talented nations together for a festival of football that showcases the best players on offer on a global stage.
However, such is the beauty of football that the World Cup always sees a nation emerge as a surprise package—from Bulgaria in 1994 to Ghana four years ago in South Africa.
With 32 teams all vying for a place in the knockout stage when the groups get underway on June 12, we take a look at two nations that could shock the world and make it through.
With both of 2010’s finalists, Spain and the Netherlands, in Group B, Chile were dealt a cruel hand when their name came out of FIFA’s hat back in December.
However, despite their daunting task in facing some of the best players on the planet, Chile have proved that they have what it takes to upset the odds and progress to the knockout stage.
Having qualified with consummate ease, Brazil 2014 will mark just Chile’s second appearance in a World Cup this side of the millennium, and they’ll be determined to make their mark upon arrival.
You only have to look as far as Chile’s recent form to see what they can do, winning nine of their last 14 matches, according to Soccerway.
Their two defeats during that spell have come against two of the favourites to lift the World Cup, Brazil and Germany, both by extremely narrow margins.
Chile’s performance against England at Wembley in November, when they ran out comfortable 2-0 winners, summed up how Jorge Sampaoli has got his side playing—with its free-flowing, attacking style present from the first whistle.
Though the Netherlands and Spain are two tremendous sides, Chile will undoubtedly cause them problems if they produce a similar performance to their Wembley triumph.
They also have the added bonus of “home” advantage, as star man Alexis Sanchez reflected on during an interview with the Daily Express (via Sky Sports):
It will be very hard for any team outside of South America to win in Brazil, but if two teams have a chance, then it is Spain and Germany. Their teams are exceptional. We have to believe that Chile has a chance. It is not a home tournament but we must take advantage of it being in South America. We will not have to adjust to the conditions as much as other nations.
With the Netherlands having to make such a drastic adjustment to the conditions, Sampaoli’s side will likely target the Dutch as its team to beat to guarantee progression.
Though everyone has deemed Group B a two-horse race, Chile certainly have the credentials to get their noses in contention for the knockout stage.
With Argentina looking hot favourites to progress from Group F with minimal fuss, the chance has presented itself to one of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran or Nigeria to follow suit as runners-up.
Bosnia have been heavily tipped to reach the knockout stage, but the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations champions Nigeria may just have something to say about that.
Stephen Keshi has transformed the Super Eagles into a force to be reckoned with since taking the reins back in 2011, steering them from a team in turmoil to the African champions in double-quick time.
Unbeaten in their last seven matches, per Soccerway, Nigeria will look to take advantage of playing Argentina in their last Group F match by taking their pre-tournament momentum into their opening matches with Iran and Bosnia.
With conditions also on the Super Eagles’ side, players are full of confidence and ready for a long World Cup run.
None more so than goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, who recently said that his side has what it takes to get into the last four—per FIFA.com:
I think we are going to make big progress. We are focused on the World Cup, to make Africa the proudest continent. Ghana almost reached the semi-finals four years ago. We are going to achieve a better result and be the first African team to get to the semi-finals of the World Cup.
Indeed, Ghana’s World Cup run in 2010 was admirable, but with the talent that Nigeria harbour within their ranks, you can’t blame Enyeama for thinking that they can go one better.
With Efe Ambrose, John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses and Emmanuel Emenike all proving themselves at the highest level, the Super Eagles have the squad power to pip Bosnia to the Group F post and also cause Argentina a problem or two.
If there’s one thing that the World Cup has taught us, it’s to never write off the little guy. With Chile and Nigeria both ready to do the damage in Brazil, the neutral once again have an underdog to support.
Though the World Cup will undoubtedly come down to the world’s top teams, the emergence of both players and nations are what makes the tournament so special.
World Cup wall charts all over the world may be filled in, but you can guarantee that a few corrections need to be made when the group stage comes to a close on June 26.