Costa Rica's Dream World Cup Could Outshine Previous Shock Successes

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistJuly 3, 2014

Associated Press

One of the biggest successes of the 2014 FIFA World Cup has been that of CONCACAF side Costa Rica, who upset the odds in qualifying from Group D and have since made it through to the last eight.

They finished top of the group after wins over Uruguay and Italy and a draw against England, before defeating Greece in the round of 16.

The CONCACAF nation have set their own new record in reaching the quarter-finals, besting their previous performance in the 1990 World Cup, when they made the round of 16—and their exploits in Brazil stack up against the best shock progressions through the finals in recent times. 


African Close Calls

Pele might have once famously—and wrongly, as it turned out—remarked around the end of the last decade that African sides could win the World Cup, but they have had a handful of sides reach the last eight, the same stage up next in the 2014 edition.

Cameroon made the quarter-finals at Italia '90, while Senegal achieved the same feat in 2002.

Luca Bruno/Associated Press

The most recent CAF side to make the World Cup quarter-finals were Ghana, who were within a penalty kick of making the last four in 2010 on African soil, only to eventually be knocked out by Uruguay on a penalty shootout after missing their own spot-kick during the match.


Bulgaria's Last-Four Run

European and South American nations have predominantly made up the last eight finalists in any given World Cup. In Brazil, seven of the eight are from those two continents, with only Costa Rica breaking the stranglehold.

Lionel Cironneau/Associated Press

However, one hugely unfancied European nation made it all the way to the semi-finals in 1994, as a Hristo Stoichkov-inspired Bulgaria fought past Mexico and Germany in the knockouts to face Italy in the semi-finals.

They eventually lost 2-1 at that stage, finishing fourth overall. That was one of only two occasions Bulgaria have been past the group stage, the only time they have made the last eight or better—and they have only qualified for one World Cup finals since, making only the group stage of the '98 tournament.


Asian Pride?

Perhaps better than Bulgaria's achievementsimply for it being a "first" and for the unexpected nature of the runwas South Korea's progression to the last four of the 2002 World Cup.

Korea were joint-hosts of the tournament with Japan, and though both hosts finished top of their respective groups, only Korea managed to emerge victorious from a knockout stage fixture. They beat Italy 2-1 after extra time in the round of 16 before knocking out Spain 5-3 on penalties in the quarter-finals.

LUCA BRUNO/Associated Press

A narrow 1-0 defeat to Germany in the semis ended South Korea's final dreams, as they finished fourth after Turkey beat them in the third-place play-off.

However, their success in this tournament remains tinged with doubt for some, after a host of decisions went against both Italy and Spain in their matches against Korea, including a perfectly good goal for the Spaniards in the quarter-finals being ruled out.

Costa Rica's journey to the quarter-finals at least already equals the feat of African nations at World Cup finals and is perhaps even a relative equal to Bulgaria's last-four surge. Debatable or not, though, there can be no doubt that South Korea's appearance in the semi-finals remains the standout overachievement of a side at the finals in recent times.

Pick up one more surprise victory, though, this time over the Netherlands, and Costa Rica's procession through Brazil 2014 will surely rank as the biggest shock campaign of all time.