1930 marked the first time when the World Cup brought together the best players from the top countries in football, with host nation Uruguay winning in front of over 68,000 people. Since then, there has been a slew of countries that have hoisted the World Cup trophy, with many of them being the usual suspects. Countries like Brazil, Germany, Italy, and Argentina all have several World Cups, while some surprising countries have zero.
Out of the many countries that haven’t won the World Cup, which ones are the most surprising? Here are our picks for the five nations who are due to win their first title. Before we start the list, some of the countries that just missed the cut include Sweden, Hungary, Mexico, Chile, and the Czech Republic.
Prior to 1991, Croatia was part of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, and ever since it became independent, has been one of the finer football programs in the world. In 1998, Croatia made the World Cup for the first time, and the nation made it all the way to the semifinals. Unfortunately, they ran into the eventual champion and host nation France, losing 2-1.
It took some time for Croatia to get that deep into the World Cup again as over the next four events, they were bounced out in the group stage three times and then had one event where they didn’t qualify. However, Croatia took a huge step forward, making it to the finals in both 2018 and 2022. In the former, they lost again to France, this time in the finals (4-2), and in the latter, they lost 3-0 to Argentina before defeating Morocco to take third place.
Belgium was part of the very first World Cup but didn’t fair well as they lost both of their games. Since then, Belgium has had streaks of not making the event and streaks of making the knockout stage. Belgium made the second group stage in 1982, then four years later had their best performance to date by reaching the semifinals. The Belgians lost to Argentina, though, then dropped the third-place game to France.
The streakiness in the Belgian program would continue, mixing stretches of not qualifying and deep runs into the tournament. In 2014, Belgium surpassed its previous best performance, once again making it to the semifinals. This time around, they lost 2-1 to France but won the third-place game by defeating England 2-0, capping off an incredible run.
Portugal is one of those nations that’s considered a “new blood” at the global level as they were actually a bit of a laughing stock in the early days of the World Cup. It took them 36 years (1966) to qualify for their first World Cup, and then didn’t qualify again until 1986. That means Portugal had just two World Cup appearances between 1930 and 2002, but in 1966 they reached the semifinals, then won the third-place game.
Cristiano Ronaldo then came around, and Portugal became a staple of the World Cup. In their six appearances with Ronaldo, Portugal advanced past the group stage four times. This included a quarterfinals appearance in 2022, and their best finish came in 2006. Portugal reached the semifinals, but lost to France (1-0) and then lost 3-1 to Germany in the third-place game.
After the 2022 World Cup, there were eight nations that had at least 16 World Cup appearances. Five of them have won multiple World Cups, two more had one title, then there’s another that hasn’t even reached the semifinals. That country would be Mexico, which has reached the quarterfinals just twice (1970 and 1986).
Overall, only Brazil, Germany, Argentina, and Italy have more World Cup appearances than the Mexicans. For some reason, though, Mexico hasn’t been able to get over the hump. In fact, in every World Cup from 1994 to 2018, they advanced past the group stage to prove that they belonged, only to be knocked out in the round of 16.
No country has come closer to winning a championship as many times without winning the trophy as the Netherlands. In their 11 World Cup appearances, the Netherlands has advanced past the group stage every single time and has reached at least the quarterfinals seven times. In three events, they finished as the world’s runner-up.
The first time came in 1974 when the Dutch lost 2-1 to the host team West Germany, then in the very next World Cup, they lost to the hosts again, this time dropping a 3-1 decision to Argentina. Finally, the Netherlands avoided the host nation in 2010 by playing Spain, but lost 1-0 after a 116th minute goal by Andres Iniesta.