A list of the countries with the smallest population who managed to qualify at least once to a FIFA World Cup final tournament.
Population is definitely a key factor when we think about a country's chances of having great results in international football competitions, and it's logical to be like that: the bigger the popluation, the larger the area of selection of that country and the higher its chances of at least reaching the FIFA World Cup will be. This is why qualifying to a FIFA World Cup is a fantastic achievement for any country with a small population, and these nations deserve recognition for their results which sometimes go far beyond the expectations, so here they are:
It may be a small country(3,427,000 inhabitants in 2016, according to Wikipedia), but it's a giant in soccer. The multiple South American champions are the first ever winners of the World Cup, an event which took place in 1930 on their home soil in Montevideo, when they beat Argentina in the final(4-2), and 20 years later they caused one of the biggest upsets in the history of the competition, when they won their second world title after a completely unexpected 2-1 win against Brazil on the famous Maracana stadium, breaking the hearts of millions of Brazilian fans who could not conceive that they would not win the world crown on home soil. In total they have 12 appearances at the final tournaments, and besides the two world titles they can boast with three more semifinals, finishing in fourth place in all occasions(1954,1970,2010), a truly impressive record for such a small country!
The country of reggae, which has a little more than 2,9 million inhabitants, was not very successful in World Cup preliminaries until 1998, when it reached the final tournament in France.
It was a tough mission for an inexperienced team who made its debut with 1-3 defeat against Croatia, and then it was crushed by Argentina(5-0), but they managed to save their honor by beating Japan(2-1), a result which allowed them to finish the competition in 22nd place out of 32 participants.Itis a win they have to keep in mind because it might be a very long time until they qualify again.
With a little more than 2 million inhabitants, the young nation of Slovenia managed to create sensation on two occasions, when they reached the final tournaments of 2002 and 2010 after eliminating strong favorites Romania and Russia in play-offs. Their first participation in 2002 was not impressive at all, the Slovenians losing all the three group matches:1-3 against Spain and Paraguay and 0-1 against South Africa. Their second participation was much better and brought them their first ever World Cup victory(1-0 against Algeria), and they missed a huge opportunity to reach the last 16, when they failed to maintain a 2-0 lead against the USA and the match ended in a draw(2-2), and unfortunately for them a defeat against England(0-1) and the success of the USA in the last minutes against Algeria denied them a historical qualification in the second round.
3. NORTHERN IRELAND
Northen Ireland,which has a population of about 1,8 million inhabitants, managed to participate in three editions of the FIFA World Cup. They did it for the first time in 1958 in Sweden, when they obtained their best result by reaching the quarter finals after a remarkable evolution in a very tough group; they managed to beat Czechoslovakia(1-0) and made a draw against West Germany(2-2), the world champions at that moment. They were defeated by Argentina(1-3), but they managed to finish the group in second place. Their adventure ended in the quarter finals when they were given no chance by the powerful team of France(0-4).
The tiny nation left an excellent impression again at the FIFA World Cup 1982 in Spain where they managed to beat the host nation(1-0)! That surprise, along with two other draws(0-0 vs Yugoslavia and 1-1 vs Honduras) allowed the Northern Irish team to win its group and reach the second stage again, where they made another draw against Austria(2-2), but once again their road was blocked by an excellent team of France,who beat them again at a convincing difference(4-1).
Finally, 4 years later they were also present in Mexico,but this time their evolution was far less impressive;they only managed a draw against Algeria(1-1), and they lost against Spain(1-2) and Brazil(0-3).
2. TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
The second place belongs belongs to a country which has about 1,3 million inhabitants and it will be very difficult for a smaller country to take their place at least until 2026, when the final tournament expands to 48 teams. Trinidad and Tobago achieved its first ever qualification in the preliminaries for the FIFA World Cup 2006. They started their adventure on German soil with a surprising 0-0 draw against Sweden, but they were not able to resist in front of England and Paraguay, losing both matches with the same score(0-2), so theyare still in search not only of their first win, but also for their first ever World Cup goal!
Less than a decade ago Iceland was still considered a minnow in European football, but then an extraordinary transformation started and it took only a few years for the tiny nation of about 332,000 inhabitants to reach heights that seemed impossible to conquer in the recent past. The Icelandic fairytale started in the qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup when they reached the play-offs, but they were denied a hugely surprising qualification at the final tournament by the mighty national team of Croatia. Neverheless the ambitious followers of the Vikings didn't stop there in their quest for new football territories to conquer.
After creating a huge sensation at EURO 2016, where they reached the quarter finals and defeated England in their path to a historic achievement and conquered the hearts of football fans worldwide, and the next logical step was the qualification to the first FIFA World Cup in their history. They won an extremely balanced and tough preliminary group in which they were better than important names in national team football such as Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey, and I'm convinced that most neutral football fans will be supporters of this stunning team in its Russian adventure in the summer of 2018 when the world will be gripped by the World Cup fever for a whole month!
These are the countries with the smaller population who have qualified for the FIFA World Cup so far. One of them, Uruguay, is a big name in football, having a much better record than countries with a lot bigger population, and they deserve all the praise for keeping the flag up for so many decades at football's most prestigiuos competition. The cuurent top 6 is more likely to change in 2026, when 48 teams instead of 32 will play in the World Cup, so it's interesting to see which tiny nation, or even nations, can modify this hierarchy. Can a country with a smaller population than Iceland do it? We'll have to wait and see, so in the meantime let's keep on enjoying this fantastic game and enjoy its most celebrated competition, the FIFA World Cup, to the fullest!
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