Bulgaria and Sweden at USA 1994, Croatia at France 1998, South Korea and Turkey in 2002 and Uruguay in 2010 – just what is the pattern?
All were unfancied national football teams and yet all of them surprised everyone to fall just one game short of competing in the final of football’s biggest prize.
The history of the World Cup has prepared us for a semi-final surprise package, so who is the team to not look out for and be ultimately surprised by in 2014?
I’ll take the aforementioned collection of shock world cup final-four achievers and I’ll raise you La Roja, better known as Chile.
Yes Chile, for they’re not in the top ten favourites with the bookmakers and they don’t crop up in many World Cup debates but they should be taken seriously, very seriously indeed.
When England host them at Wembley Stadium on November 15th the hope will be for a home victory and another building block to be put in place in preparation for Brazil 2014.
Yet England will be facing a team they would do well to avoid in the draw for the tournament’s group stage on December 6th in Bahia, a draw which will see Chile sitting quietly in one of the un-seeded geographical pots.
Since a defeat to Peru in March of this year Chile have gone 9 games unbeaten scoring 25 goals and conceding 10 in the process.
That defeat was Argentine coach Jorge Sampaoli’s first game in charge since taking over from Claudio Borghi and he is very much a student of the ‘Bielsista philosophy’, an attacking style of play used by former Chile coach and fellow Argentine Marco Bielsa.
Their game is expansive and based around a high pressing tactic that sees them smother the opposition in their own half in an attempt to exploit them when most vulnerable – attack with six rotating players whilst the other four close the space in order to win the ball back, think Barcelona’s tika-taka at a ferocious pace or for a more budget version – Argentine Mauricio Pochettino’s impressive Southampton.
Their complete domination of Spain at their own game in a 2-2 draw in September was a joy to behold, seldom have Spain looked as exposed as Chile repeatedly robbed them of the ball in their own half and exploited them with 2v1 scenarios down the flanks, a style that was also effective in another 2-2 draw away to Brazil some months earlier.
Sampaoli arrived with a proven track record after leading Universidad de Chile to four national titles as well as the Copa Sudamericana.
The 53-year-old has brought out the best in the attacking trio of Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez, Gremio’s Eduardo Vargas and Jorge Valdivia of Palmeiras and has provided them with the flexibility to express themselves.
Behind them is the power and discipline of Juventus stars Arturo Vidal and Mauricio Isla as well as Fiorentina’s Matias Fernandez, Basel’s Marcelo Diaz and Cardiff’s Gary Medel.
They provide the team with the solidity that was perhaps slightly missing in Bielsa’s side of 2010 that carried the ball with reckless abandon but were perhaps not as great at getting it back.
In 2010 Chile reached the last sixteen whilst winning plenty of neutral support and in 2014 Chile will boast an enormous amount of support of their own.Of all the people to apply for World Cup tickets this year it was supporters from Chile who made the 5th largest number of applications and supporters will travel in their thousands across South America to see La Roja in action.
With a large and partisan following, a familiarity with the mixed climate of Brazil’s north and south and with an in-form side featuring a blend of youth and experience from some of Europe’s top clubs they have all the ingredients to pose a serious threat.
It was February 1998 when Chile outclassed Glen Hoddle’s England at Wembley to win 2-0 in a match that prepared both for France 98 and England will be hoping to avoid a similar fate this time around as Roy Hodgson looks to build on an impressive end to the qualifying campaign.
But if England toil at Wembley in two weeks’ time it is my hope that we refrain from the typically frenzied negative reaction and take it for what it would be – a struggle against an exceptional side who could well outshine England and the majority of others at football’s showpiece next summer.