Croatia in 1998 or Ireland in 1990?  These are the top 5 World Cup debutants

**Croatia (1998)

Having previously been part of the Yugoslavia national team, an independent Croatia made their World Cup bow in 1998. A side featuring Igor Stimac, Davor Suker, Zvonimir Boban, Robert Jarni and Slaven Bilic beat Jamaica (3-1) and Japan (1-0) in their first two group games, qualifying for the next round despite a narrow 1-0 defeat by Argentina in Bordeaux.

A Suker penalty in first-half stoppage time made the difference in the Vatreni’s last-16 meeting with Romania, before a brilliant 3-0 triumph over Germany sent them through to the last four. Croatia took the lead against hosts France thanks to Golden Boot winner Suker, but an unlikely Lilian Thuram brace ended their dream at the semi-final stage.

**Denmark (1986)

Denmark did not come close to winning the World Cup in 1986, but they remain one of the most popular sides in the tournament’s history. Their cult status owes much to their attacking style of football, which saw them score nine goals and take maximum points from a tough group containing West Germany, Uruguay and Scotland.

They were then thrashed 5-1 by Spain in the round of 16, but the scoreline does not tell the full story: a Danish side featuring Michael Laudrup, Jesper Olsen and Preben Elkjaer – but without suspended playmaker Frank Arnesen – missed plenty of chances and were undone by their opponents’ comparative ruthlessness in front of goal.

**Poland (1974)

Poland advanced to the 1974 World Cup ahead of England and Scotland, but little was expected of them in West Germany. A 3-2 victory over Argentina in their opening game turned a few heads, though, as did subsequent group-stage successes against Haiti (7-0) and Italy (2-1).

Those triumphs sent the Poles through to the second group stage, where they beat Sweden (1-0) and Yugoslavia (2-1) to stand on the brink of the final. Their encounter with the hosts was winner takes all, but the West Germans eked out a victory thanks to Gerd Muller’s second-half strike. Poland regrouped to beat Brazil in the third-place play-off, Grzegorz Lato scoring his seventh goal of the tournament to win the Golden Boot.

**Republic of Ireland (1990) 

After making their first appearance at a major international tournament at Euro ’88, Ireland got their first taste of the World Cup two years later. Led by Englishman Jack Charlton, a side featuring Ronnie Whelan, Paul McGrath, Ray Houghton and John Aldridge drew 1-1 with the Three Lions, 0-0 with Egypt and 1-1 with the Netherlands, which was enough for them to squeeze through to the knockout phase.

Another stalemate followed, this time in the form of a 0-0 tie with Romania, but Ireland held their nerve in the penalty shoot-out to progress to the quarter-finals. That was when their luck ran out, but hosts Italy were made to work hard for their 1-0 win in Rome. 

**North Korea (1966)

North Korea became the first Asian nation to advance beyond the first round of the World Cup in 1966. They began the tournament with a routine 3-0 loss to the Soviet Union, but a battling 1-1 draw with Chile kept alive their hopes of getting out of Group 4 – which is precisely what they did with a stunning 1-0 defeat of Italy at Ayresome Park in Middlesbrough.

North Korea looked like they were going to pull off an even bigger shock in the quarter-finals when they stormed into a 3-0 lead against Portugal, but Eusebio hit back with four goals of his own and Jose Augusto added another as Myung Rye-hyun’s charges exited the competition with their heads held high.

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