Iceland, Panama and the record of World Cup debutants
A look at how teams have fared at their maiden World Cup since France 20 years ago
Iceland’s players arrive for their first training session at Olimp Stadium in Kabardinka. Photograph: Getty Images
Iceland make their World Cup debut on Saturday when they face Argentina in Moscow.
They are one of two nations competing in the finals for the first time at Russia 2018, with the other being Panama, whose bow comes on Monday when they take on Belgium in Sochi.
Here’s a look at how other countries have fared at their maiden World Cup finals, starting from the edition in France 20 years ago when the current 32-team format was first used.
Four nations debuted in France, with Croatia very much the stand-out performers among them. Miroslav Blazevic’s side made it to the semi-finals, defeating Germany 3-0 in the quarters before losing 2-1 to the hosts and eventual champions in the last four. They subsequently claimed third place via a 2-1 victory over Holland, and the tournament finished with their striker Davor Suker as top scorer with six goals. The other newcomers were Jamaica and Japan, who came third and fourth in Croatia’s group respectively, plus South Africa, third in their pool. The sole win achieved by those three teams was Jamaica beating Japan 2-1.
South Korea and Japan 2002
There was another quartet of first-timers four years later and this time Senegal were the debutants making the biggest impact. They pulled off a shock 1-0 victory over reigning world and European champions France in their opener thanks to Papa Bouba Diop’s goal, took the runners-up spot in their group having also drawn with Denmark and Uruguay, and then beat Sweden to advance to a quarter-final against Turkey that they lost 1-0 after extra time. Meanwhile, Slovenia and China ended up bottom of their groups with no points and Ecuador finished in the same position, although they did beat Croatia in the last of their three matches.
Ukraine and Ghana fared best out of six nations making their World Cup bows at the 2006 tournament, with the former, skippered by Andriy Shevchenko, making it to the quarter-finals and the latter to the last 16, exiting with 3-0 losses to eventual champions Italy and Brazil respectively. Both had come second in their groups with six points. Ivory Coast and Angola each came third in their pools, with the Elephants beating Serbia and Montenegro 3-2 after 2-1 defeats against Argentina and Holland, while Trinidad and Tobago and Togo both came fourth in theirs.
South Africa 2010
Slovakia were the only debutants at the 2010 World Cup and made a considerable impression. Following a draw with New Zealand and loss to Paraguay, a famous and dramatic 3-2 win over the reigning champions Italy saw the Slovakians claim second place in their group. Vladimir Weiss senior’s men then bowed out at the last-16 stage with a 2-1 loss to a Holland side who ended up as beaten finalists. Forward Robert Vittek’s goal in that game took him to four for the tournament, including a brace against the Italians.
There was also just one new participating country four years later as Bosnia and Herzegovina got their first taste. They failed to get out of their group, coming third after losing to Argentina, the tournament’s eventual runners-up, and Nigeria, then defeating Iran 3-1. Edin Dzeko was among the scorers in the win.