It seems that, at least on the surface, that underdogs make a bigger impact in the FIFA World Cup™ when it is staged outside Europe. If that is the case, then South Africa 2010 will provide the perfect setting for the tournament outsiders to cause upsets and sensations.
There have certainly been a number of surprises so far, most notably the elimination of defending champions Italy and France - the first time in history that the two previous finalists have failed to progress beyond the group stage. FIFA.com takes a look at the tournament dark horses who are looking to upset the odds once again.
Slovakia are by no means the first debutants to have stormed into the second round of the FIFA World Cup - with seven first-timers having achieved the same feat over the past two and a half decades. But Vladimir Weiss's charges stole the show when they pipped Italy 3-2 to earn themselves a date with the Netherlands in the Round of 16. And Robert Vittek, who scored three times to jump to the top of the tournament scoring chart, is aiming to break further ground when the two sides meet on Monday. "The Dutch are clear favourites but we will try to give them a hard time," said the 28-year-old. "As newcomers we have nothing to lose."
Asian teams have also made historic breakthroughs with two teams progressing into the knockout stage for the first time since the continent staged its first FIFA World Cup in 2002. Korea Republic, who reached the last four as co-hosts eight years ago, were the first to make it through, eliminating Nigeria with a 2-2 draw to qualify behind Argentina. After achieving their initial goal, coach Huh Jung-Moo is upbeat ahead of their next fixture against Uruguay, who have yet to concede a single goal. "Their clean sheet doesn’t mean they are invincible and we will take the game to them," he said.
Japan, who had never won a FIFA World Cup match on foreign soil until this tournament, impressed greatly in their three group matches, finishing second behind the Netherlands. The section’s lowest ranked side swept past the likes of Cameroon and Denmark, entertaining the watching world with their fluid play. Striker Shinji Okazaki, who broke his FIFA World Cup duck by sealing their 3-1 victory against Denmark, is relishing their next outing against Paraguay in the knockout stage. He said: "South Americans are tougher in one-on-one battles for the ball. But we can overcome them if we play with confidence."
There has also been near-misses with both Switzerland and New Zealand narrowly missing out on a place in the round of 16, only able to manage goalless draws in their final group match when they needed three points to advance.
Despite becoming the first host nation to have failed to reach the next phase, South Africa finished their campaign with their heads held high, recording a memorable 2-1 triumph over France who are 74 places above them in the FIFA/Coca Cola World Ranking. Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira lauded his team: "It is disappointing we didn't progress but the nation is proud of us. I want to tell the players: boys, keep working, we will make it to Brazil 2014."