Paraguay and Ghana lead the charge of surprise qualifiers for the last eight with both reaching heights never before achieved at the FIFA World Cup™. Ghana have the opportunity to become the first African team to reach the semi-finals at the world football showpiece while Paraguay will need to overcome European champions Spain if they are to attain an even more rarefied altitude. It has become commonplace over recent tournaments for the quarter-final line-up to include at least one team not forecast by the pundits. FIFA.com takes at look at recent tournaments and the teams that have surprised with their run to the last eight.
Cameroon and Republic of Ireland
Two debutant quarter-finalists made a splash at Italy 1990 with Cameroon winning hearts as the first African side to reach the last eight, while Republic of Ireland achieved the feat in their first FIFA World Cup. The Indomitable Lions had done the unthinkable by defeating world champions Argentina in the opening game of the tournament and proceeded to prove it was no fluke with a further win against Romania to top their group. Veteran supersub Roger Milla inspired an extra-time Round of 16 defeat of Colombia to set up a classic encounter against England. Cameroon led with just eight minutes remaining only for Gary Lineker to convert a brace of penalties and secure a 3-2 extra-time win.
The Republic of Ireland's advance to the quarter-finals was marginally less of a surprise given they had performed admirably in the years leading up to the tournament under England’s 1966 FIFA World Cup winner Jack Charlton. Nevertheless, advancing from a group featuring the Netherlands, England and Egypt was itself impressive albeit unspectacular, with just seven goals scored across the entire group. Defender David O'Leary earned himself iconic status with the winning penalty in the penalty shoot-out win over Romania that led to a match-up with hosts Italy in Rome, where only a lone strike from Salvatore Schillaci separated the teams.
"The finest day in the history of Bulgarian football" was how coach Dimitar Penev described the 2-1 comeback quarter-final win against Germany in the sizzling heat of Giants Stadium. Yordan Letchkov scored a famous headed winner late in the contest after the genius of team talisman Hristo Stoichkov had pulled Bulgaria level. There had earlier been group wins over Greece and Argentina, before a Round of 16 triumph over Mexico on penalties. The semi-final against Italy brought a 2-1 triumph for the eventual runners-up but Penev's team were rightly feted in a nation that had never progressed past the last 16.
Six years after independence and playing at their first FIFA World Cup, Croatia caused a stir with a remarkable run to the semi-finals highlighted by a stunning 3-0 quarter-final victory against Germany. Robert Jarni, Goran Vlaovic and Davor Suker all scoring in Lyon. More history seemed set to follow in the semi-final as Croatia led host nation France until an unlikely second-half double from Lilian Thuram. Group wins over Japan and Jamaica were followed by a Round of 16 victory over Romania, with the Croatians leaving the tournament with Suker in proud possession of the adidas Golden Boot.
Korea Republic, Senegal, Turkey, USA
Remarkably a quartet of surprise names appeared in the quarter-final schedule at Korea/Japan 2002, with three debuting at that level, while USA's sole previous appearance came at the inaugural tournament in 1930. On home soil Korea Republic stunned Spain with a penalty shoot-out victory, having already dispensed with Italy in the previous round. Senegal became the second African nation to reach the quarters following up their group stage win against world champions France with a Round of 16 victory against Sweden. Their quarter-final nemesis, Turkey, progressed to the last four with a 1-0 extra-time win only to narrowly miss a place in the Final thanks to a lone strike from Brazil's Ronaldo. USA scored a famous Round of 16 success against CONCACAF rivals Mexico, and then gave Germany an almighty fright but again one goal proved the difference.
The Andriy Shevchenko-led Ukraine made an impressive tournament debut before being eliminated 3-0 by an impressive Italy in Hamburg. The eastern Europeans had progressed from the Round of 16 with a victory against Switzerland on penalties, which followed group-stage wins over Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, the Ukrainians turning on the style in the latter match as they achieved a comprehensive 4-0 win.