The World Cup dream is about to begin again for 32 nations, with a host of countries big and small looking to flex their muscle on the global stage.
As the planet’s best teams gather in Qatar for four weeks of action, the perceived heavyweights like Brazil, France, England, Spain, Argentina and Germany will hold high hopes of being able to go all the way. For others, just making the finals already represents a significant achievement.
Underdogs and shock performances have formed a huge part of World Cup history across the decades, with the tournament offering a unique chance for an unproven side to take a swing at one of the big hitters.
Qatar’s host status grants them a first World Cup appearance in 2022, and they may well look to the example of other smaller nations geographically, who have provided some of the most iconic moments in World Cup folklore.
MORE: Which teams have qualified for Qatar 2022?
Who is the smallest country at World Cup 2022?
Qatar is the smallest nation by population size to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, with an estimated current population of around 2.8 million.
FIFA granted them an automatic place in the competition, as per the rules on host nations receiving an uncontested spot at the World Cup.
They will relish the opportunity to mix it with the big guns of international football, although Felix Sanchez’s side head into the tournament as the reigning AFC Asian Cup champions, having clinched the title by beating Japan in the final in the UAE in 2019.
Smallest country ever to reach the World Cup finals
If Qatar need any inspiration in their bid to cause a shock at the World Cup, they need look no further back than four years ago in Russia for a good example.
Due to the structure of qualifying, particularly in the UEFA and CONCACAF sections, smaller nations have often been able to seize their chance to make the tournament, and Iceland’s qualification for the 2018 World Cup set a new benchmark.
Having only made their major tournament debut at Euro 2016, where they memorably marched past England into the quarterfinals, Heimir Hallgrimsson’s side followed up by reaching their first-ever World Cup two years later.
Although they exited at the group stage, a 1-1 opening draw against Argentina and Lionel Messi showed just how far they were punching above their footballing weight.
Iceland, population 334,000, become the smallest nation ever to qualify for the World Cup – and the only one with fewer than 1m people. pic.twitter.com/vTZTxl532n
— Nick Harris (@sportingintel) October 9, 2017
Smallest country to make a World Cup final
The list of countries to go all the way to the final of the World Cup is, naturally, an exclusive one — with Uruguay holding the record for the smallest nation by population size to compete in the showpiece match.
|Country||Population at time of WC final (approx.)||World Cup||Result|
|Uruguay||1.9 million||Uruguay 1930||Won (4-2) vs Argentina|
|Croatia||4.1 million||Russia 2018||Lost (4-2) vs France|
|Sweden||7.45 million||Sweden 1958||Lost (5-2) vs Brazil|
Biggest country never to make the World Cup
In contrast to several smaller nations clinching a World Cup place, some of the planet’s most populous countries have so far failed to reach the competition proper.
China’s appearance at the 2002 World Cup was their sole qualification, while some other big nations have never made the finals at all — proving that weight of numbers doesn’t always translate into sporting success.
The below countries are all still waiting to grace the World Cup stage:
|Country||Current population (approx. 2020)|