How will the debutants compare?

  • Iceland, Panama set to make World Cup debut at Russia 2018
  • They open against experienced sides Argentina and Belgium
  • We look back at some of the most memorable debutants

Come June, the populations of two nations will feel for the first time that heady mix of optimism, excitement, and trepidation that comes with following their country at a FIFA World Cup™. Iceland and Panama will take their first steps on the global stage against Argentina and Belgium, respectively.

Given their tough opening tasks, both squads will want to look back over the annals of World Cup history and gain some inspiration by recalling some of the most memorable debutants. FIFA.com takes a look back through the archives to remember the debut-making standard bearers.

1966: Portugal claim bronze
After three debutants – Northern Ireland, the Soviet Union, and Wales – made the quarter-final stage at Sweden 1958, Portugal usurped them by reaching the semi-finals at England 1966. Driven on by Eusebio, Otto Gloria’s side stunned the globe with a succession of remarkable results, not least their 3-1 victory against Gloria’s home nation Brazil.

Their quarter-final against Korea DPR is the game that defined their tournament though: 3-0 down after 25 minutes, A Seleção das Quinas fought back to win 5-3, thanks to the brilliance of four-goal Eusebio, who guided his side to a semi-final against the hosts.

That would be one round too far for the Portuguese, succumbing 2-1 to England, although they did win the match for third place against the Soviet Union. Eusebio’s goal against the Soviets was his ninth of the tournament, a total that saw him claim the adidas Golden Boot.

1986: Danish Dynamite deliver delicious football
The Danes of Mexico 1986 might not be one of the most successful, in terms of how far they progressed at the global finals, but their style of football captured the global footballing imagination in a way that very few debut sides have done before or since.

A fast-paced side, punctuated by the supreme attacking talents of Preben Elkjaer, Jesper Olsen, and Michael Laudrup, they are often positively and negatively compared to the legendary Dutch teams of the 1970s in that they played a forward-thinking style of football that centred on continuous movement and incisive passing – but did not actually win a trophy.

That said, they swept aside West Germany, Uruguay, and Scotland in a tough-looking group, scoring nine goals and conceding just once. However, the attacking verve instilled by German coach Sepp Piontek turned to recklessness in their Round of 16 clash against Spain, when they were humbled 5-1.

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READ: Daring Danes sink Soviets

1998: Croatia come close to crashing France’s party
Three of France 1998’s four debutants were drawn into the same group, and none made as big an impact as Croatia. Miroslav Blazevic’s side caught the public’s attention with their style and verve, as well as their results.

They swept aside Jamaica and Japan, before narrowly succumbing to Argentina in Group H, but it was the knockout stages that immortalised this Croatia side. After their defeat of Romania came the game that truly defined them: a stunning 3-0 victory over three-time champions Germany.

Davor Suker put Croatia ahead against hosts France in the semi-final – on course for an even more remarkable result – only for Lilian Thuram’s decisive brace to send them out. As with Portugal in 1966, the third-placed debutants had an adidas Golden Boot winner, with Suker’s strike against the Netherlands in their match for third place victory seeing him top the scoring charts with six goals.

2002: Lions of Teranga roar into the last eight
Despite an increase in the number of African sides qualifying for USA 1994 (three) and France 1998 (five), nobody had matched the great Cameroon outfit of 1990 in progressing to the World Cup’s last eight. That changed at Korea/Japan 2002, as Senegal announced their arrival in style, by defeating the holders France.

Their remarkable victory, courtesy of Papa Bouba Diop’s goal in Seoul, kick-started a campaign that was full of vigour and passion. Score draws against Denmark and Uruguay saw them through to the knockout stages before they beat Sweden, thanks to Henri Camara’s Round of 16 Golden Goal.

Turkey used the same method to defeat Bruno Metsu’s side in the quarter-finals, with Ilhan Mansiz’s effort denying them the honour of becoming the first African nation to reach the semi-finals.