The qualifying road to a FIFA World Cup is long and winding and paved with obstacles. There is no such thing as an easy campaign and often the big boys are tripped up, with the unthinkable happening of not doing enough to get to the finals.

The process for reaching the 2018 competition in Russia has seen a few casualties already, with the likes of Italy, Holland and the United States missing out.

There is nothing guaranteed or owed to any team wanting to take part in the grandest showpiece of them all. Qualifying for the World Cup with one of the smallest populations globally is an achievement that takes a Herculean effort.

We looked at 10 of the smallest nations that have defied the odds to book their spots at the World Cup finals.



Iceland’s heroic effort at Euro 2016, when they advanced all the way to the quarterfinals, was backed up with qualification to the 2018 World Cup.

Iceland's population of 335,025 is the smallest out of any team to have successfully qualified for a World Cup. To say this Nordic Island nation has overachieved would be a gross understatement...


Iceland will bring their passionate Viking Clapping supporters along to Russia and if Euro 2016 is anything to go by there will be a lot.

Over 8% percent of their population bought tickets to see their heroes play in France. Simply magnificent and astonishing, Iceland will have the backing of all the neutrals and have already won in a sense by qualifying.

Tip: Iceland to reach the quarter finals12/1


Trinidad and Tobago

The dual-island Caribbean nation stunned the World when they qualified for Germany 2006. Their population of 1,369,125 makes them the second smallest nation to ever qualify for a World Cup.

The 2006 edition in Germany was the solitary appearance at any World Cup for the Islanders and unfortunately, they battled to stamp their dominance and flamboyant football on the world.

After earning a brilliant point in a 0-0 encounter against Sweden, their final two games were 2-0 losses to Paraguay and England. When they next qualify for a World Cup, the Soca Warriors will be looking to register their first goal and win.


Northern Ireland

When Northern Ireland qualified for the World Cup finals in Sweden during 1958 they went further than they have ever ventured into the tournament.

Beating Czechoslovakia and earning a point against the World Cup champions during the time West Germany, was enough to seem them progress to the quarterfinals where they were soundly beaten by France 4-0.

It was a phenomenal time for the Northern Irish, whose population is the third smallest at 1,876,600 as they punched well above their weight and left with an enormous amount of respect.

The Green and White army went on to qualify for Spain 1982 and Mexico 1986 but didn't enjoy the same amount of success with a second round and group exit, respectively.



Slovenia defied the odds when they qualified for their first World Cup in 2002. The Slovenians arrived in South Korea and Japan for the 17th staging of the World Cup finals, with no one quite knowing what to expect.

The nation with a population of 2,079,976 struggled and ended up losing all three of their group games and suffered a first-round exit. Better times were ahead for Slovenia, as they managed to get in on the party again when they qualified for South Africa 2010.


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There, they were to register their first ever World Cup win against Algeria but ultimately exited during the first round after a draw with America and a 1-0 loss to England in Port Elizabeth.

How different it could have been but for a Landon Donovan goal against Algeria in the 90th minute, which sealed Slovenia’s fate as America progressed at the expense of the Slovenians.



The Reggae Boyz announced themselves on the world footballing stage when they qualified for France 1998.

Despite only having a population of 2,890,299, the Jamaicans qualified for the finals in France and even managed a win in their final group game against Japan. Losses against Argentina and Croatia meant they were on the plane home after the first round.

They eventually finished in 22nd position out of the 32 teams and that is a placing that would have brought immense pride to the Caribbean nation.



Like Northern Ireland, Wales also managed qualification to the 1958 World Cup in Sweden with a minute population.

With 3,113,200 people in Wales, they marched on in Sweden and went on a journey that resulted in reaching the quarterfinals, only to lose to the mighty Brazil 1-0.

It was a brave showing by Wales, which had them playing Hungary in a group playoff to reach the quarterfinals after they finished on the same amount of group points. The Welsh haven’t qualified since 1958 and will be hoping to end the 59-year wait with an appearance at the finals in Qatar in 2020.



The awe-inspiring Uruguayans have a history at the World Cup finals that defies belief as they only have a population of 3,456,750 people but have won the tournament on two different occasions!

They were the first-ever winners of the event in 1930 when they won on home soil and then went into the lion's den and beat Brazil during the 1950 playing of the World Cup final, when they won 2-1 at Brazil’s home fortress of the Maracanã Stadium to register their second title.

In total, La Celeste have appeared at 12 World Cup finals, and with their two wins, they also have three semifinals appearances.

Uruguay may be small in number but they are giants when they arrive at World Cups and their spectacular record on the big stage speaks for itself.

Tip: Uruguay to win the World Cup32/1



Panama, like Iceland, are another success story in qualification for Russia 2018. Their road to glory had the country in disbelief and mass hysteria upon qualification when they qualified for the finals.

President Juan Carlos Varela declared a public holiday as the celebrations carried on long into the night in the country with a population of 4,098,587.


Los Canaleros are arguably set to compete in the group of death as they were drawn in Group G with England, Belgium and Tunisia.

Getting out of that group and into the round of 16 will take a monumental effort but even if they do exit during the first round, they have done the nation of Panama proud by reaching their firsts ever World Cup finals.

Tip: Panama to finish in the top two of Group G11/1



When Kuwait had eventually booked their spot at the Spanish World Cup in 1982, it sent shockwaves around the globe. It was tough going for the Kuwaitis, who have a population of 4,136,528 people.

They managed their only ever World Cup point against Czechoslovakia in a 1-1 draw but then went on to lose to France and then England, which resulted in an early group exit.

At is stands, Kuwait are currently suspended by FIFA and nobody knows when they will next appear at a World Cup. It shouldn't detract from the pride that Kuwait brought to their nation in 1982 when they secured a place at the World Cup, however.



Croatia is another small country that has a superb record at the World Cup finals. With a tiny population of 4,189,353 people, the Croatians have built a rich and prestigious history after appearing at four of the events.

The most successful of the four came in 1998 when they reached the semifinals and eventually ended up finishing third. The accolades for Croatia didn't stop there, as striker Davor Šuker claimed the Golden Boot with six goals in seven matches.

It was a stunning show by the Eastern Europeans as they won the hearts and minds of every football fan around the globe.


*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*

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The 888sport blog, based at 888 Towers in the heart of London, employs an army of betting and tipping experts for your daily punting pleasure, as well as an irreverent, and occasionally opinionated, look at the absolute madness that is the world of sport.

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