With four of the eight groups at this year’s World Cup in Qatar, half of the 16 teams that will now feature in the first round of knock-out stages.
Whilst Brazil, Argentina, France and England are among the usual suspects at this stage of the competition, both Senegal and Australia will be making only their second appearance at this stage of the competition. Another, Poland, has not made it through to this stage of the competition since 1982.
Should Morocco and Ghana also make it through their groups as well, it will help cement the reputation of this World Cup as the tournament of upsets.
Although Senegal won the African Cup of Nations earlier this year, beating Egypt in the final, under coach Aliou Cissé, their hopes suffered a blow on the eve of the tournament, when they lost their captain and main striker, Sadio Mané, to injury.
And they began the competition badly, losing their opening game to the Netherlands, with goalkeeper Édouard Mendy partially at fault for both the goals.
They were able then to beat the hosts Qatar – arguably the weakest side ever to be given hosting duties for a FIFA World Cup – setting up a final game decider with Ecuador.
The South Americans began the match with a one goal advantage, but it was Senegal who took the lead with a penalty.
Ecuador equalised, but their fans were still celebrating when Senegal scored what proved to be the winner, enabling them to leapfrog them in the final standings.
The only other time a Senegal team has progressed beyond the group stage was back in 2002, when they got to the quarter-finals, before losing to Turkey in extra time. No African side has yet to go further in a World Cup.
Australia needed to win an inter-continental play-off against Peru just to make it to Qatar, but few gave them much chance of advancing after they were placed in the same World Cup group as defending champions France, one of the dark horses in Denmark, and a well-organised Tunisia side.
When they took the lead in their opening group game against France, another shock upset appeared on the cards. That hope lasted as long as it took Kylian Mbappé to get into the game. Australia could not cope with his pace and power, and lost 4 – 1.
However, they then beat Tunisia, by a single goal, despite being second best for much of the match.
Denmark had endured a disappointing tournament up until the pair met, but were still widely expected to beat them. However, although the Danes dominated possession, their lack of cutting edge proved to be their undoing, and Australia hit them on the break to score.
Like Senegal, this will only be their second time they have reached the knock-out phases. The only other time was back in 2006, when they reached the round of 16 in Germany before losing narrowly to the eventual winners, Italy.
Although Poland have a more storied World Cup history – they finished third in both 1974 and 1982, this is their first time they will have featured in the round of 16 since 1986. They can count themselves fortunate to have got this far, having survived a final game drama, during which, at one stage, only the fact they had received fewer yellow cards than Mexico kept their heads above water.
Morocco and Ghana
Morocco and Ghana will both entertain hopes of joining them. Morocco will begin their final group game second in their group, and knowing, that because of goal difference, if they can beat an already eliminated Canada team, they are also certain to go through. It would be deserved having pulled off one of the upsets of the tournament by beating Belgium, the number two ranked team in the world, in their last match.
The only previous time they reached the knock-out stages was back in 1986 when they got to the round of 16 before losing to West Germany.
Ghana also that if they can avoid defeat against Uruguay – who have yet to score in the tournament so far – they have an excellent chance of progressing from Group H, along with Portugal who have already secured their place in the knock-out stages.
And there is history in this match. Having reached the round of 16 in 2006, four years later in South Africa, Ghana got to the quarter-finals where they met Uruguay. With the match level, a Ghana header was goal-bound when Uruguay forward Luis Suárez punched the ball off the line.
Although he was sent off, Ghana missed the subsequent penalty and then lost the resultant shoot-out.
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