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World Cup Hipsters: A history of teams who surprised us all – and probably themselves

Marc Wilmots’ star-studded Belgium are this year’s ‘hipster side’ – but what does that mean, and how do the alternative picks fare in World Cup finals?

by Amy Eustace | June 8, 2014

The word ‘hipster’ didn’t exist in football before 2010 or so. It had incarnations instead in underdogs; teams so unfashionable they became fashionable; and cult sides riven with smooth continental players that made the England stars of their day all look like Peter Beardsley.

In the absence of a proper yardstick for measuring hipster-ness in a time when the untrendy were just that – here’s some surprise packages, dark horses and ‘cult’ sides from the past. It may shed some light on how Belgium’s Red Devils will fare in Brazil. At the very least, it might make you feel old.

1. Mexico 1986 – Denmark


Mexico 86 goes down in memory as the year of the Hand of God, but it seemed so certain to be the year of Danish Dynamite. The side was littered with the smoothest Scandinavians– early, chiselled Michael Laudrup, current Denmark manager Morten Olsen and Frank Arnesen, to name but a few.

Danes everywhere breathed exasperated sighs when Denmark were lumped into the 1986 World Cup’s group of death with Uruguay, Scotland and West Germany.

It was a setback, but one the Danes – with their fluid passing style and cool heads – were more than able to overcome. They steamrolled the opposition and won all their games, including a 6-1 trammelling of Uruguay. They were knocked out in the second round by arch-nemeses Spain, proving perhaps that it might not all be plain sailing for Belgium.


2. Italy 1990 – Yugoslavia

Italia ’90 served as Yugoslavia’s last World Cup before it splintered into Serbia and Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina was a memorable one. Its fragility was key to its downfall both politically and on the pitch.

They certainly had a large talent pool to draw from. Dejan Savićević, Robert Prosinečki and Robert Jarni all kitted out for them in 1990 and they emerged from their group beating Colombia and the United Arab Emirates to reach the second round.

A 2-1 extra-time victory over Spain, with Dragan Stojković scoring both, saw them through to the quarters and a face-off with defending champions Argentina.

Having received death-threats from his home of Ljubljana, midfield maestro Srečko Katanec requested that he be left out of the quarter final tie against Argentina. Depsite this, Yugoslavia managed to keep Argentina at bay for 90 minutes plus extra time for the chance of securing a semi final place on penalties, but it wasn’t to be. Despite Diego Maradona missing from the spot (a rarity), Yugoslavia lost the shoot-out 3-2.

3. USA 1994 – Bulgaria


Bulgaria were experiencing a purple patch of players when the 1994 World Cup rolled around. The best known of them was the peerless Hristo Stoichkov, then nearing the end of an illustrious five years at Barcelona, He was joined by a veritable feast of football hipster icons, including Yordan Letchkov, Emil Kostadinov and Krassimir Balakov.

They weren’t expected to progress from their group, but in the end it came down to the final game with Argentina, which they needed to win by two clear goals. They did, and suddenly everyone took notice of the adventurous Bulgarians. They knocked out Mexico and Germany on the way to the semi-final.

They faced a miserly Italian squad in the semis. Roberto Baggio scored twice, and while Stoichkov nabbed a consolation, Italy held on and went on to lose the final on penalties to Brazil. Bulgaria lost to Sweden in the third place play off.

4. France 1998- Croatia


The break-up of Yugoslavia had the comparatively trivial effect of demolishing a great European football power, but some of its dismembered parts became powers in their own right, starting with Croatia. Milan’s Zvonimir Boban captained a side that included veteran Robert Prosinečki; promising young defender Dario Šimić; Real Madrid’s Davor Šuker; and the inimitable Slaven Bilić.

The Patriot game

Coached by the eccentric but loveable Miroslav Blažević, they had reached the quarter finals in their inaugural tournament as a fledgling country in England in 1996.

A fiercely patriotic and talented side with newcomer status, just three years on from a war with Serbia – if hipsters existed in the traditional sense back then, Croatia was their side of choice.

Victories against Japan and Jamaica ensured progression to the round of 16 before a 1-0 loss to Argentina. They would then beat Balkan neighbours Romania 1-0 before squaring up against Germany in the quarter finals, hoping that it wouldn’t be a repeat of match that saw them exit the European Championships two years earlier. Thankfully it wasn’t – a decisive 3-0 win gave them a semi final tie against France.

Croatia took the lead just after the break but France beat them 2-1 courtesy of a Lilian Thuram brace. Bilić ensured Laurent Blanc saw red following an altercation between the pair but it was too late to make any difference to the scoreline.

5. Japan and South Korea 2002 – Rep of Ireland


Maybe I’m biased, or maybe 2002 was just low on hipster quality, but the Republic of Ireland were the ironic cult side back then. The squad was made up mostly of Championship pedigree players, bolstered by a clutch of household names like Roy and Robbie Keane, Damien Duff, Shay Given and Niall Quinn. Nobody bar the perpetually optimistic Irish supporters gave them much of a chance.

A team of Gary Breens

Despite Roy Keane’s walkout in Saipan, Ireland did enough to get through the group – coming in second thanks to draws against Germany and Cameroon and a win against Saudi Arabia. They then faced Spain, who didn’t yet know the meaning of tiki-taka, but still had a squad peppered with stars as well known as Raúl, Casillas and Xavi.

Despite the best sabotage efforts of Ian Harte and Kevin Kilbane, Ireland would force the tie to penalties. The (ludicrous in retrospect) dream of Mick McCarthy taking a team to the World Cup quarter finals was not to materialise, when Spain scored three penalties to Ireland’s two. But to this day, even these South Korean kids still dream of a team of Gary Breens.

6. Germany 2006 – Ghana


African teams were the height of hip in the noughties. In 2005, Lyon’s Ghanaian midfielder Michael Essien had signed for Chelsea, and marked himself out as an integral part of José Mourinho’s league-winning squad. He would prove integral to his national side in that summer’s World Cup.

Diamond geezers

Coached by the Serbian Ratomir Dujković, the Black Stars suffered from indiscipline despite their wealth of talent. A defensive side, Dujković brought only two out-and-out strikers to Germany.  What they lacked in scoring ability they made up for in technical prowess – epitomised by their diamond formation. Essien provided the base for Ghana, while captain Stephen Appiah pulled the strings behind the strikers. These mechanics made them a must-follow for the wannabe high-brow tactician.

They defeated the USA and the Czech Republic in the group stage but lost to Italy. In the round of 16, they were trounced 3-0 by Brazil. Undone by their lack of cutting edge in front of goal, Ghana had enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and piled on the pressure, but it wasn’t enough to match the clinical Brazilians.

7. South Africa 2010 – Switzerland

Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Switzerland made hard work of a comparatively lightweight qualifying group and as a result, were not expected to be up to much in South Africa. In a group which included Spain, who names were practically engraved on the trophy even at that early stage, Chile and Honduras, if they were going to win it was probably going to be against the Central American side, right?

Hitzfeld’s tactical guile saw him achieve the unthinkable – beating Spain in the first match of a World Cup they were destined to win.

Granted, Switzerland went on to lose to Chile and, needing a victory by two clear goals against Honduras to progress, only managed a scoreless draw, so Hitzfeld’s achievement was somewhat limited. Still, you don’t get more hipster than embarrassing mainstream Spain.

8. Brazil 2014 – Belgium

Lukaku correct size

Belgium’s Red Devils are so unbearably hipster that they’re backed up with a drum-heavy World Cup song by Belgian dance artist Stromae. The depth of their squad would make your head spin, from players as well known as Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Thibault Courtois, to the slightly more obscure but incredibly talented Steven Defour, Alex Witsel and Divock Origi.

Show us your medals

With Atletico Madrid, Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Anderlecht’s success in their respective leagues, there are six players in Belgium’s 24-man World Cup squad with league winner medals this year alone.

Can they win it? Their best-ever showing at a World Cup was a fourth place finish in 1986 and if the history is anything to go by, cult status does not necessarily beget trophies. The immense pressure on Belgium to make hay while the sun shines on their golden generation could well be their undoing.

Expect at least a quarter final showing from the Red Devils. They could well go down with Denmark, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria as one of the greatest ‘hipster teams’ in World Cup history.

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