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World Cup performance vs population - Minnows Croatia upset the odds to finish third, Morocco exceeded expectations but giants USMNT & Germany underwhelmed… so, how did all 32 countries rank in Qatar?

11:00 AM GMT 21/12/2022
Luka Modric Christian Pulisic GFX
Part of the attraction of the World Cup is the ability for countries to outperform their size, economic status and club prestige on the pitch

Just like in 2018, Croatia proved to be a powerful force at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar despite numerous factors working against them - including a tiny population to draw talent from relative to the United States, Mexico and others.

Zlatko Dalic made the most of a talented generation led by Luka Modric, guiding Croatia to a third-place finish after a memorable quarter-final upset of Brazil.

So how did all of the competitors stack up when taking population into account? GOAL's list is calculated by working out the difference between where each country ranks in terms of population size and their final ranking at the World Cup.

When teams went out in the same round, we used points (if a team went out on penalties in the knockouts, we say they drew their match), then goal difference and then goals scored to split them.

  • Taremi England Iran

    #32 Iran (-21 points)

    Population rank: 5

    World Cup finish: 26

    Despite their size, it was hard to blame Iran for struggling in Qatar given the civil unrest back home.

  • Jonathan David Canada 2022 World Cup

    #31 Canada (-19)

    Population rank: 12

    World Cup finish: 31

    There was a lot of hope entering the tournament that Canada would be surprisingly competitive, but after playing Belgium close in their opener, they ran out of steam.

  • Hector Moreno post-match Mexico Saudi Arabia World Cup 2022

    #30 Mexico (-19)

    Population rank: 3

    World Cup finish: 22

    Mexico parted ways with manager Gerardo Martino right after the tournament and must now re-assess their entire approach to international football. They're at a historical low point.

  • Thomas Müller Germany

    #29 Germany (-11)

    Population rank: 6

    World Cup finish: 17

    Didn't make it out of their group. There's no way to sugarcoat such an underwhelming result.

  • Berhalter Pulisic

    #28 United States (-11)

    Population rank: 1

    World Cup finish: 12

    It's impossible for the USMNT to do well on this list as the population leaders, but they'll need to do a little better in 2026 as co-hosts.

  • Saudi Arabia fans

    #27 Saudi Arabia (-10)

    Population rank: 15

    World Cup finish: 25

    Remember the stunning win over Argentina, try to forget everything else.

  • Baba Rahman Ghana.

    #26 Ghana (-8)

    Population rank: 16

    World Cup finish: 24

    Outside the 3-2 win over South Korea, it was a poor showing from Ghana.

  • Cho Gue-sung South Korea 2022 World Cup

    #25 South Korea (-5)

    Population rank: 9

    World Cup finish: 14

    Ran into Brazil at their best in the last 16. Tough luck there.

  • Japan

    #24 Japan (-5)

    Population rank: 4

    World Cup finish: 9

    Japan are an example of a large country still developing a football culture, having not played at a World Cup until 1998. They continue to make progress, and they should feel happy with their performance in Qatar despite their ranking here.

  • Rodrygo Neymar Brazil World Cup 2022

    #23 Brazil (-4)

    Population rank: 2

    World Cup finish: 6

    Bitter, bitter disappointment from the team that entered as the favourite. Brazil will be haunted by their quarter-final shootout defeat to Croatia for a long time.

  • Sergej Milinkovic-Savic Serbia 2022 World Cup

    #22 Serbia (-3)

    Population rank: 26

    World Cup finish: 29

    Considered a dark horse by some, Serbia's World Cup campaign never got off the ground. They went winless and finished bottom of their group.

  • Andre Onana Cameroon 2022.

    #21 Cameroon (-2)

    Population rank: 17

    World Cup finish: 19

    Far from a total disaster, Cameroon came in third in Group G behind Brazil and Switzerland. The Andre Onana dispute was odd, though.

  • Eriksen Denmark

    #20 Denmark (-1)

    Population rank: 27

    World Cup finish: 28

    Nations that didn't live up to their population sizes did so for a variety of reasons: poor football development structures at home, humanitarian turmoil, or just plain stinking it up on the pitch despite the resources to succeed. Denmark were the latter.

  • Mohammed Muntari Qatar World Cup

    #19 Qatar (0)

    Population rank: 32

    World Cup finish: 32

    Three matches, three defeats. But the hosts were never expected to do much on the pitch.

  • Romelu Lukaku Belgium 2022

    #18 Belgium (0)

    Population rank: 23

    World Cup finish: 23

    Nobody is going to let Belgium off the hook because they're a relatively small nation. This was underachievement from an overhyped squad.

  • Robert Lewandowski Poland 2022

    #17 Poland (0)

    Population rank: 13

    World Cup finish: 13

    Reaching the last 16 before losing to France is about what was expected for Poland. At least Robert Lewandowski can now say he's scored at a World Cup.

  • Pedri Spain 2022

    #16 Spain (0)

    Population rank: 10

    World Cup finish: 10

    Spain started so well with their impressive 7-0 victory over Costa Rica, but they never really replicated that level as they eventually crashed out in the last 16 to Morocco.

  • Bale Iran World Cup 2022

    #15 Wales (1)

    Population rank: 31

    World Cup finish: 30

    Making the tournament was an achievement, but there was little for Wales to be excited about once they got there.

  • Fuller Costa Rica 2022-23

    #14 Costa Rica (1)

    Population rank: 28

    World Cup finish: 27

    Costa Rica lost their opener 7-0 to Spain, but they didn't let that result kill their spirits as they rallied for a win over Japan and played Germany close in their final game.

  • Wahbi Khazri Tunisia 2022

    #13 Tunisia (1)

    Population rank: 22

    World Cup finish: 21

    That group-stage win over France should be cherished, even if it wasn't enough to advance. Tunisia showed admirable fight as they bowed out.

  • Bukayo Saka England 2022

    #12 England (1)

    Population rank: 8

    World Cup finish: 7

    England were right around where they ought to be in terms of performance relative to population, and they arguably outplayed France in defeat. With an easier knockout-stage route, perhaps they could have advanced further.

  • Ecuador WC 2022

    #11 Ecuador (3)

    Population rank: 21

    World Cup finish: 18

    Ecuador will always have that goal against Qatar in the first match played in the tournament, and a draw against the Netherlands wasn't a bad result either.

  • Kalidou Koulibaly Senegal 2022.

    #10 Senegal (4)

    Population rank: 19

    World Cup finish: 15

    We'll always wonder whether Senegal would have gone further if not for Sadio Mane's injury, but this was nonetheless a respectable showing.

  • Kylian Mbappe World Cup 2022

    #9 France (5)

    Population rank: 7

    World Cup finish: 2

    France should always be among the final few teams given their population and football tradition, and they were excellent in Qatar, making it all the way to the final before losing in a shootout to Argentina.

  • Leckie Australia Dinamarca Mundial Qatar 2022

    #8 Australia (7)

    Population rank: 18

    World Cup finish: 11

    Few expected much from Australia at this World Cup, and yet they made it to the last 16 where eventual champions Argentina earned a 2-1 win.

  • Xherdan Shaqiri Serbia Switzerland World Cup 2022

    #7 Switzerland (9)

    Population rank: 25

    World Cup finish: 16

    Brazil blew the doors off them in a 6-1 last-16 thumping, but Switzerland can still be happy they continued a streak of five consecutive knockout round appearances at major tournaments. Pretty impressive considering their population rank.

  • Suarez Uruguay South Korea

    #6 Uruguay (10)

    Population rank: 30

    World Cup finish: 20

    It's easy to forget just how improbable Uruguay's sustained run near the top of the football world is given all the talent they boast. Even qualifying for the World Cup on a consistent basis is a challenge - they were the third-smallest country at this competition - and so they deserve props despite an underwhelming showing in Qatar.

  • Achraf Hakimi Hakim Ziyech Morocco.

    #5 Morocco (10)

    Population rank: 14

    World Cup finish: 4

    The darlings of the tournament came out of nowhere to shock Spain and Portugal in the knockouts. Even though they came up short of the ultimate prize, their run was the stuff of legend, and they did much better than their population suggests they should have.

  • Lionel Messi Argentina World Cup 2022

    #4 Argentina (10)

    Population rank: 11

    World Cup finish: 1

    The World Cup winners may not be the biggest, but just like their star man Lionel Messi, they're indisputably the best. Being in the top-half of competitors in terms of population kept them from the very top of this list, but they won't be complaining.

  • Memphis Depay Netherlands 2022

    #3 Netherlands (15)

    Population rank: 20

    World Cup finish: 5

    Another nation that regularly punches above its weight, the Netherlands were driven to great heights by Louis van Gaal before losing a heartbreaker to Argentina in a quarter-final shootout. The Dutch have nothing to be ashamed about.

  • Bruno Fernandes Portugal Morocco World Cup 2022

    #2 Portugal (16)

    Population rank: 24

    World Cup finish: 8

    Portugal believed they should have gone much further than the quarter-final, where they lost to Morocco, but they certainly outperformed their size. A rich region of football talent continues to produce the goods.

  • Luka Modric 2022 World Cup

    #1 Croatia (26 points)

    Population rank: 29

    World Cup finish: 3

    After a second-place finish in 2018, tiny Croatia again received a medal in 2022 with a victory over Morocco in the third-place game.