Thursday, February 2, 2023

Ukraine is the MOST successful country to have only played in one World Cup

Qatar, this year’s FIFA World Cup hosts, are participating in the tournament for the first time in their history. There have been a number of nations who have only appeared in the competition once, never to be seen again. But which of these left a lasting impression, be it good or bad?

Seeking to find out, we collected data on the nations which have only featured in the FIFA World Cup once, comparing their overall performances to determine which one-time World Cup participants had the most and least successful campaigns.

Ranked: Countries to only participate in the World Cup once

RankCountryYearContest progressionSummaryGoals scored / conceded ratioFinal performance score (/100)
1Ukraine2006Quarter – Finals3W, 0D, 2L8:793.1
2Cuba1938Quarter – Finals1W, 1D, 1L5:1287.1
3Slovakia2010Round of 161W, 1D, 2L5:780.0
4Bosnia and Herzegovina2014Group Stage1W, 0D, 2L4:462.7
5Jamaica1998Group Stage1W, 0D, 2L3:957.9
6Angola2006Group Stage0W, 2D, 1L1:229.2
7Israel1970Group Stage0W, 2D, 1L1:326.6
8Iceland2018Group Stage0W, 1D, 2L2:526.3
9Kuwait1982Group Stage0W, 1D, 2L2:624.8
10Trinidad and Tobago2006Group Stage0W, 1D, 2L0:415.8
=11United Arab Emirates1990Group Stage0W, 0D, 3L2:1112.7
=11Panama2018Group Stage0W, 0D, 3L2:1112.7
=13Haiti1974Group Stage0W, 0D, 3L2:1411.6
=13Iraq1986Group Stage0W, 0D, 3L1:411.6
15Togo2006Group Stage0W, 0D, 3L1:610.0
=16Indonesia1938First Round0W, 0D, 1L0:65.3
=16Democratic Republic of the Congo1974Group Stage0W, 0D, 3L0:145.3
=16China2002Group Stage0W, 0D, 3L0:95.3
‘=’ indicates a joint ranking
W = Wins / D = Draws / L = Losses

The one-time World Cup participants with the most successful campaign of all time is Ukraine, with a final performance score of 93.1 out of 100. The nation’s only participation in the tournament came in 2006, in which they managed to reach the quarter-finals. Though they triumphed against Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Switzerland, it was ultimately their loss to eventual winners Italy that knocked them out of the contest. Regardless, with the leadership of legendary striker Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine’s resilient 2006 squad is one that is unlikely to be forgotten any time soon. 


In second place is Cuba,with a final performance score of 87.1 out of 100. Their one and only participation in the contest was in 1938. The format of the World Cup was different in the earlier years, and group stages were played as a straight knockout affair. Cuba managed to pass this test, with a draw and subsequent victory over Romania. Unfortunately for the Caribbean nation, their tournament ended at the quarter-finals, losing to Sweden by a whopping 8 goals to 0. Over 80 years later, Cuba is still waiting to participate in another World Cup.

In third place is Slovakia, who participated in the 2010 tournament for the only time in its history, and finishes with a final performance score of 80 out of 100. The most memorable moment of Slovakia’s World Cup story came in their third group game, claiming a massive upset victory against the winners of the previous World Cup, Italy. Disappointingly for fans, Slovakia were knocked out of the tournament by the Netherlands in their next match.

All the other teams who only appeared once in the World Cup’s history did not progress beyond the first stage of the tournament. However, looking at the ratio of victories to draws and to losses, as well as the ratio of goals scored to goals conceded, it can be determined that the one-time World Cup participants with the worst campaigns in history are: Indonesia in 1938, the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1974, and China in 2002. All finish with a final performance score of only 5.3 out of 100

Indonesia, then called the Dutch East Indies, competed in only one match at the 1938 World Cup (against Hungary), which it lost 6-0. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, then called Zaire, lost all of its group matches in 1974, scoring no goals of its own but conceding 14. China also lost all three of its group matches in 2002, conceding 9 goals and scoring none.  

There have been 19 nations to compete in the World Cup only once. The table only includes 18, since Qatar’s 2022 campaign is ongoing and too recent for data. The 2006 World Cup in Germany was the year of the contest with the highest number of nations which only participated in the tournament once (four): Angola, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, and Ukraine.


Read: A look back at the top 10 most controversial fouls in World Cup history

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Rahul Roy
Rahul Roy
I am a computer guy by profession and a sports fanatic by choice.


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