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Croatia is not the smallest country to ever make a World Cup final ... but it’s close

SB Nation logoSB Nation 11/07/2018 Nate Scott
© Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images Croatia advanced to the 2018 World Cup final by beating England 2-1 in extra time on Wednesday, and will now face France on Sunday for the biggest trophy in international soccer.

It’s an incredible achievement for Croatia, not only because of the results they needed to get there, which wow, there were some incredible results, but because they were able to do so being a country that’s pretty dang small.

(Quick caveat: These population statistics when it comes to countries that produce good teams are kind of over-discussed, and creating a good national team is a lot more about a country’s sporting culture than about how many people live there. For instance, no one bats an eye that Alabama produces more good football players than New York, even though New York has five times as many people as Alabama does. It’s just football’s a lot more important in Alabama than it is in New York. But I digress.)

Croatia is a small country, with its most recent census putting the country at just over 4 million people who live there. For comparison, last World Cup winner Germany has a population of 82 million people.

But Croatia is not the smallest country, population wise, to ever compete in a World Cup final. That honor goes to Uruguay, who won the 1930 and 1950 World Cup finals. Uruguay currently has a population of 3.4 million people, and if we go back to 1930, they were estimated to just have 1.7 million people living there back then.

Hungary, who made the final in 1938 and 1954, but lost both times, had a good 10+ million people living in the country for both of the finals. Sweden, who got smoked by Brazil in the 1958 final, is probably the next smallest after those two, but it’s not particularly close. Croatia and Uruguay are the clear two smallest that have ever progressed this far in a World Cup, unless I’m missing something. It’s been a long World Cup.

So this is an incredible accomplishment for this Croatia side, even if population stats are a little wonky and silly. (Seriously, if we’re using that as a metric to judge quality, China and India would face off in the final every four years.) They may only have 4 million people, but when one of them is Luka Modric, that may be enough.

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