Major Football Nations With a Smaller Population

Josip Brajkovic
Josip Brajkovic
Published: 18.9.2023.


Brazil is widely regarded as the football phenom, yet they are ranked seventh in the world in terms of population with 203,062,000 people, it's not a wild thing to understand why. Germany, another high power of football has 84,432,000 people. France stands at 68 million, Italy has 10 million fewer, close to England. Spain and Argentina both have over 40 million people as well. That covers all the World Cup winners. Bar one. Yet there are some truly major football nations with a smaller population number.

While nothing should be taken away from the gargantuan nations that produced some of the best footballers in the world and have won titles, it’s naturally more impressive to achieve a lot with less.

Looking at both the proclivity to produce world-class players, international results recorded by the national team, and the general impact on football, we ranked the major football nations that have smaller populations. All with the ratio of population to success in mind.

Denmark - population 5,857,000 people


One might glance off this inclusion as lip service due to the recent successes of Denmark at the Euros 2020. Yet that might be due to overlooking the 1992 miracle in Sweden when the Danes triumphed in the continental competition. Sure, Denmark only qualified because Yugoslavia was banned from the competition due to the ongoing civil war, yet that makes their success even more noteworthy.

The Danish NT missed only two World Cups since 1998, and the same amount of Euros since 1984. Considering Italy skipped on two last Mundials, qualification alone has to be considered a success.

Denmark is ranked 112th in the world in terms of population, yet they have produced some of the most memorable players in the world, like Michael Laudrup and Peter Schmeichel. Now their youngster Rasmus Hojlund has been bought for a final fee that might reach near €100,000,000. While the side has massive players like Christian Eriksen, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Andreas Christensen, and others.

The Netherlands - population 17,916,000 people

The Netherlands

Yes, nearly 18 million inhabitants isn't a small number, especially when considering the land area of The Netherlands, but the impact the country has had on football could be enough for a top-five ranking. The Dutch are some of the few people in the world who can brag about their own brand of football taking over the planet, influencing other more numerous countries, Spain in particular.

To waste time about the Dutch world-class players is almost ridiculous, with Marco van Basten, Johan Cruyff, Dennis Bergkamp, Arjan Robben and many others usually being the reasons why so many non-Dutch people fell in love with football.

The Netherlands unfortunately also has the infamy of being the World Cup runner-ups in 1974, 1978, and 2010. Although the country can hold their chin high due to the 1988 Euros triumph! Not to mention that on a club level, the Dutch have six CL titles spread around Ajax (4), and PSV and Feyenoord who have one each. With the Amsterdam side also getting to two other finals.

Portugal - population 10,330,000 people


The land of Cristiano Ronaldo. Firstly. Yet also the European champions of 2016, and the runners-up of 2004. Portugal also reached the semis of the Euros on three occasions, and of the World Cup twice. Both Porto and Benfica have won the Champions League titles twice, with the Eagles also losing five finals!

Yet what makes the country a lock on this level, is the players it produced. Seemingly, now any major team cannot compete for the CL title without a Portuguese player in its squad. Bruno Fernandes for Man United, Bernardo Silva for their city competitors, alongside Ruben Dias. Joao Cancelo was the best in his position for a few of his seasons. Additionally, Joao Felix is still the second highest-paid teenager ever with a €127,000,000 move to Atletico Madrid.

But the legends list is too long beside CR7, with the likes of Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Eusebio, Deco, Ricardo Carvalho, Nuno Gomes...

Croatia - population 3,871,000 people


With two World Cup semi-finals and one final since their independence in 1991, it's safe to say that Croatia was a lock for this list of major football nations with a smaller population. In 1998 and 2022 the Checkered Ones were third, and in 2018, they lost the finals to France! For a country of their size, only their qualification record of missing solely one WC and one Euro would be enough for pride. But this is overachieving at its purest.

Croatia produced one of the best midfielders of all time in Luka Modric, but the squad of Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic, and Mateo Kovacic were all world-class or adjacent amongst others. With Davor Suker as the leader and the face of the 1998 France World Cup generation.

As far as club success, Dinamo Zagreb is a frequent participant in various European competitions. While their transfer proves is admired in the region and beyond. Listed as the 128th most populous country in the world, Croatia truly is a football phenomenon.

Uruguay - population 3,426,000 people


With all due respect to Croatia's successes, Uruguay still has the final bragging rights amongst the numerically smaller nations with two World Cup triumphs! The first one ever in 1930, and then 20 years later! Uruguay also hosted the first World Cup which adds up to their footballing lore. Furthermore, Uruguay also came in fourth in the world on three occasions - 1954, 1970, and 2010.

Perhaps even more impressive, Uruguay has 15 Copa America triumphs, on the level of and despite Argentina. While mighty Brazil has six fewer! All while Uruguay is the world’s 131st most populous country in the world, opposed to Brazil at number seven and Argentina at 31. Or Colombia ranked 27th.

Yet the historical successes of the Uruguayan national team are strongly supplemented by the pedigree their footballers have earned: battle-loving never-quitting warriors. Uruguayans play to the bone regardless of their position, while not sacrificing technique. Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Diego Godin, and Juan Alberto Schiaffino are just some of the defining players who wore the sky blue shirt.



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