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Five of the biggest upsets in World Cup history

Five of the biggest upsets in World Cup history

Even on the biggest stage of them all, there is no such thing as a sure bet!

THERE’S no easy game in World Football: That’s a modern cliché that’s worked its way into sporting parlance and is usually trotted out by international managers when they’ve been embarrassed by the likes of Malta, San Marino or the Faroe Islands.

Historically, football against the minnows was a relatively easy game and surprise outcomes were rare. Therefore, when the shocks came along they were far more memorable and as we look forward to the World Cup this summer, we take a look back at five of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament.

England 0 USA 1: Brazil 1950

When England travelled to the first post-war tournament, their squad contained some of the greats of the game. Manager Walter Winterbottom led a side containing Stanley Matthews, Stan Mortenson, Jackie Milburn, Tom Finney and Wilf Mannion while they were skippered by the legendary Billy Wright.

While they may have been aided by some notable absentees in the post-war climate, that squad was a worthy favourite for the trophy and a group containing Spain Chile and the USA held no horrors.

Things started comfortably enough with a 2-0 win over the Chileans but the English were derailed in spectacular fashion against a team of part timers from the US. In a side containing a mill worker, a funeral director and a postman, Joe Gaetjens delivered the fatal blow, heading past Bert Williams in the England goal on 38 minutes.

Both teams had chances in the second half but the US held on. England failed to recover and were eliminated after losing to Spain three days later. In 1950, it was the biggest upset in World Cup history and perhaps not surprisingly, the Scotsman newspaper still regards it as the biggest shock of all time.

North Korea 1 Italy 0: England 1966

Italy were the dominant force in World Cup football in the 1930s, winning the tournament in 1934 before successfully defending their title four years later. The 1966 side wasn’t quite so formidable but against true minnows in North Korea, Edmondo Fabbri’s men were expected to breeze through this game in Group 4.

Fabbri’s squad was relatively inexperienced and no player had reached the 30 cap mark at the start of the tournament but while it contained Sandro Mazzola, Gianni Rivera and Giacinto Facchetti, an opening win against Chile meant that only a point would be needed against the North Koreans in order to progress.

Italy created early chances but the pivotal moment came on 30 minutes when Giacomo Bulgarelli was forced from the field through injury. 

Three minutes before half time Pak Doo-Ik took full advantage of his ten-man opponents, slotting past Albertosi in the Italian goal and despite intense pressure from Italy in the second period, the North Koreans held on for a stunning victory.

Cameroon 1 Argentina 0: Italy 1990

As we’ll see again as we move through this round-up, it can sometimes be a dubious honour for the reigning champions to open the tournament. Argentina, with Maradona in his pomp, had surged to success in 1986 and seemed to have a relatively easy task against Cameroon at the start of Italia 90.

African football was by no means the force that it is in the present day and ‘force’ of another kind was used in a brutal approach that would see Cameroon reduced to nine men by the end of 90 minutes. It was a scrappy start to the tournament that exploded into life just after the hour mark when Andre Kana-Biyik was dismissed, rather harshly, for a foul on Claudio Caniggia.

Down to ten men, Cameroon were expected to roll over but Francois Omam-Biyik notched what proved to be the winner on 67 minutes. The drama wasn’t over as Benjamin Massing, perhaps concerned that the earlier sending off had been a little soft, launched a full assault on Caniggia and received his team’s second red of the game.

It wasn’t pretty but the violence wasn’t quite at the Battle of Santiago level either and this was certainly one of the biggest World Cup shocks ever.

France 0 Senegal 1: Japan and South Korea 2002

Twelve years later, holders France were also on the wrong end of a shock defeat as they were handed the by-now thankless task of opening the tournament. 

Cameroon had laid the platform in 1990 and African football was taken far more seriously but few would have seen this coming.

The French took to the field with much of the side that had lifted the trophy on home soil four years earlier but Barthez, Vieira, Petit, Henry et al were no match for a team of unknowns who would earn big money moves on the back of this tournament.

Future Liverpool player El Hadji Diouf had a hand in the winning goal, scored by future Fulham midfielder Papa Bouba Diop and the teams enjoyed contrasting fortunes after this shock World Cup result. France were eliminated with just a single point while the Senegalese progressed from the group and made it to the quarter finals where they went down by a solitary goal to Turkey.

South Korea 2 Italy 1: Japan and South Korea 2002

The World Cup of 2002 also provides us with our final upset and once again, the Italians are on the receiving end which, in a way, is something of a compliment. The South Koreans may have been enjoying home advantage but three-time winners Italy simply had the superior squad so surely there would be no hint of a surprise.

The game went to plan early on with Christian Vieri opening the scoring on 18 minutes but Giovanni Trapattoni’s side failed to push on and were caught on 88 minutes with a stunning equaliser from Seol Ki-Hyeon.

Extra time progressed in a largely forgettable manner until the Italians, possibly with one eye on a clinical penalty shoot out were caught out by Ahn Jung-Hwan on 117 minutes. The South Koreans emulated their neighbours in the north by causing a huge World Cup upset involving a strong Italian team. 

Their ultimate reward was a trip to the semi finals where they went down to the Germans while match-winner Ahn wasn’t quite so lucky, finding himself frozen out by his Italian employers Perugia.





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Matthew Harris
0percent soccer