The Greatest World Cup Shocks of All Time

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil is less than two months away and it promises to be one of the best tournaments in many years. All the top teams are here with Spain looking to defend their crown against the South American giants of Brazil and Argentina.

Generally, the best team in the finals goes on to take the trophy but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some surprise results along the way as these incredible outcomes prove.

1. West Germany 1 Algeria 2 – 1982

The West Germans had won the tournament on home soil back in 1974 and although they had failed to defend their crown in Argentina four years’ later, Jupp Derwall’s side were expected to breeze past first round opponents Algeria who were appearing at the finals for the very first time.

Derwall’s men looked complacent in the opening exchanges and were clearly struggling with the pace and intensity of Algeria’s centre forwards. The game was goalless at half time but Rabah Madjer’s 54th strike gave the minnows a shock lead.

West Germany responded and looked to have the tie under control when the great Karl-Heinz Rummenigge equalised on 67 minutes but just over sixty seconds later, Lakhdar Belloumi restored Algeria’s advantage.

The match finished 2-1 but West Germany progressed after a controversial final game against Austria. The Germans raced into an early lead through Horst Hrubesch and with a 1-0 scoreline suiting both teams, they sat back and passed among themselves ensuring they both qualified for the next phase at Algeria’s expense.

2. Argentina 0 Cameroon 1 – 1990

As defending champions, Argentina opened the Italia 90 tournament with what should have been a routine game against Cameroon. African sides had enjoyed little impact at the World Cup finals and at that stage, the numbers of qualifying nations were restricted outside of the footballing superpowers of Europe and South America.

This was a side featuring the legendary Maradona while striker Claudio Caniggia was expected to have a major impact in his first World Cup tournament. The game didn’t go to script however as the Cameroonians soaked up Argentine pressure and the World Champions became increasingly frustrated.

Maradona and his men looked to have been thrown the perfect opportunity when Andrea Kana Biyik was sent off in the second half but less than a minute later, his brother Omam Biyik headed the only goal of the match.

The drama wasn’t over as the Argentines pressed for an equaliser and Benjamin Massing also saw red for an unbelievable double assault on Maradona and Caniggia. Cameroon were down to nine men but as they held on, few people outside of Argentina really cared.

3. North Korea 1 Italy 0 – 1966

North Korea’s win over Italy at the 1966 tournament in England is cited by many as the biggest World Cup shock ever. The Italians hadn’t made much of a mark at the finals since winning back to back trophies in 1934 and 1938 but were still considered to be far too strong for their lower ranked opponents.

However, a 42nd minute strike from Pak Doo-ik was enough to seal the narrowest of victories. Italy were eliminated but an earlier draw against Chile helped the North Koreans through to the next phase where for a time, it looked as though they would pull off an even bigger shock.

Pak Seung-zin’s first minute goal gave his side the lead against the mighty Portuguese before two further goals put North Korea into an incredible 3-0 lead. Sanity was restored however when Portugal, led by a Eusebio hat trick came back to win 5-3 and progress into the semi final.

4. Spain 0 Northern Ireland 1 – 1982

Back in 1982, the Spanish national football team weren’t the all-conquering giants that they are today but when they hosted the tournament, they were expected to top their group at the very least.

The group stage had started brightly enough for the home nation with a 1-1 draw against Honduras before an Enrique Saura strike secured a 2-1 win over Yugoslavia. A point against the lowly Northern Irish in Valencia would ensure an easier path into the knockout rounds but Gerry Armstrong’s 47th minute goal ensured that his team topped the group and Spain had to face West Germany in the next phase.

That memorable strike helped journeyman striker Armstrong – who was playing for Watford at the time – to secure an unlikely career with Real Mallorca. He couldn’t help his team however as they finished bottom of their second round group while Spain suffered the same fate in an embarrassing end to their home tournament.

5. Scotland 1 Iran 1 – 1978

Many people believe Scotland’s loss to Costa Rica at Italia 90 to be the most depressing world cup result in the nation’s history but 12 years earlier, Ally MacLeod’s Tartan Army endured a humiliating tournament in Argentina and it centred around a 1-1 draw against group minnows Iran.

The build up to the game and the finals itself only add to the embarrassment with the Scots happy to brag about their achievements to any English fans that would listen. England had now failed to qualify for two successive tournaments and after an impressive and unbeaten campaign in West Germany four years earlier, MacLeod and his squad were confident of making an impact in 1978.

Progression from the group phase looked to be straightforward enough and although the Scots had to face 1974 runners up the Netherlands, the team should have taken positive results from Iran and the unfancied Peruvians.

Scotland’s Joe Jordan got his side off to a perfect start against Peru with a goal in the 19th minute but from that point, everything went against them. A 3-1 defeat meant they had to get a win against Iran but MacLeod’s team seemed nervous. Even an own goal from Andranik Eskandarian couldn’t settle the team and when
Iraj Danaeifard equalised on the hour to force a 1-1 draw, the Scots had one foot on the plane to return home.

An impressive victory over the Dutch by three goals to two was a creditable one but MacLeod’s team were eliminated on goal difference with that dismal performance against Iran being the defining result.

6. South Korea 2 Italy 1 – 2002

36 years after their 1966 humiliation at the hands of North Korea, Italy were beaten again by their southern neighbours but anyone who can recall the standard of refereeing at this tournament might not consider this to be a shock after all.

Decisions seemed to benefit the home nations Japan and South Korea as the latter remained undefeated in their group stage, which included a surprise victory over a strong Portuguese side. Italy hadn’t been quite so impressive, scraping through behind Mexico in Group G. Despite the early results, the Italians were expected to progress when the sides met in the round of 16 and all seemed to be going to plan when Christian Vieri opened the scoring in the 18th minute.

Decisions started to go against Italy however until, in the 88th minute, Seol Ki-hyeon levelled the scores and sent the game into extra time and it was from this point that refereeing observations became truly bizarre.

Francesco Totti was sent off for diving even though it seemed clear that he had genuinely, and innocently tripped over his own feet. Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno disallowed a perfectly good Golden Goal for Giovanni Trapattoni’s men and with the game heading for penalties, South Korea’s Ahn Jung-hwan fired the winner with three minutes remaining.

Italy were out but in an ironic footnote to the game, Ahn was sacked by his Serie A side Perugia, the day after knocking out his employer’s home nation.

7. France 0 Senegal 1 – 2002

Overall, the 2002 tournament in Japan and South Korea was a forgettable one but it threw up more than its fair share of shock results. Like Argentina 12 years before them, reigning Champions France were accused of underestimating an African nation and the opening game of the tournament finished with a similar outcome.

The result was even more astounding as the French team had continued their dominance by adding the European Championships of 2000 to their World Cup triumph on home soil. Essentially, they had the same squad ahead of this opening fixture with the Senegalese, and the holders were expected to come through quite comfortably.

From the first whistle, France looked ill at ease and after Papa Bouba Diop opened the scoring on 30 minutes, Roger Lemerre’s side barely threatened to come back into the match. In truth, Senegal were a far better nation than anyone had really given them credit for and Diop, along with team mates El Hadji Diouf and Salif Diao went on to enjoy careers with some of the top clubs in England.

As for France, Lemerre’s team had every chance to recover from that early setback but despite including leading scorers in the English, French and Italian leagues, France failed to notch a single goal for the remainder of the group phase as they followed a goalless draw against Uruguay with a 2-0 defeat to an underrated Danish side. It was a humbling experience for a team that had dominated European football over the previous four years.


8. England 0 USA 1 – 1950

It’s hard to put in context how surprising this defeat was when you consider that it took place over 60 years ago but many observers consider this to be the most shocking result in the history of the World Cups.

England, like many countries across the World, had declined to enter the first three World Cup tournaments in the 1930s but when the finals returned after the War, Walter Winterbottom’s side were considered to be one of the strongest in the competition.

Winterbottom had assembled a squad containing some of the best known names in English Football: Tom Finney, Billy Wright, Stan Mortensen and future World Cup winning manager Alf Ramsey were in a line up which started in positive fashion with a 2-0 win over Chile.

Victory over a USA team seemed assured as the English prepared to face a side that drew in players from all over the globe. A Scotsman and a Belgian lined up for the States but it was a Haitian born centre forward, Bob Gaetjens who stunned the favourites with the winning goal on 38 minutes.

A patchwork side of amateurs had beaten some of the world’s greatest players and Winterbottom’s men failed to recover. In their next match against group leaders Spain, England were beaten by the same, 1-0 scoreline and a tournament that had begun with great hope, ended in humiliation as the squad were eliminated at the very first hurdle.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>