When underdogs ruled: Greatest upsets at the FIFA World Cup
A look at some of the most prominent upsets in the history of the FIFA World CupUpdated: May 19, 2018 12:06 IST
We wait for the knockouts or ‘Group of Death’ matches because that’s when the FIFA World Cup’s charm peaks. But then there are also matches we never thought about ticking in the schedule before the World Cup started, ones remembered for the Davids and not the Goliaths. Here’s looking at some of the most prominent upsets in the history of the quadrennial event.
THE MARACANA BLOW
Result: Uruguay beat Brazil 2-1 in last match of final round
Edition: 1950, Brazil
The format saw the winners of four groups qualify for the final stage and the team topping the group would be declared the winners. Brazil had already humiliated Sweden 7-1 and Spain 6-1 and going into the decider against Uruguay they were overwhelming favourites. So sure were the local newspapers of a victory that their early editions declared the Samba Boys the winners with them leading 1-0. The anticipated celebration also saw 22 victory medals embossed with names of Brazilian players. Playing in front of 200,000 people at Maracana, Uruguay equalised through Juan Alberto Schiaffino before taking the lead through Alcides Ghiggia.
In a 2010 ESPN documentary about World Cup legends, Ghiggia said, “The Maracana has been silenced by three people -- The Pope, Frank Sinatra and me.” The defeat is known as the ‘Maracana Blow’.
THE MIRACLE OF BERN
Result: West Germany beat Hungary 3-2 in final
Edition: 1954, Switzerland
West Germany were still collecting pieces in the aftermath of World War II and were considered rank outsiders. In the final, West Germany were up against Ferenc Puskas-led Hungary, the best team in the world who were unbeaten in four years.
The match was termed as the biggest mismatch in the history of football. No one thought West Germany would go so deep into the tournament leave alone enter the final.
On a rain-soaked field, at the final whistle, West Germany emerged 3-2 victors after trailing 0-2 in the first 10 minutes.
Helmut Rahn scored twice, including the winner in the 84th minute as Germany achieved the impossible. Rightly, the German march to the title is known as the ‘Miracle of Bern’. German football went from strength to strength after the win. Not only that, academic papers have been written on the effect of the victory in 1954 on the collective German psyche.
THE ‘MYSTERY MEN’ STUN AZZURRI
Result: North Korea beat Italy 1-0 in group stage
Edition: 1966, England
The secretive nation, dubbed as the ‘Mystery Men’, became the first Asian team to make it to the World Cup quarter-finals after they stunned Italy 1-0 to finish second in their group behind Soviet Union. Drawn in a tough group with Chile being the fourth side, it was expected that they will be steamrolled but their grit saw them through. They lost to Soviet Union 3-0 and drew Chile 1-1. The match against Italy was practically a shootout with winner advancing. North Korea took the lead through Pak Doo-ik and defended out of their skins. Italy had eggs on their faces, literally and North Korea won hearts.
In the quarters, they took a 3-0 lead against Portugal before succumbing to pressure and Eusebio’s hat-trick to lose 3-5.
THE LIONS ROAR
Result: Cameroon beat Argentina 1-0 in group game
Edition: 1990, Italy
Nowadays the hosts get the honour of playing the first match of the tournament. But back then the defending champions kicked off the tournament. The 1986 champions Argentina, led by the great Diego Maradona, were vanquished by an unheralded team largely made up of journeymen from the French lower divisions.
The match was also used as a catapult by other African nations. In 90 minutes African football, once derided for being all about juju magic, became credible. The result was celebrated not only in Cameroon, where impromptu street parties erupted across the nation but also across Africa.
Such was the brute force about Cameroon’s play that they ended the match with nine men. “I got a kick from a guy against Cameroon that nearly took my head off,” recalled Maradona recently about the physicality of the tie.”
THE GIANT KILLERS
Result: South Korea stun Spain 5-3 in penalties in a pulsating quarter-final
Edition: 2002, South Korea & Japan
South Korea had already beaten Portugal and Poland in round robin games to top their pool. In the round of 16 they faced one of the World Cup’s best teams, Italy. South Korea beat them 2-1 in extra-time.
In the quarters, up against Spain, everyone thought South Korea’s bandwagon would finally come to a halt, but it wasn’t to be as they won 5-3 in penalties after a goalless draw. But the fairy-tale run ended with a 0-1 loss to Germany in the semifinals.
The round of 16 and the quarter-final were marred with wrong refereeing decisions with Italy and Spain both complaining that referees favoured the hosts. By the end of it, the South Korean players earned themselves iconic status and many used it as a launchpad towards successful careers abroad.
Manager Guss Hiddink went on to become a national treasure, was afforded honorary citizenship and Gwangju Stadium was renamed the Guus Hiddink Stadium.