Even for the most committed armchair fans, fatigue and apathy can set in when the World Cup “football party” sometimes fails to deliver the expected levels of excitement. However, to make all those lackluster 0-0 draws and tedious mismatches worthwhile, it’s the giant-killing upsets that inevitably brighten up every tournament.
There’s nothing more enjoyable than watching a squad of swaggering superstars hold their heads in their hands as a ragtag crew of brave mates roam the pitch in wild celebration – unless, of course, that your country is on the recipients side.
Such scenes were repeated this week in Qatar when Saudi Arabia knocked out Lionel Messi’s Argentina before Japan humiliated four-time champions Germany, adding to the tournament’s rich tradition of mega shocks.
Italy are high on this list, having lost not one but both Koreas. The Azzurri were embarrassed 2-1 by Korea Republic in 2002, but it was a real shock when the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea beat the Italians 1-0 in England in 1966. This result was no accident – The DPRK scared away Portugal’s Eusebio in the quarter-finals, taking a 3-0 lead before going down 5-3.
There was more ignominy for Italy at the 1994 World Cup in the United States, when the Republic of Ireland stunned a star-studded squad that included the likes of Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini and Roberto Baggio. The Irish had officially received 3,325 tickets for each group match, but when the cameras rolled over Giants Stadium, the stands were bathed in a sea of green. Around 50,000 Irish fans erupted in joy as Ray Houghton’s 11th-minute winner climbed into the net to kick off a Guinness-soaked party in New Jersey – and back in Ireland next week.
Northern Ireland produced an arguably bigger clash in 1982 against hosts Spain. It was the first tournament with 24 teams instead of 16 and it was feared that the smaller nations would struggle. However, an early second-half goal from Watford striker Gerry Armstrong secured a 1-0 victory, which was all the more remarkable as NI had sent off defender Mal Donaghy with 30 minutes remaining.
Nothing, however, compares to 1950, when the United States beat England 1-0 in Brazil. Legend has it that when the result was reported to London, in the days before reliable communications some newspapers believed it was a typo and the correct result was 10-0 for England . Context is key. England were 3-1 favorites to win the World Cup, while the United States were seeded 500-1 and made up entirely of amateurs. They included a postman, a stripper, a dishwasher and a hearse driver. Back in the States, the result was hardly noticed. The New York Times gave the famous victory just two paragraphs.
These are just some of the jaw-dropping results the tournament has produced over the decades, with other honorable mentions going to Scotland’s 3-2 victory over famed Dutch side Total Football. ” in 1978, Cameroon’s 1-0 victory over Diego Maradona’s Argentina in 1990 and Senegal’s 1-0 victory over world and European champions France in 2002.
Hopefully the achievements of Saudi Arabia and Japan inspire more giant-killing heroism in Qatar.
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