South Korea’s 2-0 victory in added time over Germany broke the reigning World champion’s heart, as they were knocked out at the group stage of Russia2018. But Germany had also been defeated by one goal in their first match against Mexico, which proved equally pivotal. Looking back over the history of the football World Cup, there have been several big teams surprised by “lesser” opponents pulling off unexpected results. Here are some of them:
1950: USA 1 England 0-A dispute between the home nations governing football bodies and FIFA, meant that no British nation took part in the previous three World Cups (1930, 1934 & 1938). England defeated Chile 2-0 in their first match, but appeared somewhat complacent toward their American opposition, almost treating the fixture like a practice game. England could not break down a doughty defensive line, or beat Borghi who was excellent in goal for the US. England went home early but at least they had taken part, Scotland had forfeited their World Cup participation through misplaced national pride. FIFA had given the British Championship two qualifying places, but Scotland said they would only take part in the World Cup as British Champions, but they came second.
1950 Final: URUGUAY 2 Brazil 1-With Brazil hosting the tournament how could they lose? Before a ball was kicked, the Rio state Governor had waxed lyrical about the Brazil team being football gods, and effectively claimed them as World champions. Another stubborn defence & brave keeper combined with productive counter attacks by Uruguay stunned the host nation.
1958: For the first and only time ALL FOUR HOME NATIONS participated and it was Wales and Northern Ireland who reached the knockout stages.
Germany 2 NORTHERN IRELAND 2-With a win and loss already under their belt, a draw against the reigning World champions guaranteed the Irish a play-off chance to reach the knockout stages. After defeating Czechoslovakia, the Irish met France in the quarter-finals, but weary and ravaged by injury they suffered a 4-0 loss.
Playoff WALES 2 Hungary 1-By defeating the 1954 World Cup finalists, Wales went into the knockout stages where they faced Brazil in their quarterfinal. Brazil 1 WALES 0-the Welsh proved stubborn against Brazilian attacks, and it was only a deflected effort from Pele that beat their keeper. Pele has attributed that goal as THE MOST IMPORTANT he has ever scored. Brazil went on to win the final and be crowned World Champions for the first time.
1966: NORTH KOREA 1 Italy 0-This win eliminated Italy at the group stage and North Korea progressed to the quarter-finals. Portugal 5 NORTH KOREA 3-the Koreans put up a spirited fight and scored three goals within 25 minutes, before Portugal rallied to make it 2-3 by half time. Fire power from Eusebio (4 goals/2 from penalties) & Augusto proved too much to overcome. North Korea was the first Asian team ever to progress from the group stages. Only Saudi Arabia 1994, South Korea in 2002 & 2010 and Japan in 2010 & 2018 have managed the same achievement.
1978: PERU 3 Scotland 1-Ally McLeod had already decided his tartan army were World Champions before they left British shores!!! Poor preparation and complacency were Scotland’s undoing, as well as two superb goals for Peru by Cubillas. Scotland’s lessons in humility continued in their next match Scotland 1 IRAN 1, when a farcical Iranian own goal gifted the Scots a valuable point. But just when Scotland had sunk to their lowest point BOOM they pulled off a fantastic win. SCOTLAND 3 Holland 2 when Archie Gemmill bemused three Dutch defenders to weave his diminutive frame into a striking position. With a nonchalant air he then bent the ball around helpless keeper Jongbloed for Scotland’s third (and winning) goal. Holland only suffered two defeats in Argentina 78, conceding three goals each time, and one was in the final the other to Gemmill’s right boot!
1982: Host nation Spain suffered two embarrassing results during the group stage; Spain 1 HONDURAS 1 and Spain 0 NORTHERN IRELAND 1. Although Spain squeaked into the next round they went no further.
ALGERIA 2 West Germany 1-Algeria finished the group stage with two wins and a defeat, but still had no guarantee of progression to the second round. The final decider West Germany 1 Austria 0 was effectively a contrived result between the two countries, to ensure THEY went through and Algeria went home. The resulting disgust of fans worldwide who had witnessed this “staged passive” game, eventually forced the FIFA authorities to act. As a consequence, since 1986 the final two matches in each group have been played at the same time, in an attempt to prevent a fixed result occurring again.
1990: Costa Rica appeared in their inaugural World Cup and surprised many with their group results; COSTA RICA 1 Scotland 0, Brazil 1 COSTA RICA 0 and COSTA RICA 2 Sweden 1. They progressed to the next round and a 4-1 Czechoslovakia defeat. Further participation in the 2002, 2006, 2014 and 2018 World Cup’s has given Costa Rica more exposure. By far the country’s most successful tournament was in 2014 when they reached the quarter finals.
2014: A tough group stage held no fears for the Central American team who once again triumphed; Uruguay 1 COSTA RICA 3, Italy 0 COSTA RICA 1 and COSTA RICA 0 England 0. In the last 16 Costa Rica faced Greece and went through on penalties. Eventually after a 0-0 result after extra time, the Netherlands dispatched Costa Rica 4-3 on penalties.
1994: Belgium 0 SAUDI ARABIA 1-with this win Saudi Arabia relegated Belgium to third place in the group and an early exit. All three teams had secured 6 points, but Holland and Saudi Arabia had identical statistics and a better goal difference than the Belgians.
Quarter-final BULGARIA 2 Germany 1: Matthaus gave the German’s the lead from the penalty spot at the start of the second half (47). But tournament Golden Boot winner Stoichkov scored a sublime free kick to equalise on 75 minutes before Letchkov redeemed himself for giving away the penalty, by scoring the winner with a powerful header on 78 minutes.
1998 Quarter-final: Germany 0 CROATIA 3-Having gained independence in 1991 this was the first time Croatia participated in the World Cup (previously they were part of Yugoslavia 1930-1990). And they reached the semi-finals before winning the third place match. Davor Suker was in sublime form with six goals, which deservedly won the Golden Boot award. Only one team before had placed so highly in the World Cup on their debut, and that was Portugal back in 1966. Not bad company at all.
2002: SOUTH KOREA 1 Portugal 0-South Korea were joint hosts with Japan that year and by far enjoyed their best World Cup. Before this result at the end of the group stages, the Koreans had beaten Poland 2-0 and drawn with the USA 1-1. In the second phase they dispatched Italy by a golden goal, beat Spain on penalties in the quarters, and narrowly lost to Germany in the semi-final. A thrilling encounter with Turkey in the third-place match ended with a 3-2 defeat for the South Koreans. But they had gained hard won respect.
USA 3 Portugal 2-This win (along with the one above) effectively ensured the Americans secured their place in the second phase at the expense of Portugal.
Reigning champions France came bottom of their group and failed to progress, having begun their campaign France 0 SENEGAL 1.
2006: Czech Republic 0 GHANA 2-Gyan scored in the second minute and hit the post from a penalty on 65 minutes. The Czech team now down to ten men kept themselves in the game, until Muntari scored on 82 minutes. When the group stage ended, this win ensured Ghana’s second place and progression to the next round.
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO 0 Sweden 0: Veteran keeper Shaka Hislop went in goal for Trinidad & Tobago after Kelvin Jack was injured in the warm up. His experience matched that of Sweden’s strike force Zlatko Ibrahimovic and Henrik Larsson, who threw everything at Hislop, but to no avail.
2010: Italy 1 NEW ZEALAND 1 contributed to Italy’s failure to reach the second phase. The French didn’t get out of the group stage either tasting defeat to the hosts France 1 SOUTH AFRICA 2.
2018: IRAN 1 Portugal 1 this meant Portugal were second after a last minute equaliser for Spain in the other final group match. However, had Iran scored from a vicious shot which hit the side netting, Iran would have been group WINNERS and Spain second, with Portugal eliminated! No commentator I heard even mentioned THAT scenario.
But no matter how badly a team starts a World Cup campaign they CAN go on to great success. Just look at 2014: Spain 0 SWITZERLAND 1 as a prime example, as the Spanish reached and won their first ever World Cup final.