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The biggest shocks ever witnessed at the football World Cup

Nothing makes the news like a low-ranked or unfancied team putting up its best performance to defeat a big name.

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Brazil's players after the team's 7-1 thrashing at the hands of Germany [Leonhard Foeger/Reuters]

The football World Cup 2022 is the most eagerly awaited sports event of the year.

Fans are gearing up to see which team wins the coveted trophy, who scores the most goals, and who are the biggest performers on the grand stage.

But while there is great anticipation to see who ends up being the best, another aspect of the tournament that always leaves the spectators in awe is upsets on the field.

In some shock results at the World Cup, defending champions have been knocked out in the group stages, minnows have thrashed historical giants of the game and, on some occasions, the shock has not been at the result but at the sheer lack of effort, and the resulting score.

Following Saudi Arabia’s stunning upset of Argentina in Qatar, here are some of the other major upsets in the World Cup’s history:

USA 1-0 England (1950)

The post-war England team, comprising the likes of Alf Ramsey, Tom Finney and Billy Wright, was among the favourites to lift the trophy as it made its World Cup debut. The Americans, meanwhile, put together a group of part-timers, including a dishwasher, a letter carrier and a teacher. The mixed bunch practised together for one day and set off on a boat to Brazil.

Joe Gaetjens scored a 38th-minute header to put the USA ahead. In the second half, England’s attack was relentless but USA’s goalkeeper Frank Borghi prevented them from scoring an equaliser and etched his team’s name into the history books.

U.S. center forward Joe Gaetjens is carried off by cheering fans after his team beat England 1-0 in the World Cup.
USA centre-forward Joe Gaetjens is carried off by cheering fans after his team beat England 1-0 in the World Cup [AP]

West Germany 3-2 Hungary (1954)

A West Germany side staging a comeback to win a World Cup match would not be considered an anomaly today.

However, this was a lesser-known West German side of the 1950s facing the Mighty Magyars of Hungary, with football’s first superstar Ferenc Puskas leading their attack.

Hungary entered the World Cup in Switzerland as favourites and lived up to their billing by handing a 9-0 drubbing to South Korea and thrashing West Germany 8-3 in the earlier matches.

The two sides met in the final again. Hungary scored two goals in the first half and were seemingly following the script until the opponents scored two.

The game was tied until the 84th minute when Helmut Rahn scored his second goal and broke Hungarian hearts. The German comeback against one of the best teams in football’s history was termed “The Miracle of Bern”.

The two captains, Ferenc Puskas of Hungary, right, and Fritz Walter of West Germany shake hands
The two captains, Ferenc Puskas of Hungary, right, and Fritz Walter of West Germany shake hands prior to the start of the final [AP]

North Korea 1-0 Italy (1966)

The fact that North Korea was able to land its team in England for the World Cup was surprising enough.

The English FA had considered rejecting the North Korean team’s visa amid its cold war against the Western allies’ favoured South Korea.

Italy were held together by Giacomo Bulgarelli on the pitch. The midfielder was injured during the match which reduced the Italian side to 10 men as substitutions were not allowed at the time.

Seven minutes later, Pak Doo Ik scored a goal that not only won his team the match but it also knocked out the two-time world champions.

The match is considered one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history, and its original match ticket is placed in the FIFA football museum.

The spot where the goal was scored has been marked with iron stud marks after the stadium was demolished for a housing estate.

North Korea's midfielder Pak Doo Ik, second right, shoots past Italian goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi
North Korea’s midfielder Pak Doo Ik, second right, shoots past Italian goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi [AP/Bippa]

Algeria 2-1 West Germany (1982)

West Germany entered the 1982 World Cup as reigning European champions, former two-time winners and one of the favourites.

The all-star German lineup included Hansi Mueller, Wolfgang Dremmler, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Lothar Matthäus.

Algeria, on the other hand, were a team made up of names unknown in Western football but had been performing well prior to the World Cup.

The nonchalance shown by the Germans turned into complacency. Rabah Madjer scored in the 54th minute to hand the Germans their first shock.

Just as Rummenigge’s goal brought Germany level, a goal that would shock West Germany and the world came from the now-legendary Algerian forward Lakhdar Belloumi.

In this June 16, 1982 file photo, Algeria's Lakhdar Belloumi, left, celebrates after scoring the second and winning goal for his team during the World Cup soccer match.
n this June 16, 1982 file photo, Algeria’s Lakhdar Belloumi, left, celebrates after scoring the second and winning goal for his team during the World Cup football match between Algeria and West Germany in Gijon, Spain [AP]

Cameroon 1-0 Argentina (1990)

Holders, favourites and led by the world’s greatest footballer of the time, Diego Maradona, Argentina had a seemingly easy opening match at the 1982 World Cup.

Cameroon were making their World Cup debut and were the only sub-Saharan African country to participate in the tournament. They comprised players that no one knew much about as most played their club football at home.

The opening match of the World Cup was played at the mighty San Siro stadium.

Although Argentina started well, the Cameroonians grew in confidence as the game went on without any damage against them.

Half-way into the second half, Francois Omam-Biyik latched on to a free kick and headed his side into a lead that would stand until the final whistle.

Members of the Cameroon national soccer team raise their arms and jubilate
Members of the Cameroon national team raise their arms in jubilation after their teammate Francois Omam-Biyik scored a goal against Argentina in the World Cup [Luca Bruno/AP]

France 0-1 Senegal (2002)

World Cup holders vs debutants: check.

Former colonisers vs colony: check.

Opening game of the tournament: check.

And finally, holders knocked out in first round: check.

The opening game of the 2002 World Cup had all the possible subplots to make for an interesting match. But what the pundits and the French team failed to anticipate was the meticulously planned Senegalese stifling of the French attack.

Add to that the pace of El Hadji Diouf and a 30th-minute goal from Papa Bouba Diop, Senegal found themselves on top of the group at the end of 90 minutes.

France’s journey ended after another loss and a draw. Senegal went on to become only the second African country to qualify for the quarter-finals.

David Trezeguet as 2002 France National World Cup Soccer player goes for the ball against Tony Sylva of Senegal
David Trezeguet of France goes for the ball against Tony Sylva of Senegal in Seoul, South Korea. [AP]

Germany 7-1 Brazil (2014)

The 2014 World Cup seemed like the perfect opportunity for Brazil to right the wrongs of 1950 when they lost the final against Uruguay at home despite being clear favourites.

The stage was set for football’s biggest party to light up the samba nation with the crowning of Brazil as champions for the sixth time.

It was only a matter of two more matches. Or so thought the Brazilians.

Up against them were Germany, never to be underrated in a World Cup knockout match. Both teams had a similar path to the semi-finals: Topping their groups and having close encounters in the knockouts.

However, Brazil lost their star forward Neymar Jr to injury in the quarterfinal and captain Thiago Silva to yellow card accumulation.

In the semi-final, Germany opened the scoring in the 11th minute and never looked back. Between 23 and 29 minutes, the Germans scored four more goals to stun the Brazilians on the pitch, in the stands and the country.

It didn’t get better after half-time as Brazil’s defences were breached twice, before the home team scored a consolation goal in the last minute.

The final scoreline of 7-1 was Brazil’s biggest defeat since 1920, and brought on titles such as “the Agony of Mineirao” and was termed a national humiliation for the football-mad country.

Germany went on to win the final against Argentina for their fourth title.

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Brazil’s players leave the pitch after the World Cup semi-final thrashing at the hands of Germany [Hassan Ammar/AP Photo]

Netherlands 5-1 Spain (2014)

The opening game of Group B in the 2014 World Cup pitted the two finalists from the previous World Cup.

Spain entered the tournament as reigning European and world champions and one of the favourites.

When Xabi Alonso opened the scoring in the 27th minute, all seemed to be going well for the star-studded Spanish side. But one minute before half-time came a goal that became the most iconic image of the tournament.

Robin van Persie was 15 yards from the goal when he latched on to a looping ball and scored a stunning header to baffle Iker Casillas and the rest of the Spanish side.

The Dutch went on to score four more goals to hand Spain their second-biggest loss in a World Cup. It was also the biggest loss margin for defending champions in a FIFA World Cup.

Spain were knocked out of the group after another loss while the Netherlands finished the tournament in third place.

Netherlands' Robin van Persie, left, prepares to take a shot watched by Spain's Gerard Pique during the group B World Cup soccer match
Netherlands’ Robin van Persie watched by Spain’s Gerard Pique [Manu Fernandez/AP Photo]

South Korea 2-0 Germany (2018)

Some of the biggest upsets in the World Cup have involved the defending champions being handed first-round defeats and the 2018 tournament was no different.

It was the third consecutive World Cup where the holders were knocked out at the first hurdle.

Germany came into their final group match needing a win to progress. South Korea were playing for pride as they were all but out of the tournament.

Germany have historically been one of the teams that can never be counted out in a World Cup match. The match seemed to be heading to a goalless draw so the Germans amassed all their efforts on scoring a winning goal that would see them through.

However, two minutes into injury time South Korea’s Kim Young-gwon scored from a corner. Manuel Neuer, German captain and goalkeeper, came out all the way into the Korean half to enforce the attack.

South Korea capitalised by collecting the ball from Neuer’s miscued pass and slotting it into an empty net to seal Germany’s fate.

It was the first time since 1938 that Germany failed to advance beyond the first stage, and their first-ever defeat against an Asian country in a World Cup match.

South Korean players celebrate after referee Mark Geiger from the US decided on goal
South Korean players celebrate after defeating Germany [Michael Probst/AP]
Source: Al Jazeera