Let’s start with the most recent. Drawn in Group H with Switzerland, Chile and Honduras, European champions Spain were expected to easily finish top of their pool having lost just one game in almost four years. But, they now face a struggle even to qualify after a shock opening defeat to Switzerland. La Furia Roja dominated possession, smashed the crossbar through Xabi Alonso, and missed a few good chances, but they were frustrated by a stubborn Swiss defence. A second half goal on the counter attack from Gelson Fernandes was enough to win the day for the Swiss.
9) South Korea 2-1 Italy AET – 2002 Round Of 16
In hindsight, this was not much of a shock when you consider the refereeing from a tournament that many football fans erase from the records. Italy were eliminated from the 2002 World Cup in the last 16 by co-hosts South Korea following former Perugia star Ahn Jung-Hwan’s extra time golden goal.
However, this all happened after one of the most infamous matches in World Cup history. Giovanni Trapattoni’s men had a perfectly good golden goal disallowed by Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno, had Francesco Totti sent-off for diving when replays suggested that he had only lost his footing, while South Korea were awarded a dubious penalty and continually went unpunished for foul play.
After the match Italy declared that there had been a conspiracy against them, claims that were given strength by the fact that not only had they had four perfectly fair goals disallowed in their two previous matches against Croatia and Mexico, but by the refereeing errors that saw Korea eliminate Spain in the next round.
8) Spain 0-1 Northern Ireland – 1982 First Group Stage
Spain’s performance at their own World Cup in 1982 was a really miserable one. They won just once in five games, scoring only four goals – of which two were controversial penalties.
Indeed the Spaniards wouldn’t have even made it out of the groups but for refereeing favours. They trailed 1-0 to outsiders Honduras in their opening match and only avoided a shock thanks to a disputed Roberto Ufarte penalty. After dubiously beating Yugoslavia, they were ultimately on the receiving end of a shock in their final group game as they were humiliatingly defeated 1-0 by Northern Ireland. Gerry Armstrong scored the winner in Valencia two minutes after half time.
7) Argentina 0-1 Cameroon – 1990 Group Stage
Italia ’90 opened with a bang in this opener. Argentina were the holders, and although they didn’t possess a star-studded squad they still boasted the greatest player of all time Diego Maradona as well as the new kid on the block Claudio Caniggia. Victory in Milan over Cameroon, who had never won a World Cup game, seemed a certainty. But the Albiceleste fell to a shock 1-0 defeat. Francois Omam-Biyik towered above his man in the 67th minute to head towards goal, but would not have expected his weak and central effort to go in. Nery Pumpido somehow let the ball squirm through and under him as the Africans, who would finish the game with nine men, triumphed.
6) France 0-1 Senegal – 2002 Group Stage
Just like at Italia ’90, the 2002 World Cup began with a shock victory for an African nation over the holders. France, who were also the European champions, and contained the top scorers from the English, Italian and French leagues were stunned by Senegal. Papa Bouba Diop scored the winner on the half-hour mark, before Senegalese players joined together for a choreographed dance celebration. France would be eliminated in the first round without scoring a goal.
5) West Germany 1-2 Algeria – 1982 First Group Stage
West Germany were reigning European champions, and boasted a squad full of world class players such as Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Paul Breitner, Harald Schumacher, Pierre Littbarski and Uli Stielike. No one gave African minnows Algeria a prayer, but they stunned their illustrious opponents with a brilliant fast-paced performance. The legendary Rabah Madjer – who scored the most famous backheel in history in the 1987 European Cup final for Porto against Bayern Munich – opened the scoring. Rummenigge equalised in the 67th minute, but straight from the kick-off Lakhdar Belloumi scored again and the Algerians held on for their most prestigious win.
4) England 0-1 United States – 1950 First Group Stage
Going into their first World Cup, England were 3-1 to win the competition. Meanwhile, the USA – a bunch of semi-professionals consisting of teachers, postmen and dishwashers – were quoted at a whopping 500-1.
After England had beaten Chile in their Group 2 opener, and the US had lost to Spain 3-1 the question was not if The Three Lions would win, but by how many goals. Walter Winterbottom’s men dominated, hitting the woodwork twice and being denied by goalkeeper Frank Borghi, but just couldn’t score. In the 38th minute, Joe Gaetjens scored the only goal to clinch an incredible upset.
The result was so improbable that when the English newspapers printed that their team had lost 1-0, it was assumed and reported by everyone that there had been a typo and that England had actually won 10-0 or 10-1.
3) Hungary 2-3 West Germany – 1954 Final
Gusztav Sebes’ Magical Magyars seemed unbeatable as they travelled to Berne to play West Germany in the 1954 final on the back of an incredible 31-match unbeaten run, which included a 6-3 win over England at Wembley. Hungary had revolutionised football tactically with an attacking system based around a brilliant quartet of forwards - Sándor Kocsis, József Bozsik, Nándor Hidegkuti, and of course the one and only Ferenc Puskas.
Hungary scored 17 goals in two games in their group, including an 8-3 thrashing of the Germans, before 4-2 knockout wins over 1950 finalists Brazil and Uruguay. Leading 2-0 in the final within eight minutes, it seemed as if Hungary would romp to victory but in the pouring rain they would be on the receiving end of a famous Fritz Walter-led German recovery. An 84th minute Uwe Rahn goal clinched a 3-2 triumph for Sepp Herberger’s men. The match is known as ‘The Miracle of Berne’ in Germany, so unlikely was the triumph.
2) North Korea 1-0 Italy – 1966 Group Stage
The second most famous shock result in World Cup history came in England in 1966 when North Korea, appearing in the finals for the first time, shook the world by beating the mighty Italy 1-0 in order to qualify for the quarter-finals.
The Koreans travelled to the UK as 1000-1 rank outsiders, with a bunch of completely unknown players due to the isolation of the communist country. North Korea were expected to return home in the first round, and indeed they were thrashed 3-0 by the USSR in their first game. Trailing 1-0 to Chile, an exit was imminent, but Pak Seung-Sin’s 88th minute equaliser delayed what was supposed to be the inevitable.
In their final group game against Italy, legends such as Giacinto Facchetti, Sandro Mazzola and Gianni Rivera were anticipated to be too strong. But an iconic 42nd minute strike by Pak Doo-Ik at Middlesbrough’s Ayresome Park produced the most sensational of shocks as Korea advanced to the last eight, while Italy boarded the next plane back home where they faced the rotten fruit treatment. Pak Doo-Ik, as Italian urban legend would have it, was a dentist. In fact he was a corporal in the army, and he was promoted to sergeant after scoring this goal.
The fairytale looked set to continue in the quarter finals against Eusebio and Mario Coluna’s Portugal, who contained many of the great Benfica side of the 1960s. Korea raced into a three-goal lead within the first 25 minutes, but they couldn’t keep it up. Eusebio rolled up his socks to spark an incredible comeback, scoring four times as Portugal recovered to win 5-3.
1) Uruguay 2-1 Brazil – 1950 Final Group
“Everywhere has its irremediable national catastrophe, something like a Hiroshima. Our catastrophe, our Hiroshima, was the defeat by Uruguay in 1950,” wrote renowned Brazilian author Nelson Rodrigues.
Playing in their own country, Brazil only required a draw in the final match of the final group stage to win the 1950 World Cup. Entertaining Uruguay, who needed a win to steal the trophy from their rivals, the whole of Brazil, already in celebratory mood, expected nothing less than a comfortable home victory at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.
The press even declared on the day of the final that Brazil were already winners, with O Mundo printing a picture of the squad with the words: ‘These are the world champions’. All seemed to be going well when Friaca put Brazil ahead on 46 minutes. But midway through the second half future Milan legend Juan Schiaffino equalised.
Brazil were still set to be world champions for the first time until disaster struck on 79 minutes – Uruguay scored again. Alcides Ghiggia dribbled past Bigode before catching Barbosa out at his near post, the goalkeeper having anticipated a cross into the middle. Uruguay were World Cup winners, and the whole country of Brazil went into mourning over what became known as the Maracanazo (‘the Maracana blow’). Some fans committed suicide, while many of the Brazil team were abused by the public.
Goalkeeper Barbosa became the main scapegoat, and lived the rest of his life in misery before dying penniless in 2000. “Under Brazilian law the maximum sentence is thirty years. But my imprisonment has been for fifty,” he said before he passed away. Seven years earlier Barbosa had attempted to visit the Brazilian squad in training, only to be turned away for fear that he was a ‘jinx’.