Friday, 5 February 2010


The beautiful thing about the World Cup is its unpredictable nature. David v Goliath has been re-enacted many times on the field of play of the world's greatest football tournament. Here's my pick of the bunch...

5. Northern Ireland v Spain (1982)

The Irish had drawn their opening two group games and now faced the host nation needing a highly unlikely victory to progress. They were so sure their World Cup was over that they had already booked their flight home for the following day, but a Gerry Armstrong strike following a goalkeeping blunder just after half-time put the Irish on course for the second round. Spain could not muster a recovery, even when they found themselves playing ten men for the last 30 minutes following Mal Donaghy's dismissal, and the Irish ended the night as one of the most unfancied group winners in World Cup history.

4. Argentina v Cameroon (1990)

The opening game of Italia 90; an Argentina side that was unrecognizable from the superb team that had triumphed in Mexico four years earlier, against the up-and-coming Cameroons who were to take the tournament by storm. In spite of ending the match with just nine players, Cameroon tooks the spoils thanks to an Oman-Biyik goal midway through the second half, thus creating the biggest shock ever in an opening match.

3. Algeria v West Germany (1982)

The Germans were the 3-1 pre-tournament favourites whilst Algeria - playing in their first World Cup - were 1000/1 outsiders. The two clashed in the opening group match in Gijon, with a routine German victory fully expected. In the warmth of a late Spanish afternoon the unthinkable happened. Rabah Madjer and Lakhdar Belloumi were the goalscorers for the African minnows, whose debut match in the World Cup produced a truly outstanding result.

2. North Korea v Italy (1966)

Although the Koreans were something of an unknown quantity, they were not expected to be a match for the experienced and talented Italians. The Asian side had lost their first group game 3-0 against the Soviet Union and only snatched a late equalizer against Chile, leaving them needing to beat the mightly Azurri to stay in the tournament. But the miracle occured; a 42nd minute goal from Park Doo-Ik at Ayrsome Park, Middlesborough, was enough to send Italy home and North Korea through to a quarter-final clash with Portugal.

1. USA v England (1950)

My pick for the biggest shock in the history of the World Cup. In their seven previous international matches leading up to the clash with England the USA had conceded a total of 45 goals and scored just two. When the 1-0 scoreline came through it was assumed to be a misprint in the newspaper that should have read 10-1 the other way. Joe Gaetjens was the hero that day in Belo Horizonte in the east of Brazil, heading the winning goal in the 38th minute to humble England, who crashed out three days later following defeat to Spain in Rio de Janeiro.

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