Since its creation, the FIFA World Cup™ has always thrown up shock results and surprise heroes. The history of the tournament is littered with the names of unlikely stars and games in which underdogs have stood tall to cut supposedly superior opposition down to size.
So even though everyone is expecting to see the likes of Spain and Brazil reign supreme at South Africa 2010, and Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to confirm their lofty status, do not be surprised to see one or two unfancied names punch above their weight. Casting a backward glance, FIFA.com relives some of the biggest upsets the competition has produced in its 80-year history and pays tribute to its accidental superstars.
Brazil 1950 is remembered for the Maracanazo, Uruguay's wholly unexpected 2-1 win over the hosts in the last game of the Final Round, a result that stunned the football world and sent a nation into mourning. Yet, as England fans well know, that was not the only shock of the competition.
Expecting a comfortable afternoon against the unheralded USA in Belo Horizonte, the English went down to Joe Gaetjens’ solitary strike. Such was the disbelief that greeted the result The New York Times declined to publish it, convinced it was a joke. It has entered football folklore that several other newspapers reported the score as 10-1 to England, believing the actual result to be a misprint.
England made up for that humbling reverse by winning the Trophy 16 years later in a tournament that also generated an eye-catching result or two, none more so than Korea DPR's 1-0 defeat of Italy in the group phase. The Asian side then threatened to send Portugal packing in the quarter-finals, surging into a 3-0 lead. Inspired by the magnificent Eusebio, the Portuguese ensured there would be no more fairy tales for the North Koreans, however, the Black Panther scoring four as they stormed back to win 5-3.
At the 1982 FIFA World Cup it was Algeria's turn to grab the headlines. The Desert Foxes became the first African side to beat European opposition in the history of the tournament when they overcame reigning continental champions West Germany 2-1. The result came as a surprise to many, not least German coach Jupp Derwall, who had declared before the match: "If we lose this game, I'll throw myself into the Mediterranean." Whether he actually fulfilled that promise is unclear, though the Germans atoned for their slip-up by advancing to the Final, where they lost to Italy.
Stars for a day
The three-time champions were in the Final again four years later at Mexico 1986, although the big surprise on that occasion was not the fact that they succumbed 3-2 to Argentina but that the unheralded Jose Luis Brown should open the scoring for La Albiceleste, stealing the limelight, albeit momentarily, from Diego Maradona. In his 36 appearances for his country, that was the one and only goal the central defender ever scored.
At Italy 1990 the host nation uncovered a hero of their own in Salvatore Schillaci. Starting on the bench in two of the Italians' three group games, the unknown front man ended the tournament as the top scorer and one of the most recognisable faces in the game. Not bad for a player who had only won one cap prior to the finals.
Vying with Schillaci for the spotlight at that tournament was another supersub, Cameroon's legendary striker Roger Milla. Brought out of semi-retirement on the isle of Reunion, the 38-year-old did not start a single game for the Indomitable Lions on their enthralling journey to the last eight, but his goals and hip-shuffling celebrations remain among the competition’s most memorable moments.
Taking up their mantle at USA 1994 was Sweden goalkeeper Thomas Ravelli, who played a big hand in the Scandinavians' unanticipated third-place finish. An inspirational presence between the sticks, Ravelli excelled in the quarter-final against Romania, pulling off two saves in his side’s penalty-shootout win.
Amazement in Asia
Perhaps the most surprising FIFA World Cup of them all was Korea/Japan 2002. The competition began with hotly tipped Argentina crashing out in the first round, a fate that also befell defending champions France, who failed to score a single goal, despite the presence of Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet and Djibril Cisse in their formidable front line.
The unpredictable script continued its course with co-hosts Korea Republic embarking on a thrilling run to the semi-finals, ending the hopes of Spain and Italy along the way. That victory over the Italians in the Round of 16 was sealed by a golden goal from Ahn Jung-Hwan. A hero in his homeland, Ahn saw his popularity plummet in Italy, where he just happened to be playing his club football for Perugia.
Unable to contain his anger at Italy’s exit, Perugia president Luciano Gaucci terminated the Korean's contract, telling the press: "I refuse to pay the wages of the man who has ruined Italian football." Gaucci later reinstated his the striker, which is nothing less than you would expect for one of the FIFA World Cup's unlikely heroes.