The World Cup has a glorious tradition of underdog stories. While every tournament has its favourites, an unlikely hero or two always seems to pop up to bloody the nose of one of the big boys. Some of the competition’s most enduring memories have come from surprise packages and little-known players making a name for themselves on the grandest of stages. So without further ado, here is a rundown of the ten most shocking upsets in World Cup history.
Holders France kicked off the 2002 World Cup as one of the favourites to retain their crown. World Cup debutants Senegal, however, with a French Coach and a starting XI comprised entirely of France-based players, knew what to expect. The Africans took the game to Les Bleus, but it was still a surprise when Papa Bouba Diop forced El Hadj Diouf’s low cross over the line. The weary-looking French, many of whom had played 50+ games for their clubs that season, were devoid of ideas without injured talisman Zinedine Zidane, and had no answer. Senegal held on for a famous win, while world champions France crashed out of the competition without scoring a goal.
9 – West Germany 3-2 Hungary – Final, Berne, 1954
Hungary’s name appeared to be on the trophy before a ball had been kicked at Switzerland ’54. Boasting the finest team in the world, and in Ferenc Puskas the finest player, the Magnificent Magyars were expected to make light work of a West German team they had already demolished 8-3 at the group stage. Sure enough, Hungary were 2-0 up within eight minutes of the final. Showing trademark organisation and determination however, West Germany battled back to level the scores. Hungary began to wilt, most notably the unfit Puskas, who had insisted on playing despite an injury. In the second half, Helmut Rahn crashed home the winner, and the Magyars had missed their chance. By 1958, defections of Hungary’s star players to the West rendered the team a shadow of the team of four years prior.
8 – Algeria 2-1 West Germany – Group II, Gijon, 1982
The Germans themselves are no strangers to the wrong end of World Cup shocks, however. In 1982, unfancied Algeria upset a star-studded German team featuring the likes of Paul Breitner and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. The architect of the victory was African Footballer of the Year Lakhder Belloumi, who scored one and made another either side of Rummenigge’s equalizer. In the searing heat of Gijon, West Germany could not break through a second time. Nobody was more stunned than German Coach Jupp Derwall, who declared “I do not understand it” but West Germany would nevertheless go on to reach the final.
7 – Spain 0-1 Northern Ireland – Group I, Valencia, 1982
Back in the days when Spain were perennial underachievers, it seemed the 1982 World Cup offered their best chance of finally lifting the trophy. Yet even with the advantages afforded to the host nation, the Spaniards stumbled and stuttered. Northern Ireland’s team of journeymen overcame some dreadful officiating – not least the dismissal of Mal Donaghy for an innocuous shove – to silence the home crowd. Gerry Armstrong, a winger who struggled to get into Second Division Watford’s team, was the hero, pouncing on Arconada’s fumble to emphatically rifle home the only goal. Ironically, Armstrong’s exploits in the tournament would earn him a move to La Liga with Real Mallorca.
6 – Brazil 1-2 Uruguay – Final Pool, Rio de Janeiro, 1950
The bizarre format of the 1950 World Cup meant that there was no ‘final’ as such, but rather a ‘final pool’ consisting of the four teams who had topped their respective first round groups. Brazil, hosts and overwhelming favourites, needed just a point from their last game against Uruguay to win the World Cup. La Albiceleste themselves needed a win to lift the Jules Rimet trophy. So utterly convinced of their impending triumph were the Brazilians that the Mayor of Rio gave a grandiose pre-match speech before kick off, declaring victory. Uruguay however, have always been Brazil’s bogey team, and when they fought back to cancel out Fria