The biggest shock results at the World Cup

With the 2018 World Cup in Russia well underway, we thought we’d take a look back at some of the biggest upsets ever to occur in the competition.

There have been some big ones throughout the years and of course, England have been on the wrong end of a few. Way back in 1950 at the World Cup in Brazil – back when England were a force in the international game – England managed to lose to the part-time players of the USA 1-0 in a group match.

Another biggie of the earlier World Cups was Italy’s defeat by North Korea in 1966, which has forever lived on in Koreans’ minds.

But, for this article, we’ll look more to recent years and some of the upsets that have occurred on the biggest football stage there is: The FIFA World Cup.

A ball and the World Cup trophy on a football pitch.

The World Cup always throws up a shock result or two.

Bulgaria 2 – 1 Germany: USA 1994

Germany were runners-up in both 1982 and 1986 and then went one better to win the World Cup in 1990. But at the next tournament in the USA in 1994, Germany weren’t to make it to the final for the first time since 1978.

Facing a stellar German team featuring legends such as Jürgen Klinsmann and Lothar Matthäus, few Bulgarians would have expected to make it through to the semi-finals.

Bulgaria hadn’t won a game at a World Cup finals prior to this tournament. But this time, Bulgaria had quality players of their own. Hristo Stoichkov, who was the tournament’s eventual top scorer, was a star at Barcelona and replicated his talent on the international stage at this tournament.

Germany – playing for the first time after unification – were World Cup holders and all seemed to be going according to plan when they took the lead in the first half via a penalty.

Bulgaria left it late to equalise and it was that man Stoichkov who scored with a beautifully struck free-kick. But Bulgaria weren’t finished yet. Just three minutes later a cross from Zlatko Yankov was met with a powerful header from Yordan Lechkov, who left goalkeeper Kohler no chance, despite meeting the ball from behind the penalty spot.

While it was an unexpected result, Bulgaria fully deserved the win in what was a thrilling match for fans. Despite most of their team being unknown to the world, they took the initiative throughout the match and could have had more than the two goals they scored.

Unfortunately for Bulgaria, they couldn’t go any further, being knocked out by Italy in the semi-finals. Neither would they fare so well again. Failing to get out of the group stage at the next tournament in France in 1998, Bulgaria have been absent from every World Cup since.

South Korea 2 – 1 Italy: Japan & South Korea 2002

Despite being hosts, South Korea were not expected to achieve too much when they hosted the 2002 World Cup alongside Japan, never mind repeating the famous 1966 victory over Italy. But achieve they did, though it was not without controversy.

Italy’s squad in 2002 was stellar. Del Piero, Vieri, Totti and Inzaghi were the options up front and in their prime, while a defence of Cannavaro, Nesta, Panucci and Maldini – with Buffon in goal – was also one of the best around.

South Korea, under manager Gus Hiddink, had a poor buildup to the competition. However, a win against Poland in their first game then a draw with the USA meant they just needed a point against Portugal in the third and final game. South Korea went one better though by beating Portugal and knocking their opponents out in the process.

Italy were already riled up about refereeing decisions from their group matches, but that was nothing compared with what was coming. Blaming those poor decisions on coming second in their group, the Azzuri were drawn against South Korea in the last 16 match.

After just four minutes of the match, Korea won, then missed, a penalty. That miss was punished, as Italy took the league twenty minutes later through Christian Vieri. South Korea left it late to equalise when an 88th minute equaliser from Seol Ki-hyeon forced the game into extra time. Just as a penalty shootout looked a certainty, a cross from Lee Young-pyo was met by Ahn and the striker headed home in the 117th minute to win the match for South Korea.

But that wasn’t the end of it from Italy’s point of view. The media back home branded the referee a cheat and claimed many decisions were unfairly given for South Korea, especially Francesco Totti’s second yellow card for diving, when it seemed clear that contact was made between him and the defender. There were many more. South Korea could have had numerous red cards for bad challenges, while one poor offside call when Italy were through on goal is difficult to explain.

The controversy followed the referee of that match, Byron Moreno. After the tournament, he was seen driving a luxury vehicle and taking regular holidays, which led to the Italian press to claim that he had received bribe money to win the game for South Korea.

Then, just a few months later, Moreno was suspended for 20 games in Ecuador after being found guilty of match fixing. But it didn’t end there. In 2002, Italy’s most hated referee was arrested at John F. Kennedy airport for carrying six kilograms of heroin.

South Korea meanwhile continued their good fortune, beating Spain again in suspicious circumstances in the quarter-final and eventually losing to Germany in the semi-finals. They couldn’t claim third place in the play-off match against Turkey, but South Koreans didn’t mind, as the tournament was and always will be a moment of national pride.

Brazil 1 – 7 Germany: Brazil 2014

We’ve saved the best one for last. Brazil were hosts of the 2014 World Cup and many expected them to win it. They hadn’t necessarily been too convincing up to the semi-final clash with Germany though.

Drawing with Mexico in the group stage, then only beating Chile on penalties and Colombia 2-1 in the second round and quarter finals, Brazil were hardly dominating teams.

Germany, despite starting with an impressive 4-0 win over Portugal, weren’t necessarily at their best either, and edged past both Algeria and France in the knock-out stages.

Brazil went into this match without Neymar and Thiago Silva, which did mean that both their attack and defence would be weakened. Still, most expected a tight affair between two of the favourites for the competition.

Instead, the tie was over after just half an hour. After opening the scoring on eleven minutes, Germany had made it 5-0 with just thirty minutes gone, leading to tears among the Brazilian supporters who had expected their team to win the whole tournament.

The score finished 7-1, with Brazil scoring a consolation goal in the 90th minute. It was a rout and there can’t have been anyone on the planet that had expected such a scoreline.

Germany went on to win the competition, beating Argentina in the final, but for Brazil, the pain of this defeat lives on. Not since 1920 had Brazil been beaten by such a scoreline and this match was a national humiliation on the biggest stage. Managers and players have spoken about the ghost of this result and its effects could live on to haunt Brazil teams in future competitions for some time to come.

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