There are plenty of reasons why football has grown to become the world's most popular sport. The game's simplicity means it can be played by almost anyone, anywhere. Its incredible fanbases have helped to create unbeatable atmospheres, but it is arguably in the sport's unpredictability that truly sets it aside. Gareth and I have compiled a list of 10 of the Men's World Cup's greatest shocks. Covering almost 100 years of football history, the following upsets can tell us more than just what happened over the course of 90 minutes.
Following the series - there will be a poll to determine which match YOU believe to be the World Cup's greatest shock!
Italy 1-2 South Korea (a.e.t) - 2002
When the World Cup is thrown into conversation there are certain nations that immediately jump to the forefront of popular thought. Italy boast one of the competition's most impressive records, winning the trophy four times and creating a footballing legacy almost unrivalled around the globe. However, such imperious form means that unlikely defeats will create long-lasting shockwaves and incredible stories for football supporters to sink their teeth into.
Ranked 6th in the world, the 2002 World Cup saw one of the Azzurri's best ever squads, assembled almost entirely from the Italian domestic league, Serie A. Such strength in depth saw most commentators expect Giovanni Trapattoni's side to sail through the group stage, and an opening 2-0 victory against Ecuador would see pundits praising an 'efficient' display. This would confirm Italy's status as one of the favourites for the entire tournament. The BBC would praise the 'stylish and confident mood' of the players who has eased past their South American counterparts.
Despite what many may have seen as a tricky fixture against 1998 surprise package, Croatia, there was little doubt that the Italian squad would go into their second group game oozing confidence. Only adding to Italy's sense of superiority was Croatia's disappointing opening defeat to Mexico in Niigata. Losing Boris Zivkovic to a red-card on the hour further compounded the anxieties of the Balkan state. Croatia's 1998 manager Miroslav Blazevic would label the 2002 squad 'a complete shambles' who has sold out their attack-minded football tradition in favour of defensive tactics.
It would come as one the 2002 World Cup's biggest surprises, therefore, to see Croatia defeat Italy 2-1 in Ibaraki. Described by the Guardian as the 'most sensational finish to a game' they'd ever seen, late goals from Ivica Olic and Milan Rapaic cancelled out Christian Vieri's opener. A 'lacklustre' Italian XI would seek to blame defeat on a poor display from the English officials after they had seen two goals wrongly disallowed for offside and a questionable foul. Christian Vieri, Alessandro Nesta and Francesco Totti would launch scathing criticisms of referee Graham Poll after the game. As if predicting future events, Totti's angst at a failure from Poll to protect him from rough challenges was of particular note. It would not be the last time dodgy officiating and Italian grievances would overshadow a major shock at the 2002 World Cup.
Italy would need to better the result of Croatia in order to reach the last 16. What had seemed an inevitability after their comfortable win over Ecuador, suddenly seemed rather unlikely against a ruthless Mexico. However, Alessandro Del Piero's 85th-minute equaliser ensured a nervy 1-1 stalemate and progression for the Azzurri thanks to a surprise victory for Ecuador against Croatia in Yokohama. Suddenly, any sense of Italian excitement was fading with the national press highlighting the worrying physical shape of the squad and the embarrassment at having to rely on lowly Ecuador to save them from an early exit.
Italy could take some solace, however, from early exits to other pre-tournament favourites. The 2002 tournament was indeed one of the most shocking and hardest World Cups to predict. Holders France, a strong Argentina and Portugal had all failed to reach the knockout rounds. Portugal had been knocked out by an inspired South Korea buoyed on by a raucous home crowd. Home advantage had seen the Tigers of Asia joined by fellow co-hosts Japan in the last 16.
As well as beating 9-man Portugal, South Korea had defeated a pedestrian Poland and earned a credible draw against an inspired USA to top Group C. Managed by the experienced Guus Hiddink, South Korea had vowed to attack the Azzurri in Daejeon. Italian supporters, on the other hand, had seen injuries, suspensions and a loss of form to key defenders as a cause of genuine concern. Upon Italy’s meeting with South Korea for a place in the last eight, talk before the game reflected back to 1966. Despite victory then being won by the North, the Korean peninsula revelled in a shared sense of patriotism before the match, using the history of the fixture to ignite the vociferous southern support. ‘AGAIN 1966’ was spelled out in capitals for Italian supporters to see.
In a shock to the watching world, Korea earned a penalty just five minutes into the game. Gianluigi Buffon would deny Ahn Jung-Hwan from the sport before Italy, ranked sixth in the world, took control of the tie in the 18th minute through Christian Vieri. For all of Italy’s domination and abundance of goalscoring opportunities, they couldn’t get the killer goal to see off the challenge of a side ranked 34 places below them.
As the tension inside the stadium rose, the South Koreans resorted to robust challenges. Italian frustration at a lack of protection from referee Byron Moreno was evidently seen on the pitch. Giovanni Trappotoni’s makeshift defence was later undone in the 88th minute when a hopeful ball into the box was controlled and finished by Seol Ki-Hyeon. The match finished 1-1 and a period of golden goal would be needed to settle to score. The noise in Daejeon grew once more with the South Korean players growing in confidence and the tempo with which they played. ‘Chubby’ Moreno was struggling to keep up with play.
The fitness of the referee may go some way to explaining the game’s next controversial decision. Roma forward Francesco Totti burst into the box and was brought down by a poor Korean challenge. Fully 30 yards from the action, Moreno judged Totti to have dived and promptly issued a second yellow card. Reduced to ten men, the odds were swinging in favour of South Korea. The second period of extra-time saw Damiano Tommasi appear to win the match for the Azzurri, before Moreno brought the play back for offside. Replays suggested that the Italian midfielder had timed his run perfectly.
Just two minutes before the end of extra-time, a cross from the left was met by the head of Ahn Jung-Hwan and flew past the outstretched dive of Buffon. The Daejeon World Cup Stadium erupted into a cacophony of noise with supporters and players going wild. The Italian side slumped to their knees as another World Cup ended in disappointment. Ahn had written the ‘most glorious chapter in Korean football history’ and made sure that a host nation would progress to the quarter-finals. Italy were left bitter and full of resentment for Moreno’s performance, claiming a conspiracy had led to their side’s early exit. Although vehemently denied by FIFA, the performance of Moreno was still criticised by then president Sepp Blatter. Incredibly, Ahn was subsequently sacked from Italian side Perugia for his ‘part’ in the tragedy. According to club owner Luciano Gaucci, Ahn was the man ‘who was the ruin of Italian football’. Who says football isn’t emotional?
A tense yet controversial victory over Spain would see the South Korean luck continue at the 2002 World Cup. Their incredible run would only come to an end to a Michael Ballack inspired Germany in the semi-finals. Eventually finishing 4th behind Turkey, South Korea had proved that the World Cup was still capable of providing football with some of its greatest surprises and shocks. Critics had believed the introduction of a 32 team tournament would lower the quality of competition, but even to this day, the World Cup is still as unpredictable as ever... Wales 2022 World Champions anyone?
This blog contains an extract from our second book - The History of Football in 90 Minutes (Plus Extra-Time) - you can purchase it here!
Match reports and news from various sources including:
Clemente Lisi, A History of the World Cup: 1930-2010 (Plymouth: Scarecrow Press, INC., 2011) p.311
By Ben Jones - Follow me on Twitter @TFHBs and @Benny_J
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