Biggest Upsets in International Football

After Iceland's stunning win over England in the last 16 of Euro 2016, we take a look at some of the biggest upsets that have taken place in international football.

The victorious Greece team with the Euro trophy in 2004.   -  Getty Images

The year 2016 does indeed seem to be the year of the underdog. If Leicester City's incredible Premier League triumph wasn't enough, the smallest nation to ever play in a European Championship has just shocked the nation which is considered to have given the sport to the world. Here is our pick of David's most stunning wins over Goliath.

North Korea 1 Italy 0: Group 4 final league match, Middlesbrough, England – FIFA World Cup 1966

The North Korean footballers received a grand welcome back in Pyongyang in 1966, after creating quite a flutter in their first World Cup appearance in England. The Chollima (a mythical winged horse that cannot be mounted by a mortal, a symbol of the nation’s revolutionary zeal) defeated pedigreed Italy 1-0 in its last group game, Park Do-Ik (then an army corporal) scoring the winner, three minutes from half-time.

And the Boro residents surely fell in love with the “Little Orientals!” and some 3000 of them travelled to Liverpool only to see the team’s 5-3 defeat to Eusebio’s Portugal in the quarter-finals.

Cameroon 1 Argentina 0: Group B first league match; Milan, Italy – FIFA World Cup 1990

In the “Miracle of Milan”, defending champion Argentina was at the receiving end of a tough-tackling Cameroon side in the first match of the tournament. “I got a kick from a guy against Cameroon that nearly took my head off,” Diego Maradona, Argentina’s inspirational captain, said later.

The maestro, marked by two or at times even by three players, was hardly given time with the ball and hence failed to exert his usual influence in the midfield. Still the Argentines had a few early look-ins, but the African team slowly tightened its defence and looked threatening on the counter.

Cameroon was reduced to 10 men when Andrea Kana Biyik was shown a straight red for a bone-crushing foul on Claudio Cannigia. The Indomitable Lions, true to their spirit, were, however, not daunted by these odds and Francois Oman Biyik, left unmarked in the box, headed in from a free-kick in the 67th minute to score the improbable winner.

Denmark: Euro 1992

By all accounts, Denmark’s 1992 Euro campaign could have and should have, been a total disaster. Yugoslavia’s civil war breakout resulted in disqualification, meaning Richard Møller Nielsen’s men got the call up to take its place instead. Just to reiterate, Denmark wasn’t even supposed to be there.

So despite a late entry, the Danes were surely not prepared to play against a French team on a 19-game winning streak, a fiery Dutch side and a Germany that included heavy hitters like Hassler, Riedle, and Jurgen Klinsmann in its ranks. Worse still, Denmark was without team talisman Michael Laudrup, who had left due to disputes over tactics.

France’s luck seemed to run out however, exiting the group stages after two draws and a 2-1 defeat against a solid Danish team. A nail-biting penalty shoot-out against Netherlands, which included a blocked Van Basten attempt from Peter Schmeichel, meant that Nielsen’s men had unbelievably made it to the finals. Against the previous champion, no less.

Even more amazingly, it was perennial underachiever John Jensen (one goal in 138 appearances for Arsenal) who slotted in Denmark’s first in the opening half of the final, followed by Kim Vilfort’s bottom-right effort with 12 minutes to spare on the clock. The final score was 2-0, Denmark snagged its first international trophy without ever having supposed to have been there!

Senegal 1 France 0: Group A first league match; Seoul, South Korea – FIFA World Cup 2002

A 30th-minute strike by Papa Bouba Diop, a regular with Ligue 1 side Lens at that time, gave Senegal a stunning victory over defending champion France, again in an opening World Cup match. David Trezeguet and Thierry Henry hit the post and crossbar respectively before Diop scored, but the French failed to score.

Coach Bruno Metsu played a 4-1-3-2 combination which had skipper Alio Cisse, playing as a sweeper ahead of the back four. With the Senegal defence pressing ahead, operating right behind the midfield, France failed to find space at the centre and its strikers increasingly looked forlorn in the opposition half.

El Hadji Diouf, another Lens player, was the fulcrum of the Senegal attack, using his pace and deft control to terrorise France’s ageing central defensive pairing of Marcel Desailly and Frank Leboeuf. It was his cross which set up Bouba Diop’s goal.

Greece: Euro 2004

When the Greeks made their way to the 2004 Euro Championships, they found themselves faced with what was considered a “group of death” that consisted of Russia, Spain and host Portugal. But somehow, thanks to an inspired “rope-a-dope”-style method of play employed by manager Otto Rehhagel, Greece defied everyone.

Never straying from the game plan, The Greeks’ go-to tactic was to wear out opponents with midfielders and swarm on attacks with rock solid, multi-man defence. Rinse, repeat and then steal a goal from set-pieces if things looked good. While it didn’t make for flashy football, the strategy kept working and working and working until incredibly, Greece found themselves in the final against Portugal.

After a goalless first half, the stalemate was broken when Angelos Charisteas found the back of the net – a header from a corner, naturally. And with that, Greece tasted European gold for the first, and only, time. They were true outsiders who somehow took on Europe and prevailed. Rehhagel’s tactics had shown that principled, considered play could beat out flashy attacking football, and better yet, they did it right in Portugal’s backyard.

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