The Davids of the World Cup

The FIFA World Cup has seen its fair share of herculean feats from the unheralded practitioners of the game and their gigantic Goliath-slaying acts. We recall these underdogs’ many dates with destiny.

Published : Jun 01, 2018 19:28 IST

 U.S. centre forward Joe Gaetjens is carried off by cheering supporters, after his team shocked England 1-0, in their World Cup match at Belo Horizonte, Brazil in 1950.
U.S. centre forward Joe Gaetjens is carried off by cheering supporters, after his team shocked England 1-0, in their World Cup match at Belo Horizonte, Brazil in 1950.

U.S. centre forward Joe Gaetjens is carried off by cheering supporters, after his team shocked England 1-0, in their World Cup match at Belo Horizonte, Brazil in 1950.


1. USA 1 England 0; Group 2 league match; Belo Horizonte, Brazil – 1950

America, the new powerhouse at the world stage post World War II, showed its British friends little mercy when they landed for their first World Cup adventure in 1950. Team USA — which included a mailman, a paint-stripper, a dish-washer and a hearse driver — shocked England, which had an array of professional stars in its ranks. Joe Gaetjens — a Haitian dishwasher in New York — scored the only goal of the game.

2. West Germany 3 Hungary 2: Final; Bern, Switzerland – 1954

It was the ‘Miracle of Bern’, when West Germany — still struggling to recover from the social and economic implications of Nazi rule and World War II — slayed the till then undefeated Hungarian team, better known as the ‘Magical Magyars’.

Trailing by two goals within the first eight minutes of the game, West Germany levelled the score in the next 10 minutes, before Helmut Rahn found the winner in the 84th minute.

German historian Joachim Fest, writing eloquently, described the moment as the founding day of the German Republic: “It was a kind of liberation for the Germans from all the things that weighed down upon them after the Second World War. July 4, 1954 is in certain aspects the founding day of the German Republic.”

3. North Korea 1 Italy 0:

Group 4, final league match, Middlesbrough, England – 1966

The diminutive North Koreans warmed the hearts of their English hosts when a strike — three minutes from half time — from Army Corporal Park Do-Ik handed the Asian nation an unlikely win over pedigreed Italy.

The Chollima (a mythical winged horse that cannot be mounted by a mortal, a symbol of the nation’s revolutionary zeal), in its quarterfinal against Portugal, raced to a 3-0 lead by the 25th minute, but a magical display from the tournament’s highest scorer, Eusebio, killed its dream.

Park Doo Ik
North Korea’s Pak Doo Ik (left) scores from 20 yards out to knock out Italy at Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough in the 1966 World Cup.

4. Northern Ireland 1 Spain 0: Group 5, final league match; Valencia, Spain – 1982

“At the final whistle, we didn’t initially celebrate. We just looked at each other for about 10 seconds in amazement,” Northern Ireland midfielder Tommy Cassidy recalls.

The country, the smallest to ever qualify for the World Cup, shocked the host at the Mestalla. After a goalless first half, Gerry Armstrong, lurking in the box, made the most of a goalkeeping howler from Luis Arcanda, striking it hard and low past two defenders and the ’keeper.

5. Cameroon 1 Argentina 0: Group B, first league match; Milan, Italy – 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 competition. “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 was marked closely as a 10-man Cameroon found extra reserves in its indomitable spirit to score the all-important goal through Francois Omam-Biyik in the 67th minute.

Cameroon’s Francois Omam-Biyik towers above the Argentine defence to scores his team’s winner in the 1990 World Cup in Milan.

6. Bulgaria 2 Germany 1: Quarter-finals; New Jersey, USA – 1994

Germany, playing as a unified state for the first time since World War II, was ambushed by a gritty Bulgaria, which had the dubious distinction of zero wins in its previous six appearances. Midfielder Yordan Letchkov, then plying his trade in Germany, scored the winner through an audacious header after Hristo Stoichkov had restored parity for Bulgaria in the 75th minute.

7. Senegal 1 France 0: Group A, first league match; Seoul, South Korea – 2002

Coach Bruno Metsu, enjoying a long-standing association with the French game as a player and manager, played a 4-1-3-2 system, using the pace and physicality of his team to bully the aging France defence, marshalled by Marcel Desailly and Frank Leboeuf. The towering Papa Bouba Diop scored the first goal of the tournament at the half-hour mark, heading home a cross from fellow RC Lens team-mate El Hadji Diouf.

8. Netherlands 5 Spain 1: Group B, first league match; Bahia, Brazil – 2014

Spain, playing its unique brand of possessional game, had rightly dominated the football discourse after its nimble-footed ball-players won the 2008 European championship. The nation continued its dominance of world football, winning its first world title in South Africa (2010), before adding another European crown in 2012.

The defending world and European champion entered the 2014 World Cup as one of the early favourites, but a pedestrian display in its opening game saw La Furia Roja losing 5-1 to the Netherlands, then ranked No. 15 in the world. Spain took the lead in the 27th minute, but twin strikes from Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben helped the Dutch to exact revenge on its opponent, which had beaten it in the 2010 final. Spain’s annus horribilis continued as the team lost 2-0 to Chile, bringing a premature end to its campaign.

Sign in to unlock all user benefits
  • Get notified on top games and events
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign up / manage to our newsletters with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early bird access to discounts & offers to our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment