The World Cup Alphabet – U is for…

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Rather than seeing a giant of the game lift the cup some like to see the World Cup highlights for its times the little guy gets up in a game. They don’t win the tournament, they don’t get etched in to the trophy but they still have their little foothold in the rich history of the tournament. The time when the powerful are usurped by an underdog. Low scoring perhaps makes it ripe for this but the differences in class between nations can be staggering.


Australia belongs there even if they haven’t really upset anyone. Defeating a talent filled Serbian side might be up there but for most part we’ve played the whole of the little guy.


The first massive upset of note was in 1950 when the USA defeated England. The English were so sure of their superiority over the Yanks, a team made up of mailmen and school teachers, that newspaper editors back home thought someone had made a typing error when the score first came in over the wires. Surely they meant 10-0 to England? No, the Americans had produced one of the greatest shocks the tournament has ever seen. The only goal was scored by Joe Gaetjens, a Haitian who a few years later went missing, presumed murdered by a death squad during Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier’s brutal rule. The humiliation sent shockwaves through the English game in what was their first tournament. Back home, the American players’ exploits went almost totally unnoticed.



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Joe Gaetjens chaired off after this momentous win for the Americans over England.


Walter Bahr, a defender who set up the winner, once said that the only person to welcome him home after the famous victory was his wife. He said that the papers had nothing in there except for a two-inch column. Players from the famous win weren’t interviewed about their exploits  until 25 years later.


The ‘Final’ in 1950 was also a shock. In front of 200,000 or so Brazilians at the Maracana Uruguay won and took home the trophy for the second time plunging Brazil in to mourning. Brazil were so sure they would win the 1950 World Cup on home soil that some early editions of the South Americans’ domestic newspapers hit the streets declaring victory after halftime. After all, Brazil were leading 1-0 against Uruguay in a round-robin match that would determine the title.


A second half comeback though saw Uruguay win 2-1. This had caused some problems for the Brazilian organisers. Gold victory medals had already been pressed for the Brazilians and a victory song composed, both of which had to be scrapped. Novelist Nelson Rodrigues said that was Brazil’s biggest catastrophe and “Their Hiroshima”.  The scorer of the winning goal Alcidis Chiggia would be dubbed ‘The man that made Brazil cry.’


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Uruguayans, Brazilians and 200,000 or so others.


Brazilian football remained in the dumps until the emergence of Pele and others during the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. This was the Pele who had watched his father who was in a flood of tears following listening to the 1950 game on the radio. Seeing as his father was so upset and inconsolable he promised him he would win the World Cup for him. He would do it three times.


In 1954 (and as we’ve mentioned before) West Germany upset the ‘Mighty Magyars’ to take home their first World Cup. This upset was a timely boost for a nation still rebuilding after the war. In 1966 you also had the North Koreans knocking off Italy. In 1982 a country deep in to ‘The Troubles’ managed to beat the hosts. Northern Ireland defeated Spain 1-0 with Gerry Armstrong the hero. Armstrong had believed that believed the turmoil of Northern Ireland made the players harder and bonded more because of ‘growing up around petrol bombs and burning buses’.


Armstrong (a catholic) now works for Northern Ireland’s football association trying to convince players eligible for the Republic of Ireland through the Good Friday agreement to stick with Northern Ireland and saving what talent the country has. They qualified for Euro 2016 and almost for this World Cup. Clubs and Scotland tried to sign their coach Michael O’Neill. He said he was happy ‘with my wee boys.’


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Gerry Armstrong lashes it home for Northern Ireland.


In 1986 the Red Devils Belgium turfed out the powerful USSR side in the biggest upset of the tournament. The Soviet Union had undergone something of a reboot, thanks to coach Valeri Lobanovsky, who modeled the national team on the club side he had made one of Europe’s most successful, Dinamo Kiev. Seven of its players, including star man Igor Belanov, played in the 1982 Soviet World Cup team.


Not even Belanov’s hat-trick on the day was enough to overcome a spirited Belgium outfit, who kept drawing level to take the game to extra time at 2-2. A fine time to take the lead then, which they duly did through Stephane De Mol. The classy Nico Claesen volleyed his team further ahead and, despite Belanov both winning and converting a penalty kick, the Belgians held on. Belanov had the dubious distinction of becoming only the third player in World Cup history, after Ernest Wilimowski of Poland in 1938 and Josef Huegi of Switzerland in 1954, to score a hat-trick and finish up on the losing side.


Belgium would reach the semi-finals before being knocked out by Diego Maradona’s Argentina.


African nations have been the kings of the upsets in the more recent World Cups. They also loved to take down the champs. Argentina, with Maradona running the midfield, took on a Cameroon side featuring a mixture of brute force and exquisite skill. The Italian press had described Cameroon as a humble team with an insignificant past.  It wasn’t long before the Indomitable Lions were writing a new chapter in their history and leaving a permanent mark on the history of the tournament.


The 1-0 victory was memorable enough, although not as memorable as the Africans’ two red cards including a ludicrous tackle on Argentine striker Claudio Caniggia by Benjamin Massing. Massing almost cut the star striker in half such was the ferocity of the tackle that also saw Massing lose a boot. Cameroon would come to within a couple of minutes of making the semi finals going out to England.


I’ve mentioned that classic win by Senegal previously. In 2002 to open the World Cup in South Korea Senegal would take on their old colonial masters France, the defending champs of both Europe and the World. From the get go Senegal were to the equal to France in pressure and skill and had them on the back foot. The French held back and tried to hang on to possession for long periods of time but any foray forward was cut out by the inspirational Cisse who played ahead of his back four while Coly (complete with a haircut that made him look like Predator from said movie Predator) kept Wiltord in his back pocket.


On the break Senegal were dangerous with El Hadij Diouf switching wings and generally causing grief against an ageing French defence. Senegal took this bit of luck and rode it all the way to the bank. Djorkaeff was stripped of the ball by Boupa Diop, the pass finding Diouf who again dashed down the left wing and rode a tackle from Lebouf. Diouf then squared the ball in to the area where Boupa Diop took advantage of a mix up between Manu Petit and Fabian Barthez to slot the ball home and send the crowd in to raptures.

Boupa Diop ran to the corner flag and took his shirt off before he and his teammates danced around the shirt…weird and wonderful stuff and a sign that the side was definitely ‘playing for the shirt’.



France now realised they had to actually do something but still played a disjointed style that was neither cohesive nor effective. Senegal were well-organized and bossed the midfield even when Henry snatched on any half chance he could find (he hit the bar in the second half). Fadiga had the best chance of the second half with his vicious shot that nailed in to the crossbar and Senegal held out against a lackluster French side to win and cause of the great upsets in the history of the World Cup. France never scored a goal in the entire tournament and went out in the first round.


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2002 was of course the tournament of upsets. South Koreas run to the semi finals took down Italy, Spain and near favourites Portugal. Turkey also made it to the semi finals. The lack of punch from the big nations meant less games were played in the Champions League along with other moves to ensure the top players would be in peak condition for the World Cup.


We can only hope we can ‘Do a Senegal’ next Saturday. It’s not impossible and we can hope we’ll be mentioned in articles about a great upset in years to come.



About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

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