Beware, Brazil: 10 World Cup opening-game shocks

Yugoslavia 2-1 Brazil (Uruguay 1930)

Two days into the very first World Cup in Uruguay – a 13-team affair eventually won by the hosts – the new tournament reverberated to its first-ever shock. While it was harder back then to assess the relative strengths of international sides who’d rarely or never met before, this early Selecao side were the seeded team, and undoubtedly useful; for starters, they were spearheaded by sporting titan Preguinho, a major league show-off who was also an international in hockey, basketball, water polo, volleyball and swimming. But the Yugoslavs scored twice in the first half via Aleksandar Tirnanic and Ivan Bek, topping the three-team group, sending Brazil a short scuttle home and eventually finishing fourth.

Sweden 3-2 Argentina (Italy 1934)

Argentina had marched to the 1930 final with some outstanding play, and while their '34 side was depleted and riven by internal bickering, they were still expected to ease past an internationally inexperienced Sweden in the first round of what was now a straight knockout. Argentina did twice edge ahead, through Ernesto Belis and Alberto Galateo (in their one and only World Cup appearance each). But two hits from Elfsborg legend Sven Jonasson and a winner via the superbly named Knut Kroon gave the Swedes a 3-2 stunner.

Cuba 2-1 Romania (France 1938)

With Uruguay and Argentina throwing a hissy fit over the fact that a second World Cup in a row was being held in Europe, a couple of vacancies opened up for nations willing to slog over the Atlantic on a ferry to France – and up stepped the Lions of the Caribbean [Eh? – Biogeography Ed]. After holding the far more accomplished Romanian side to a 3-3 humdinger of a draw in Toulouse, Cuba won the replay 2-1 four days later, with Hector Socorro and captain Tomas Fernandez bashing the winner. Alas, they were pumped 8-0 by Sweden in the knockouts.

USA 1-0 England (Brazil 1950)

The English, arrogantly superior? Surely not. When this result came through the newswires, the British press automatically assumed that a telegraph operative was having a duff day and missed out a 1, because England had clearly prevailed 10-1. They were wrong: the plucky band of Yank amateurs had outplayed Stanley Matthews & Co., winning thanks to a goal from Haitian centre-forward Joe Gaetjens, who’d only moved to New York in 1947 and worked washing dishes in a restaurant. The Americans could hardly believe that their self-styled “Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck Team” had won, either, and this remains known as the Game That Shook The World. England headed home after losing to Spain in the next game in Rio.


North Korea 1-0 Italy (England 1966)

After relatively shock-free opening rounds in 1954 (where the unexpected scoreline came in the final, the Miracle of Bern), and a 1958 tournament in which the biggest stunner was Northern Ireland banishing Italy during qualification (although they did also beat Czechoslovakia in the opening round of that one – and you can read all about their heroics in the new issue of FourFourTwo), normal service was resumed in 1966. 


At Ayresome Park, 18,000 Teessiders choked on their parmos as the enigmatic North Koreans one-nilled superstar-laden Italy. “The great leader told us we couldn’t win the cup, but we could win a game,” said their goalscorer Pak Doo-Ik, who became a national hero as a result, being promoted instantly from Corporal to Sergeant in the People’s Army and even carrying the Olympic torch through Pyongyang in 2008. The bitter Italians later started a bizarre urban myth that Doo-Ik was working as a dentist.


Algeria 2-1 West Germany (Spain 1982)

1970, 1974 and 1978 went pretty much to form in the opening rounds; Scots may argue that their loss to Peru in '78 counts, but la Blanquirroja of Teofilo Cubillas were no mugs. Nobody, however, saw Algeria’s 2-1 victory over West Germany coming. A Teutonic side containing the likes of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Paul Breitner were expected to pummel the Fennec Foxes, but hits from Rabah Madjer (of Porto European Cup-final-backheel-scoring fame) and attacking midfield genius Lakhdar Belloumi gave Algeria a famous win. It almost sent Germany home, and only goal difference got them through after a disgraceful episode in which the Germans strolled through a 1-0 with Austria, knowing that such a scoreline would put both sides into the knockouts at the Africans’ expense. It’s still known as the ‘Shame of Gijon’ back in Algeria. 


Costa Rica 1-0 Scotland (Italia 90)

Although hardly the legend-packed mid-seventies vintage who should have performed so much better on the international stage, Scotland’s 1990 squad – think Jim Leighton, Richard Gough, Stuart McCall and Mo Johnston – should still have dispatched a Ticos outfit at their first World Cup. The Central Americans, however, were managed by Bora Milutinovic – aka 'the Miracle Worker' – who has gone on to guide four unfancied teams through World Cup groups. Taking over just 90 days before the tournament started, Milutinovic axed the captain and totally reconfigured the team, building a great spirit that was sufficient to overpower Andy Roxburgh’s men 1-0, with Juan Cayasso scoring the goal.


Republic of Ireland 1-0 Italy (USA 94)

Roberto Baggio hurtling at Phil Babb; Paolo Maldini marking Tommy Coyne of Motherwell; Andy Townsend squaring up to Roberto Donadoni. It shouldn’t have been a contest, but Ray Houghton’s famous howitzer gave the Irish a real-life Fairytale Of New York (oh alright, New Jersey). Under the current 32-team system, it would ultimately have been enough to send the Azzurri home: with Ireland and Italy accruing identical results and goal difference, the Italians were placed third in the group due to this loss. But they squeezed through by dint of being a best third-placed team, eventually making it to the final via three 2-1 wins, whereas Ireland fell to Holland in the second round.


France 0-1 Senegal (Korea-Japan 2002)

France '98 boasted few surprises – Italy needed a late goal to draw 2-2 with Chile, although the South Americans had the rather useful Marcelo Salas in their ranks – but Korea-Japan didn’t disappoint, as world champs France were humbled by their Francophone former colony Senegal. It introduced to a wider world a cast of characters including El Hadji Diouf, Khalilou Fadiga and 6ft 5in goalscorer Papa Bouba Diop, later to become affectionately known as The Wardrobe. The French, as is often their brilliant-or-dismal wont, finished bottom of the group and went home shamefaced. Bof.


England 1-1 USA (South Africa 2010)

The Three Lions’ group was hardly “EASY!”, as one UK rag had daftly acronymised Algeria, Slovenia and "[the] Yanks", but the formbook still suggested a routine win for Terry, Gerrard and Rooney against Jay DeMerit, Steve Cherundolo and Robbie Findley. Capello was still wondering who his best goalkeeper was – this fixture revealed that it sure wasn’t Robert Green – and USA went on to top the group, meaning England would face Germany in the knockouts. Elsewhere in South Africa, Spain lost 1-0 to Switzerland, were written off by Alan Shearer on the telly, and promptly went on to do rather well.


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Nick Moore

Nick Moore is a freelance journalist based on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. He wrote his first FourFourTwo feature in 2001 about Gerard Houllier's cup-treble-winning Liverpool side, and has continued to ink his witty words for the mag ever since. Nick has produced FFT's 'Ask A Silly Question' interview for 16 years, once getting Peter Crouch to confess that he dreams about being a dwarf.