United States 1 England 0 (1950)
England arrived at what their first World Cup finals appearance in, hailed as potential winners having lost just four times in 30 matches. Faced with a team of part-timers, England selectors rested star player Stanley Matthews.
It proved to be a fatal error as with substitutes not yet permitted Matthews sat helplessly on the sidelines as a goal by Haiti-born Joe Gaetjens, who earned his keep as a dishwasher in a restaurant, earned the Americans a 1-0 win.
Neither side made it through to the next round. The match was immortalised in a book and in a film called the ‘Miracle Game’
Uruguay 2 Brazil 1
The game that came to be known as the ‘Maracanazo’. Hosts Brazil were drawing 1-1 and under the old format were just 10 minutes from winning their first World Cup in the Maracana.
However, their hopes and that of a nation were dashed as Alcides Ghiggia lashed in a shot to make it 2-1.
Despite there being 200,000 fans packed into the stadium Ghiggia, who is now 87 and the only member of the two teams still alive, told AFP the crowd were reduced to a ‘great stunning silence’.
Brazil got over the trauma and have won the trophy five times since while that was the second and last of Uruguay’s wins.
North Korea 1 Italy 0 (1966)
Pak Do-Ik entered World Cup folklore by striking the only goal of the game to secure the hermit Stalinist state a remarkable 1-0 victory over Italy in a group match in the unglamorous setting of Middlesbrough in north-eastern England.
It did not presage a golden era in football for North Korea as they had to wait till 2010 for their next appearance at the finals. However, for Pak it opened up a whole new world.
“I learnt that playing football can improve diplomatic relations and promote peace,” he said when he made an emotional return to Middlesbrough in 2002.
North Korea went on to lose 5-3 to Portugal in the quarter-finals but their feat was immortalised in a BBC documentary ‘The Game of their Lives’.
East Germany 1 West Germany 0 (1974)
One of the most politically charged matches in World Cup history, with the Cold War raging and intense rivalry between the two states reaching a peak as West Germany hosted the tournament.
The two — divided since World War II — fought constantly for supremacy in the sporting arena but this was the most high profile meeting.
West Germany were packed with household names but the East Germans arrived boosted by Magdeburg’s Cup Winners Cup victory. Striker Jurgen Sparwasser scored the only goal of the game and provoked wild celebrations back in the communist state.
West Germany, though, were to have the last laugh as they went on to win the trophy while East Germany bowed out in the next round.
Algeria 2 West Germany 1 (1982)
The North Africans were appearing in their first World Cup finals and were given little chance against the reigning European champions in the clash in Spain.
The German players thought it was done and dusted. “One player even said that he would play against us with a cigar in his mouth,” Algeria’s full-back Chaabane Merzekane told The Guardian later.
The over confidence of the Germans came back to haunt them as the Algerians prevailed 2-1 with Rabah Madjer opening the scoring nine minutes into the second-half.
The Germans pulled level through Karl-Heinz Rummenigge only for a stunning move by the Algerians to culminate in the decisive goal by Lakhdar Belloumi.
German coach Jupp Derwall had said he would go home if they were beaten by their opponents but he stayed and it all came down to the final group game against Austria.
If Germany won they progressed, but if it was a draw the Algerians would as they had beaten Chile the day before.
The Germans won 1-0 with an early goal which then saw the rest of the match played as if it was a friendly, neither side taking chances as they knew both would qualify at Algeria’s expense.
Not surprisingly it became known as the ‘Disgrace of Gijon’ and forced a change in that final group games would from then on be played at the same time. West Germany went on to lose 3-1 in the final to Italy.
Northern Ireland 1 Spain 0 (1982)
Unfancied Northern Ireland crashed Spain’s World Cup fiesta, beating the hosts 1-0 through a Gerry Armstrong goal early in the second-half.
Spain could not even take advantage of their opponents being reduced to 10 men for the final half hour as defender Mal Donaghy was sent off.
Northern Ireland went through to the quarter-finals but their adventure ended there while ironically Armstrong earned a move to Spanish side Real Mallorca.
Armstrong told the BBC in 2008 that the win that night had given hope to the ‘minnows’ of world football.
“I think it’s a great inspiration for smaller nations who have a bond like we had and can also achieve success if they’re organised.”
Cameroon 1 Argentina 0 (1990)
However, Francois Omam-Biyik’s headed goal, helped by an awful goalkeeping error by Nery Pumpido, gave them an astonishing 1-0 win in a game that their raw tackling saw them reduced to nine men.
“We hate it when European reporters ask us if we eat monkeys and have a witch doctor. We are real football players and we proved this tonight,” said Biyik.
Cameroon exited the tournament in the quarter-finals, heads held high and one of the few bright spots of the finals.
The Argentines, with Diego Maradona their sole creative outlet, somehow made it to the final but left unloved through a mix of their diving and brutal attitude on the pitch.
South Korea 0 Spain 0 – S. Korea won 5-3 on penalties (2002)
South Korea, who co-hosted the finals with Japan, had already beaten Italy in the Last 16, in controversial fashion, and faced a Spanish side packed with talent, but who had needed penalties to beat Irish Republic to reach the last eight.
This too went to penalties as the Koreans followed Dutch coach Guus Hiddink’s instructions to the letter, harrying the skilful Spaniards all over the pitch.
The European side’s tempers frayed as two seemingly good goals were ruled out by the Egyptian referee.
The Koreans kept their nerve in the penalty shootout and prevailed 5-3 to become the first Asian side to reach the semi-finals.
Their current coach Hong Myung-Bo scored the winner. South Korea lost to Germany in the semi-final.
Senegal 1 France 0 (2002)
In a repeat of 1990, another talented but largely unknown African team up against the defending world champions and possessed a global superstar in Zinedine Zidane.
The Senegalese, coached by Frenchman Bruno Metsu, rattled their opponents from the start and it was no surprise when midfielder Pape Bouba Diop popped up to score in the 30th minute.
France and especially their coach Roger Lemerre seemed incapable of reacting and lost 1-0.
France became the first defending champions to exit at the group stage, while Senegal got to the last eight and on the back of it players like Diop earned big money moves to top European clubs.