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When the underdog had its day – Recent World Cup and Euros shocks & surprises

ALGERIA – WORLD CUP 1982

Algeria shocked the giants of West Germany 2-1, one of their two victories in the group stage. However, they were denied qualification when Germany beat Austria 1-0 in controversial circumstances – the result conveniently allowed both teams to progress at the African nation’s expense. In subsequent tournaments, the final two games in each group have always been played simultaneously.

CAMEROON – WORLD CUP 1990

The first African country to reach a World quarter-final, Cameroon dramatically won the tournament’s first match, 1-0 against Argentina, despite having two players sent off. Then two goals from Roger Milla, accompanied by his unforgettable goal celebrations, saw them to a second round win over Colombia, setting up a quarter-final with England. Bobby Robson’s team were lucky to progress after equalising with a late penalty and sealing the match in extra time via another spot kick.

DENMARK – EURO 1992

Undoubtedly one of the most remarkable stories from any Euro finals. Many of the Danish players had departed on holiday when, at a few weeks notice, they were invited to compete in the finals following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.

Denmark began unremarkably, failing to score in their first two matches, but a 2-1 win over France saw them through to the semi-finals. A brace from Henrik Larsen gave them a 2-2 draw with an exceptionally strong Netherlands team, and Larsen was again on target in their successful penalty shoot-out. A 2-0 win over Germany completed the Danish fairytale.

BULGARIA – WORLD CUP 1994

This East European nation has only progressed beyond the group stage at a major tournament on one other occasion, but led by the talismanic Hristo Stoichkov, they reached the semi-finals here.

Hopes were not high following a 3-0 loss to Nigeria, but Stoichkov proceeded to score in every game thereafter. The victories over Argentina in the group stage and Germany in the quarter-final surely rank as the greatest occasions in Bulgarian football history. Their tournament ended with defeat to Italy in the last four. Stoichkov, with Barcelona at the time, was the joint winner of the tournament’s Golden Boot and was later crowned European Footballer of the Year for 1994.

SOUTH KOREA – WORLD CUP 2002

Co-hosts South Korea topped their group having beating Poland and Portugal, but they hadn’t finished making the headlines. A 2-1 round of 16 victory over Italy duly followed, however Ahn Jung-Hwan’s reward for scoring the winner was to be sacked by his Italian club Perugia!

The upsets continued as the Koreans beat Spain on penalties, before losing 1-0 to Germany in the last four. Park Ji-Sung, who has had an excellent career with Manchester United, was one of the players who sprung to prominence.

GREECE – EURO 2004

150-1 outsiders Greece shocked the footballing world by emerging as tournament winners in 2004. They scraped through the group stage, but then 1-0 wins over France, Czech Republic and Portugal took them to an unlikely title. Much of their success was built on a well-organised defence and the tactical expertise of their German coach Otto Rehhagel, but in Georgios Karagounis and Angelos Charisteas, Greece had two skilful players capable of mixing it with the best.

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