The eyes of the world will be on the State Kremlin Palace in Moscow on Friday afternoon for the 2018 FIFA World Cup draw, and residents of two nations in particular will be waiting with baited breath for their teams’ name to pulled out of the hat (nobody seems to use actual hats any more, but ‘pulled out of the transparent Perspex dish’ just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.)
Though the build-up to the ceremony will most likely be spent discussing tournament favourites like Brazil and Germany, plenty will be waiting to see the names of Iceland and Panama drawn, as both countries eagerly anticipate the reveal of their first ever World Cup opponents.
They may be rookies but the European and Central American sides have truly earned their respective places at next summer’s tournament — the Scandinavians topped a group containing the likes of Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey, while the Panamanians scored an 88th minute winner in their final qualifier against Costa Rica to ensure their progress at the expense of the USA.
Neither side will be looking to merely make up the numbers, and could well follow in the footsteps of other less-fancied teams who have made their mark on the international stage. Here are the best examples of when World Cup minnows do a madness:
SOUTH KOREA VS ITALY — JAPAN AND SOUTH KOREA 2002
Before the 2002 World Cup which they co-shared with Japan, South Korea had taken part in 5 previous editions of the tournament, but never managed to make it past the Group Stage. Under Guus Huddink’s tutelage, however, the Koreans made it to the semi-finals, helped by players of such as quality as Park Ji-Sung, a fervent home crowd, and a refereeing scandal which shocked the world.
They knocked out Spain a round later, but their most memorable victory came in the Round of 16, where a golden goal scored by Ahn Jung-Hwan ensured a 2-1 victory. Ecuadorian official Byron Moreno’s performance though, was the one which caught the eye of most spectators. He gave the South Koreans a soft early penalty, disallowed a legitimate goal from Damiano Tommasi for offside, and showed a second yellow card to Francesco Totti for diving. Accusations of match-fixing ran riot, and Moreno’s career finally ended in 2010 when he was imprisoned in the USA for attempting to smuggle heroin through JFK international airport in his underwear. As you do.
NORTH KOREA VS ITALY — ENGLAND 1966
That wasn’t the first time the Italians were humbled by a team from Korea. Long before Kim Jong Un started flying intercontinental ballistic missiles over other countries, North Korea brought themselves to worldwide attention by knocking out an Italy team containing icons like Sandro Mazzola and Gianni Rivera at Ayresome Park in Middlesbrough.
With Italy on 2 points from 2 games and the Koreans on just 1 going into the game, only a victory would do, and their winning goal was provided by Pak Doo-Ik just before half-time. They were eventually knocked out by Portugal in the Quarter Finals, losing by a score of 5 goals to 3 at Goodison Park. North Korea actually led the game 0-3 after 25 minutes, before Portuguese talisman Eusebio turned on the magic, scoring the first 4 of his sides 5 goals.
CAMEROON KICK CANIGGIA — ITALY 1990
One of the stand-out stories of Italia ’90 was the emergence of Cameroon, taking part in only their second ever World Cup. Led by legendary 38 year-old striker Roger Milla, who only played in the tournament having been asked to come out of retirement by the country’s President Paul Biya, they topped a group containing Argentina, Romania and the Soviet Union.
But it wasn’t always easy on the eye. Though remembered for their success in the tournament, arguably most notable about the Cameroonians was their treatment of Argentinian maestro Claudio Caniggia, a second-half substitute in the first match in Group B. The Atalanta forward was subjected to some obscenely brutal fouls, being cut down by a succession of Cameroon defenders whenever he picked up the ball in the opposition half.
The lesson to be learned here, then, is if you can’t beat them, kick absolute lumps out of them to make them submit instead.
SENEGAL VS FRANCE— JAPAN & SOUTH KOREA 2002
In 2002, Senegal players followed in Milla’s footsteps by performing one of the most iconic celebrations in international history. In their first ever World Cup match they were massive underdogs against reigning champions France, but through a combination of skill, determination, and a bit of luck, managed to emerge with a 1-0 win in what is still considered one of the tournament’s most shocking results.
After David Trezeguet’s shot had beaten Tony Sylva before cannoning back off the crossbar, El Hadji Diouf, a fresh-faced unknown quantity of a centre-forward who had yet to spit on anybody, raced clear and crossed for teammate Papa Bouba Diop (if you’re thinking, “was that the massive feller who played in midfield for Portsmouth for a few years?”, then yes, you’re right) who scraped the ball over the line after his first shot was saved by Manchester United’s Fabien Barthez.
Cue Bouba Diop pulling his shirt over his head, throwing it to the ground and dancing around it as he’s joined by his teammates. A joyous moment.
SAUDI ARABIA VS BELGIUM — USA 1994
Saudi Arabia entered their first World Cup in the USA in 1994, and were drawn in a tricky-looking Group A alongside the Netherlands, Morocco, and Belgium. Needing victory in their final match against the Red Devils to qualify for the knockout stages, they took the lead after just 5 minutes, courtesy of one of the most spectacular goals the World Cup has ever seen.
After Saudi Arabia cleared the ball away from their own penalty area, Saeed Al-Owairan picked it up just shy of the centre-circle, before running c. 70 yards, beating 5 Belgian defenders, and finally clipping the ball over the on-rushing Michel Preud’homme and igniting rapturous celebrations.
Though they were knocked out by Sweden in the next round, Al-Owairan ensured his nation’s place in World Cup folklore by scoring an individual goal so stupendous it is arguably beaten only by Diego Maradona’s so-called ‘Goal of the Century’ against England in the annuls of history.
ZAIRE VS BRAZIL — WEST GERMANY 1974
Fantastic stuff from Mwepu Ilunga, this. Simply one of the greatest sporting moments. Does he not know the rules of the game? Or does he just not care about them? It’s not important. Just watch it. Enjoy it. Bask in it.