Matthew Monk

Matthew Monk is a school teacher from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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The Shock that reverberated around the World

    Well then, welcome back. It’s been a long time hasn’t it. Let’s try to not to leave it so long next time..

    If you had to search your soul you would always want things to be normal and oh so easy. You want your life to be as simple and as straightforward as I do, and when it is we are happy. Now, we don’t always remember that, because simple, usual and straightforward is also so boring that we wish for something else, for some glamour, something exciting. ‘May you live in interesting times…’, that’s the old Chinese curse isn’t it. But we all want it, need it and crave it so much. Just imagine if nothing was ever interesting, if every day was just the same as yesterday and tomorrow would be another replica.

    Our topic here, The World Cup is no different. Imagine if Brazil always won, if Germany always got to the final, and Italy always got through to the knock-out stages by defending with eleven men behind the ball? Now that would be terrible wouldn’t it? OK, so that already happens, but stick with me – we need an exception to every rule after all.

    Imagine for a minute if we had all known the results of Korea/Japan 2002 before they happened. Now, we would all be millionaires and the bookies would be a lot poorer, but that aside, imagine how boring it would be? Put your hand up – you don’t have to really, no one will see you, but you can do if it makes you feel better – if you can watch a video of any game from any previous World Cup where you are not tempted to fast forward to the exciting bits you really want to see over and over again. You pick the game – France/Brazil from Guadalajara in 1986, England/Brazil from that same sainted stadium in 1970, France/West Germany from the cauldron of Sevilla in 1982, even South Korea/Bolivia from Foxboro in 1994 for all you sadists out there – but I guarantee that you will only really want to see the highlights. So imagine how dull it would be if we all knew what was going to happen, before it happened in Germany?

    Then be thankful that we do live in interesting times and that as the World Cup proves time after time, a shock is never too far away.

    Now I am not talking about anything horrible or tragic here, because although describing something as ‘shocking’ inevitably gets people anxious, shocks do not have to be bad. A good shock is anything but bad; it invigorates us, shakes us up and kicks us out of our rutted ways. And shocks are what the World Cup is all about, right back to 1930 and the USA making the semi-finals. But what is the biggest shock, the most unbelievable, undeniably jaw-dropping moment of them all? Well, I think I can see a little bit of fun starting here.

    Before I get to the contenders, here are the rules. To be a true shock, the event has to be something that no-one predicted beforehand. Now that is almost impossible to find – someone always picks the no-hopers in even the most one sided contests just to be controversial – so we will have to settle for events that the vast majority of the world was not expecting. Second, a true shock needs a memorable setting, the bigger the better in fact – it helps us to remember it after all. Third, a true shock has the power to make you still sit up and think ‘How on earth did that happen?’ years after the event. And fourth, and most importantly, a true shock has to change things. Our winner changed football for ever and made the whole world sit up and take notice in a way that the others just didn’t. So here we go!

    In true Miss World tradition, we will give the results in reverse order, starting at number five in the sleepy backwater of Belo Horizonte in South East Brazil. It is 1950, the first World Cup after the war, and England – fresh from demolishing all comers in the late 1940s – arrive at the tournament for the first time as favourites. They have the most famous players in the world: the two Stan’s, Mortenson and Matthews, Wilf Mannion, Bill Nicholson, Alf Ramsey, Billy Wright, Jackie Milburn and the country’s greatest ever player Tom Finney. They have despatched tricky Chile 2:0 in Rio, and have turned up here with a more-or-less first-choice team to play the United States, whose most ‘famous’ player has just been released by Wrexham after several undistinguished years toiling in the English lower divisions. It’s a no-contest, a walkover – and the USA deserves its victory over the arrogant English as much as Britain is shocked. Oh, and by the way, England go out of the World Cup because of it.

    So why so low on the poll then? Why only fifth place for the equivalent of Brazil being sent home from Germany by Northern Ireland or Kazakhstan in the group stages? Well, we have our rules to thank for that. We fulfil two of our rules with ease – 53 years later the whole world is still wondering how the USA won, and in 1950 no-one (and I mean no-one) thought the USA would win. But it is the other two that aren’t so hot.

    First, no TV cameras were on hand to beam the pictures of the humiliated English slump off the field around the world, and the setting was not exactly glamorous. Belo Horizonte in 1950 was little more than a planned company town, property of the gold mines. The ‘stadium’ where the game was played would not be used for training in today, and it was about as far away from the Maracana as you could get. If a more god-forsaken venue was ever found for a World Cup match, you would be pushed to know it (and that includes Goodison Park…). But it is the fact that this loss changed nothing in English football that pushes it so far down. The English papers gave the result as 10:0 to England at first, not believing it, but after a few days of hand-wringing it was forgotten as an aberration. England took the World Cup about as seriously in 1950 as they did a game against Wales – less so in fact. The administrators at the FA had no interest in the result or tournament, kept no observers in Brazil once England were knocked out – Walter Winterbottom (England’s coach) had to rely on written reports of the final from newspapers! – and changed nothing in English football.

    So we move on to number four, to an event that will repeat itself more than once in our poll. We reach El Molinon in Gijon, just in time to watch Lakhdar Belloumi score the winner for Algeria against the champions of Europe, West Germany. Espana 82 was littered with shocking results: Northern Ireland beating Spain, Cameroon holding Italy, Poland and Peru to draws, Belgium beating Argentina in the opening game; but nothing beats the majesty of Algeria beating West Germany.

    The Germans were in the midst of an imperious run that would see them reach three straight finals, while bowling all before them with a clinical, meticulous brand of football. Algeria were easy prey, a light hors’deuve before embarking on the serious games later on. Jupp Derwall – only West Germany’s third coach in forty years – famously said he would jump into the Mediterranean if Algeria won. They did, and he didn’t. So why only fourth? Well again, no-one predicted it, and given the same result tomorrow we would all still sit up and say ‘Wow’, but this is still not a flawless shock. Everyone saw this one thanks to TV, but it was overshadowed by a later result in the same group, arguably almost as shocking.

    On the brink of becoming the first African team to reach the second-phase of the World Cup, Algeria were robbed by the infamous ‘Anschluss’ game between Austria and the same West Germans. That despicable, deceitful charade that saw the Germans ‘beat’ the non-trying Austrians 1:0 eliminated Algeria, and forced FIFA to change the order games were played in. No longer would matches take place at different times, yet that was no comfort to Algeria. Their shock changed football, but only indirectly, so it’s fourth, no higher.

    For our third stop, we arrive in Seoul last May. Around the world billions of pairs of eyes have been glued to the screen to see Sepp Blatter get booed during the opening ceremony of this, the 17th World Cup, and are now watching open-mouthed as all conquering France, champions of Europe and the World, are pulled apart by Senegal. As shocks go this almost has it all. Our venue is the opening game of the World Cup, in front of billions of people all over the world. France had been invincible for four years, had obliterated everyone put in front of them, and no-one seriously expected Senegal to win. We still don’t really know why they lost either – the team was better than 1998 and apart from an injury to Zidane, France were at full strength. In sporting terms this was a shock bar-none. Well, bar-one really, but that will have to wait for a while.

    In second place we have the most tragic of all our games. It is 1994, and in front of almost 100 000 spectators, the USA defeat Colombia, thanks to an own goal from Andres Escobar. That in itself is deeply shocking. The USA – once again – managed to defeat one of the favourites for the World Cup in the first round, and in the process knock them out. Sure, the Americans were at home, Colombia were hit-and-miss at the best of times, but no-one expected this. Hundreds of millions of people watched the game around the world; it was played in the Rose Bowl where the final itself was played 25 days later. But what is truly shocking is what happened later. We all know the story, but it is no less shocking today than it was nine years ago.

    On returning home, Andres Escobar was at a garage when two gunmen shot him dead. Was he involved with the drug cartels? Was he the victim of robbery? Or was he paying the highest price for that fateful own goal? Only the cowards who pulled the triggers know for sure, but for all the wrong reasons football – and the planet – was shocked like never before. But football is a sport, and its not life and death, so this cannot ‘win’ our poll. Let’s move on.

    For our winner, we must go back four years earlier, to the opening game of another World Cup. This time we are in Milano, at the San Siro, probably the most passionate, most special football ground on earth - well it’s my favourite anyway! It is early evening in Europe, lunch time in the Americas. Around the world billions of people are tuning in to see Diego Armando Maradona’s Argentina launch their defence of the World Cup, won so confidently in Mexico four years before. Our sacrificial lambs this time are Cameroon, from Africa. Don’t laugh over there. These little teams have a right to be here after all. I said don’t laugh. It will be a ‘close game’. Oh, alright then, laugh all you want. Argentina are going to win comfortably as the Europeans and South Americans always do. You don’t seriously think a team from Africa, or Asia, or North America could ever compete on the same level do you?

    Welcome to the day the World Cup truly changed, and became a global event. In the space of ninety brutal minutes, Cameroon out-muscled, out-fought and simply out-played Argentina, and in doing so changed football forever. Before that game the World Cup was a simple little competition, the sole property of the same few teams, and no outsiders were allowed in. Sure, the ‘world’ part of it always meant that Israel or North Korea or Tunisia or Iran sneaked into the competition to be summarily dismissed before the end of the first fortnight, but no-one seriously considered that one of these little teams might win. Now they did.

    And how glad are we that that happened. Is it really more than thirteen years since Francois Oman-Biyick leapt up like a salmon to head football into the global age? In this, the first of the truly modern, truly global tournaments, Cameroon opened up our imaginations and gave hope to billions of people. On the biggest possible stage, in front of the biggest possible audience, in the biggest mismatch imaginable, Cameroon shocked not only Argentina, but the whole wide world. For the first time, every one of the 24 finalists became a potential winner – OK, apart from Scotland – and every game was a real contest, with every player taken seriously, as they should be. The thump that Oman-Biyick gave the ball is still being felt today. That one header started everything we know and love today. Without it, we would have no Champion’s League, no all year round football, no David Beckham. On second thoughts, maybe we shouldn’t be so thankful...



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