Before the world could fully digest Saudi Arabia’s stunning victory against Lionel Messi’s Argentina in the FIFA World Cup 2022, Japan delivered another shock by defeating four-time World Cup winners Germany the very next day.
Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal almost suffered another upset last night when Ghana threatened to hold them to a draw right till the last moment.
The sport of football was traditionally dominated by Europe and Latin American nations, with teams from both continents exclusively sharing the World Cups between them in the past.
But the steady rise of Asian and African nations is starting to threaten the dominance of these nations in the World Cup, and the day isn’t far away when an Asian team will lay its hands on the coveted trophy.
Let’s take a look at the biggest wins by Asian teams in the World Cups in the past.
#3: North Korea 1-0 Italy, 1966
North Korea participated in its first World Cup finals in 1966, the historic year when England took home the trophy for the only time in their history. With the Cold War looming in the background, the North Koreans were playing against the backdrop of diplomatic tensions.
Expectations were low from the North Koreans and they were considered the weakest team going into the World Cup. Being in the same group as Chile, Italy and the Soviet Union did not make their life any easier.
Predictably, their opening game against the Soviet Union was a one-sided affair and were brushed aside by a 3-0 margin. But North Korea created an impact in their second game, ending the game on a 1-1 draw thanks to Pak Seung-zin’s late equaliser.
But what came next stunned the world, with Pak Doo-ik’s first-half goal deciding the game against title favourites Italy.
North Korea not only defeated Italy, but they also became the first Asian team to enter the quarter-finals of a FIFA World Cup. Even in the quarter-finals against Portugal, North Korea were 3-0 ahead in the first-half before the Selecao staged a dramatic comeback to defeat the Asian side.
#2: South Korea 2-0 Germany, 2018
South Korea and Japan are traditionally considered the powerhouses of football in Asia, partly due to the experience both sides gained from jointly hosting the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
One of their most dramatic performances came in the last World Cup in Russia, where the South Koreans sent home defending champions Germany with a spectacular win.
Germany were considered hot favourites to win the 2018 World Cup, and being grouped alongside Sweden, South Korea, and Mexico only bolstered their chances.
But a loss to Mexico in their opening game opened the group for contention. South Korea lost both their opening games, but still had a chance to qualify because of the tight contest in the group.
The fixture was slated to end in a dull goalless draw, with both sides failing to find the back of the net in the first 90 minutes of the game. But Kim Young-gwon and Son Heung-min turned the game’s outcome in a matter of minutes – scoring twice in extra time to eliminate Germany from the World Cup.
Despite their heroics, South Korea still failed to qualify for the knock-out rounds and were eliminated alongside Germany.
#1: South Korea 2-1 Italy
This is another upset win that involves the Azzurri. South Korea’s win over the Italians in front of home fans is both one of the finest games of the World Cup and one of its most controversial ones.
South Korea’s transformation from an also-ran to one of Asia’s top teams was already complete before the World Cup, and the hosts managed to brush aside the challenge from Portugal and Poland to qualify for the knock-out rounds.
The draw for the Round of 16 saw them pitted against Italy. The Azzurri dominated most of the game, despite accusations that the referee was favouring the hosts.
An early goal by Christian Vieri gave Italy the advantage, but Seol Ki-Hyeon equalised for the South Koreans just two minutes before stoppage time. This converted the game to a sudden-death encounter, with the team scoring the next goal and being declared the winner.
The breakthrough came in the form of Ahn Jung-Hwan’s header in the 117th minute of the game and the stadium erupted in support of the home team. This was the biggest victory of any Asian team in a World Cup, and South Korea would march on to the semifinals of the tournament by defeating Spain in penalties in the quarterfinals.
Can Asian Nations Succeed This Time?
The run by South Korea to the semifinals of the 2002 World Cup remains the biggest achievement by any Asian team in the World Cup. But the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar has already seen two big upsets, and Saudi Arabia seems to have joined Japan and South Korea in the elite group.
The chances of any Asian team winning the World Cup this time seems almost nil, but we could expect at least one Asian team to advance to the knockout rounds. But even if there is no chance of winning a title, these teams are making a deep impact on the tournament by spoiling the party for big teams like Argentina and Germany.
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