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Football: Greatest major tournament shocks

28 June 2022 11:47:40 EST
Roy Hodgson's England were beaten by Iceland in 2016

Monday marks six years since England were infamously knocked out of Euro 2016 following a 2-1 defeat to Iceland in Nice.

The loss was undoubtedly a low point in the recent history of the Three Lions and it signalled the end of Roy Hodgson's tenure as manager.

England have since gone on to excel at both the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020 last summer, while they are priced at 8.00 to be crowned world champions in Qatar later this year, but that defeat to Iceland remains one of the biggest shocks in major tournament history.

England's lowest ebb

Hopes were high that England could enjoy an extended run at Euro 2016 with a squad that was led by captain Wayne Rooney and contained exciting youngsters at the time, such as Harry Kane and Dele Alli.

Even after an underwhelming group stage, it appeared the draw was opening up for Hodgson's men after they were pitted against tournament debutants Iceland in the last 16.

An early Rooney penalty gave England the lead and many thought the Three Lions would cruise to victory from there, but goals from Ragnar Sigurdsson and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson turned things around for Iceland inside the opening 20 minutes.

With time on their side, England were still expected to come good, but they ended up producing one of the most lacklustre displays ever seen by a Three Lions team, epitomised by star striker Kane taking the corners when they were chasing an equaliser.

Iceland deservedly held on for the victory, as they made it through to the quarter-finals of a major tournament for the first time in their history, although their run was ended by hosts France in the last eight.

Three Lions no strangers to shock defeats

The loss to Iceland was not the first time England had been stunned on the international stage, as 66 years previous the Three Lions were humbled by the United States at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil.

Having beaten Chile in their opening group game, Walter Winterbottom's side were expected to breeze past a USA team made up of part-time players with 'soccer' in the States back then nowhere near as popular or established as it is now.

England boasted the likes of Sir Tom Finney and Stan Mortensen in their ranks, as well as future World Cup winning manager Sir Alf Ramsey, but they were no match for the plucky US, who won the game in Belo Horizonte thanks to a goal from Haitian-born forward Joe Gaetjens.

Neither side advanced through to the second round, as Spain topped the group.

Danish delight and Greek guts

Of course major international shocks are not just reserved for one-off matches, as sometimes the underdogs can go all the way, as Denmark and Greece proved at the European Championships of 1992 and 2004.

Denmark had failed to qualify for Euro 92, but they were drafted into the tournament just two weeks before it was due to get underway following Yugoslavia's withdrawal.

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Despite failing to score in their opening two matches, the Danes proceeded to beat France in their final group game to reach the semi-finals.

A penalty shootout victory over defending champions the Netherlands then followed before the Danes completed their fairy-tail success by beating Germany 2-0 in the final thanks to goals from John Jensen and Kim Vilfort.

That shock tournament success was never expected to be repeated, but just 12 years later Greece arguably produced an even more unlikely triumph at Euro 2004.

After beating hosts Portugal in their tournament opener and qualifying from their group, Greece, under the guidance of wily coach Otto Rehhagel, went on to eliminate reigning champions France and the Czech Republic without conceding a goal.

That set up a reunion with Portugal in the final, but with the entire world expecting a Portuguese success, Angelos Charisteas popped up with the winning goal to hand Greece the title.

African delight against defending champions

Brazilian superstar Pele famously predicted that an African team would win the World Cup before the year 2000, and while that did not prove to be the case, teams from that continent have more than held their own on the global stage.

Algeria famously beat West Germany 2-1 in their opening match at the 1982 World Cup, while Cameroon held an Italy side that would go on to be crowned world champions at that same tournament.

However, it wasn't until eight years later that the world really sat up and took notice of African teams, as Cameroon defeated defending champions Argentina in the opening match of the 1990 World Cup.

Francois Omam-Biyik scored the only goal, as Cameroon won the match despite being reduced to nine men by the end of the game. They would go on to reach the quarter-finals of the tournament, becoming the first African team to do so.

History then repeated itself, sort of, 12 years later when Senegal beat reigning champions France 1-0 in the opening match of the 2002 World Cup thanks to Papa Boupa Diop's first-half goal.

Like Cameroon, Senegal would go on to reach the quarter-finals, while France, who were without talisman Zinedine Zidane for that opening game, finished bottom of their group and failed to even score a goal.

Honourable mentions

With nearly 100 years of World Cup history and with it being 62 years since the first European Championship was held, there have certainly been plenty of shock results to look back on.

Who can forget Germany's sensational 7-1 victory over hosts Brazil in the semi-final of the 2014 World Cup? Die Mannschaft were 5-0 up inside the opening half an hour of that contest, scoring four of their goals in the space of just six minutes.

What about North Korea's 1-0 victory that sent Italy packing from the 1966 World Cup? Or South Korea's 2-1 success over the same opposition in the last 16 of the 2002 tournament they co-hosted?

Shocks are part and parcel of major tournament football and, with the women's Euros coming up this summer and the men's World Cup set to begin in November, we could have more surprises to add to this list over the coming months.

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