How many times have you watched a soccer game when FIFA 22 and thinking the losing team is dead and buried, only for them to stage the most unlikely comeback?
This happens frequently in club soccer. Manchester United’s last victory over Bayern Munich in the 1999 UEFA Champions League final, for example. Or Manchester City’s incredible last-gasp victory over QPR to secure the Premier League title in 2012. And who could forget the miracle in Istanbul, where Liverpool overturned a 3-0 deficit to beat AC Milan in 2005?
But what about at the international level? Has soccer’s greatest tournament inspired similarly memorable upsets? In this article, we look at the top 3 memorable comebacks from the World Cup.
FIFA Comebacks #1: France v Croatia - Semi-Final, World Cup 1998
The 1998 French World Cup winning team was exceptionally talented. Marcel Desailly, Lilian Thuram, Zinedine Zidane, and Emanuel Petit were just four of the stars who lit up the tournament on home soil, but their semifinal opponents, Croatia, were no shrinking violet either.
The Balkan nation had only been an independent state for seven years by the time they reached the World Cup in France. In the quarterfinals, they surprised Germany, the reigning European champions, 3-0. And in Davor Suker, the Croatians had one of the brightest talents in world soccer. Their unexpected run to the semi-finals was perhaps the highlight of the tournament.
That is, for everyone except the French. And in front of a packed Stade de France in Paris, the Croatian fans were certainly in the minority.
They did, however, open the scoring. A minute after halftime, Suker was played in on goal and slipped the ball under goalkeeper Fabian Barthez to give the visitors the lead. But the Croats barely had time to catch their breath when Lilian Thuram equalized. Bizarrely, the fullback then got a second 20 minutes in – they turned out to be his only 2 goals in a French shirt, despite 140 appearances.
The game was far from over, however, as an outrageous play by defender Slaven Bilic led to the dismissal of Laurent Blanc – who was suspended for the final – and France had to desperately hang on to get through.
FIFA Comebacks #2: Italy v South Korea - Round of 16, World Cup 2002
In 2002, Italy took a team capable of lifting the World Cup in Japan and South Korea. In attack they counted on Alessandro Del Piero, Christian Vieri, Francesco Totti and Filippo Inzaghi. The center back duo of Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta was the best in the world. The captain Paolo Maldini was one of the only two players in the team over 30 years old. And in goal, they had Gianluigi Buffon, arguably the best goalkeeper on the planet.
But South Korea had come on strong in the group stage. They had a convincing 2-0 win over Poland, followed by a 1-1 draw with the United States. In their final group match, Guus Hiddink’s men eliminated Portugal with an improbable 1-0 victory.
The atmosphere in this knockout match in Daejeon was intense with the fanatic home support desperate for an upset. And after only 4 minutes, they had something to cheer about as South Korea won a penalty. But Ahn Jung-hwan saw it saved by Buffon. Then things got worse. Midway through the first half, Vieri powered a header close to the post. It looked like Italy were on their way.
But Korea found it in themselves to rally. For much of the second half, the Azurri defended. Then, with two minutes left, Seol Ki-Hyeon took advantage of a mistake by Christian Panucci to equalize. The stadium went crazy!
The game went to sudden death in overtime. There were a handful of chances for both teams – Vieri missed from close range and Cha Du-ri had a header saved by Buffon – but it looked like it was headed to penalties. That is, until the 177th minute when Lee Young-Pyo’s cross found Ahn in the box. He rose above Maldini and headed for the corner of Buffon’s net to send the country into ecstasy – and the Italians on their way home.
FIFA Comebacks #3: West Germany v Netherlands - Final, World Cup 1974
The 1974 Dutch team is widely regarded as the greatest team to have won the greatest prize in soccer.
In Johan Cruyff, they had the best player of the tournament – in the Netherlands’ first group match, he upset a Swedish defender on the sidelines with a turn that was later named in his honor. And on their way to the final, the Total Football exhibitors claimed some valuable scalps; the Dutch beat Argentina 4-0 and won an iconic 2-0 victory over an aggressive Brazilian team.
They were widely expected to beat West Germany, despite their opponents being the host nation. And the Oranje got off to a perfect start, taking the lead through a Johan Neeskens penalty before the Germans had barely touched the ball.
For 20 minutes, they seemed to play with their opponents. But then Germany received a questionable penalty kick, which was converted by Paul Breitner. And they somehow reversed the score with a scrambled goal by Gerd Muller.
The second half was dominated by the Dutch; German goalkeeper Sepp Maier was forced to make a series of saves to keep the score at 2-1, and while Muller had a goal disallowed for offside, the general consensus was that the better team had lost.
To this day, Holland has yet to win a World Cup. Maybe 2022 is their year?
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