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A look back at the 2002 World Cup: Summer of Upsets

Posted on January 17, 2014 by Martin Banks


The FIFA World Cup is one of the world’s most exciting sporting events. Every country in the world has the opportunity to send their team to this elite competition, making it every professional player’s dream to represent their nation on the world stage.

This equal opportunity gives perennial favorites and little known squads an equal chance at glory and produces some of the most memorable moments in sporting history. The 2002 World Cup is only one example of an exciting moment in sports history. Let’s take a look at some of the unlikely upsets that took place during the 2002 World Cup.

Republic of Korea

Perhaps the most admirable performance of the competition was that of South Korea. The South Koreans found themselves pitted against Portugal, the United States and Poland in a group that led many people to immediately write them off. Despite their poor odds of advancing to the knockout stage, the South Korean team went undefeated and won their group in stunning fashion. This included an upset victory over Portugal that knocked the Portuguese out of the competition and sealed Korea’s place in the final 16.

The momentum continued for South Korea as they shocked Italy in the round of 16 and advanced to a quarterfinal match up with the Spanish giants. Their victory over Italy came in exciting fashion as the host nation won the game with a golden goal in extra time. Both the manner of the victory and the pedigree of the Italian team make this win one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history, as cited by Bleacher Report.

The South Koreans weren’t finished putting on a show for their fans just yet, as they toppled Spain in a tense match that ended on penalty kicks. While the South Korean team’s luck would run out against Germany in their next match, earning a spot in the semi-finals represents one of the greatest runs by an underdog ever to take place in the competition.

United States

The United States was the other unlikely candidate to escape group D as they managed to pull off their own shocking victory over Portugal. USA was known for football and baseball, at least before the steroid era led to players ending up with substance abuse treatment. So other countries may not have taken them very seriously. The win over Portugal set up a match in the knockout stage against their CONCACAF rivals Mexico and one of the most spectacular nights in U.S. soccer history. The U.S. team ended up beating Mexico 2-0 with goals from Brian McBride and emerging star Landon Donovan.

The quarterfinals saw the U.S. pitted against Germany and star goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. The United States fell to the talented German squad in a closely contested 1-0 match. While the U.S. team and their following were disappointed by the result, the quarterfinal run represents the second best World Cup result in the nation’s history.


Turkey is another example of a team that surpassed expectations as they joined the South Korean team in an unlikely collection of semifinalists. Turkey’s most difficult matches occurred during the group stage as they managed to beat out Costa Rica for a second place finish behind the eventual champions Brazil.

The Turks would go on to beat Japan and Senegal en route to the semifinals where they would play a rematch with the Brazilians. The Brazilian team proved to be too much once again, as Turkey fell 1-0 in another tight game. Their last match of the competition was a victory over the Korean Republic that gave them a commendable third place finish.

The 2002 World Cup epitomizes what makes this competition and sports in general exciting Performances such as those put on by the aforementioned nations are what make watching sports so intriguing as surprising story lines unfold. We can’t wait to see what happens next.

Scott Huntington is a writer, blogger, and long-time sports fan. He lives in Pennsylvania and does research for Havahart. You can also find him on Twitter @smhuntington.

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