Where does Saudi Arabia’s win over Argentina rank in World Cup shocks? | World Cup 2022

1) England 0 USA 1, Brazil 1950

The biggest World Cup upset up to that point in the competition’s history and one so shocking that some newspapers assumed the wire report of a 1-0 final score was a typo and so instead reported that England had won 10-0. That is a myth, apparently, but nobody could blame editors at the time for not believing the turn of events in Belo Horizonte. An England team featuring players such as Billy Wright, Tom Finney and Stan Mortensen were meant to wipe the floor with an American side made up largely of amateurs and who had arrived in Brazil having trained for only a week together. Even their own manager, Bill Jeffrey, described them as “‘sheep ready to be slaughtered” but in their second group game they performed like lions, taking the lead through a 38th-minute header from Joe Gaetjens, a Haitian-born dishwasher from New York, and holding on during a second-half onslaught from England to complete the so-called “Miracle on Grass”.

US centre-forward Joe Gaetjens is carried off by cheering fans after his goal beat England at the 1950 World Cup for the ‘Miracle on Grass’.
US centre-forward Joe Gaetjens is carried off by cheering fans after his goal beat England at the 1950 World Cup for the ‘Miracle on Grass’. Photograph: AP

2) Italy 0 North Korea 1, England 1966

It’s hard to think of North Korea as plucky little underdogs but that was very much the case on a July evening at Ayresome Park as a nation featuring at the World Cup finals tournament for a first time came up against the two-time winners of the competition. According to most, North Korea stood no chance of prevailing, especially given they went into what was the final round of fixtures in Group 4 having lost 3-0 against the Soviet Union and drawn 1-1 with Chile. Italy had beaten Chile 2-0 but then lost 1-0 against the Soviet Union so were vulnerable, but they should have breezed to victory in Middlesbrough. Instead, however, they were undone just before half-time via a low shot from a little-known midfielder who is now part of pub quiz folklore: Pak Doo-ik. “The North Koreans take the lead – what a sensation!” the BBC commentator Frank Bough roared, and it really was. That North Korea held on and qualified for the quarter-finals at Italy’s expense made it even more so.

Pak Doo-ik (left) scores North Korea’s winning goal in their 1966 match against Italy .
Pak Doo-ik (left) scores North Korea’s winning goal in their 1966 match against Italy . Photograph: PA

3) Argentina 1 Saudi Arabia 2, Qatar 2022

The latest World Cup may be a regrettable one but it has already produced one of the greatest upsets in the competition’s history. Saudi Arabia arrived at the Lusail Stadium ranked 51st in the world – a place below Qatar – and found themselves coming up against a team unbeaten in 36 matches, a run during which they have also become Copa América champions. They also had a certain Lionel Messi in their ranks. Argentina should have won with ease but instead were undone through a combination of their own sluggishness and a display of great togetherness and ambition by their opponents. Crucially, Hervé Renard’s men also had a cutting edge, cancelling out Messi’s 10th-minute penalty via two well-taken second-half goals, scored by Saleh al-Shehri and Salem al-Dawsari. Argentina reacted with increased intensity but Saudi Arabia stood firm and, eventually, were able to celebrate a result of genuine shock and awe.

4) Argentina 0 Cameroon 1, Italy 1990

As difficult as it is for football fans in their forties to accept, Italia ‘90 was not a good World Cup. What is for sure, however, is that it started with an almighty bang. Cameroon arrived at the tournament with little pedigree or form and with a squad largely made up of journeymen from France’s second division who were constantly at each other’s throats. They were in a wretched state going into the opening game in Milan and were fully expected to be hammered by the holders, who just so happened to be captained by the best player on the planet in Diego Maradona. Ultimately, however, neither he or anyone else in blue and white could pierce the wall of African defiance in front of them and were left stunned after François Omam-Biyik’s header squirted through the grasp of goalkeeper Nery Pumpido on 67 minutes. It would prove to be the winning goal and lives on as one of the most iconic, and vivid, moments in World Cup history.

François Omam-Biyik scores against Argentina, who were World Cup holders in 1990.
François Omam-Biyik scores against Argentina, who were World Cup holders in 1990. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

5) France o Senegal 1, Korea & Japan 2002

Another opening game that saw a team from Africa kick things off in spectacular style. Appearing at their first World Cup, Senegal should have stood no chance against not only the holders but also reigning European champions. France were imperious and even without the injured Zinedine Zidane were expected to win with ease on a late May night in Seoul. But instead they were overwhelmed by positive, skilful and determined opponents largely made up of players from the middle-ranks of France’s domestic leagues. Lens’ El Hadji Diouf was Senegal’s tormentor-in-chief and it was he would assist what would prove to be the winning goal, driving down the left-wing on 30 minutes and delivering a low cross that Papa Bouba Diop put past Fabian Barthez at the second attempt. “We have achieved something extraordinary,” said Diouf afterwards. He was not wrong.

Yordan Letchkov beats Thomas Hässler to the ball to score Bulgaria’s winning goal in the 1994 quarter-final.
Yordan Letchkov beats Thomas Hässler to the ball to score Bulgaria’s winning goal in their 1994 quarter-final. Photograph: Simon Bruty/Allsport

6) Bulgaria 2 Germany 1, USA 1994

Upsets in the group stages are one thing; upsets in the knockout stages, when the bigger and better teams should well and truly be in their stride, is another. That, in part, is what makes Bulgaria’s victory over Germany in the quarter-finals of the 1994 tournament so legendary; it simply should not have happened, despite the fact Bulgaria had been performing well in the United States and contained a handful of highly talented players, no one more so than Hristo Stoichkov. Germany were the holders and this was the sharp end of proceedings; they were going to do what they so often do – win. Instead, however, they were stunned on a hot July afternoon in New Jersey as Bulgaria cancelled out a 47th-minute penalty from Lothar Matthäus via goals from Stoichkov and Yordan Letchkov, the latter remaining the greatest diving header by a balding player ever seen at a World Cup.

Gianluca Scamacca: ‘Eric Cantona was imposing. I am working on that’ | West Ham United

The dust has barely settled on West Ham’s last-minute defeat by Crystal Palace last Sunday when Gianluca Scamacca sits down to talk about his love of football, leaving home at a young age and the challenge of adjusting to the Premier League. The Italy striker does not want to hide. Scamacca was substituted at half-time against Palace but, as he holds court on a rainy Monday afternoon at West Ham’s training ground, what comes across is his determination to make this transfer work.

“Difficult,” is the 23-year-old’s assessment of his first few months in England. There have been flashes of class from Scamacca, hints of the clever touch, classy link play and finishing ability that made West Ham buy the 6ft 5in forward from Sassuolo for £35.5m, but he knows that he needs to improve. “It is very different,” he continues. “It’s another country, another league. In Italy it is tactical. Here it is fast and physical. But it will get better.”

Scamacca, who has a decent grasp of English, is not fazed by his eight-match goalless run. He recalls speaking to Italy’s manager, Roberto Mancini, when it became clear West Ham wanted to sign him. “He said it’s a big opportunity to grow up,” Scamacca says. “He said when it’s difficult you can grow up. You have to adapt to a different way of playing. It just takes time. He said: ‘Work hard and you will see the results.’”

The problem for West Ham, who were knocked out of the Carabao Cup by Blackburn on Wednesday, is that the competitiveness of the Premier League makes it hard to stay patient. They spent heavily on signings in the summer but find themselves two points above the bottom three before hosting Leicester on Saturday.

David Moyes has found it difficult to bed in the new players. Scamacca has looked isolated at times – he admits he has been surprised by the speed and size of opposition centre-backs – and West Ham have lacked consistency. Alarmingly for Moyes, his side have been sloppy; they have given away cheap goals and not taken enough chances.

Gianluca Scamacca in action for West Ham at home to Fulham last month.
Gianluca Scamacca in action for West Ham at home to Fulham. Photograph: Ashley Western/Colorsport/ Shutterstock

Yet Scamacca, who has scored six goals, is convinced West Ham’s luck will turn. “Over the last few games we’ve been unfortunate,” he says. “I’m very happy to be here. It’s been a little difficult but I’m very excited to be in this team.”

Paris Saint-Germain were also interested in Scamacca and he is seen as key to Mancini’s rebuild after Italy’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, but the fame has not gone to his head. This tall, imposing figure has a sense of humour. We talk about his upbringing in Rome, his support of Roma and how he fell in love with football. “Everybody was a football supporter,” he says. “In the street we play, we play, we play.” Was he the best? Scamacca laughs. “Yes. Why do you ask?”

Fair point. Scamacca’s talent took him to Lazio’s academy. It was on to Roma from there and then, in a surprising development, he joined PSV Eindhoven’s youth set-up in 2015.

Scamacca scoffs at the notion that it must have been scary for a 16-year-old to move to a strange new country. “Fear about what?” he says. “Because I was alone? No. Holland is not a dangerous country.

“I went to Holland because I wanted to improve myself. I felt that I could not do it in Italy. Holland was the best place to learn about football. In Italy it is different. In the academy, the under-18s, under-19s, they don’t work on the individual. They work on the team, on the tactics, how to win games. But in other countries they work individually on the players. I also wanted to have an experience. I wanted to learn English and see another culture.”

Gianluca Scamacca playing for PSV in 2015 at a youth tournament in Italy.
Gianluca Scamacca playing for PSV in 2015 at a youth tournament in Italy. Photograph: Aflo Co. Ltd./Alamy

It is a refreshing attitude from Scamacca, who found good teachers at PSV. He had guidance from the former Netherlands midfielder Mark van Bommel, who could speak to him in Italian, and advice on how to improve as a striker from Ruud van Nistelrooy. “He told me you have to stay in the box and have good movement,” Scamacca says.

Those two years at PSV are remembered fondly. In 2017, though, it was time to return to Italy. Scamacca joined Sassuolo, gained first-team experience during several loans and gradually established himself as a regular starter for the Serie A side. He scored 16 goals last season and broke into the Italy squad.

But life has not always been easy for Scamacca. He was brought up by his mother and his sister and has distanced himself from his father’s side of the family.

Now he thinks about his mother. “She supported me when it was a little difficult,” he says. “She was really important for me. I found confidence on my journey. I had a lot of difficulties in the past. I had to work on myself. On my mind. This made me more confident.”

Scamacca is striving for belief. He talks about watching old Premier League games and becoming fascinated with Eric Cantona, which is a surprising revelation. Cantona retired in 1997, two years before Scamacca was born. I put to him that he is a football nerd; someone who spends his free time scouring old games on YouTube. “Nerd,” Scamacca says with a laugh. “If it wasn’t for the fact I’m so passionate about football I wouldn’t be here now.”

What did he like about Cantona? “He was very imposing. A little bit arrogant in his approach. I am still trying to work towards that for myself, trying to be a little more imposing in my physique and more confident in games.

“I’m at 70% of my potential. In a couple of months, I’ll get there, or be on my way there. I know I can do better. That’s why I want to work on my confidence, intensity and presence on the pitch – use my physique more. In the Premier League, you need to be more imposing. I need to get used to it quickly.”

Gianluca Scamacca battles with Eric Dier during Italy’s Nations League game at home to England in September.
Gianluca Scamacca battles with Eric Dier during Italy’s Nations League game at home to England in September. Photograph: DeFodi Images/Getty Images

There have been promising moments. At his best, Scamacca has produced skilful touches and shown an impressive range of finishing. He can shoot early and powerfully. Two of his goals have been created by smart passes from Lucas Paquetá; intriguingly Scamacca’s output dried up when the Brazilian playmaker was injured last month. “I’ve got a great feeling with Paquetá,” Scamacca says.

Scamacca goes on to say he enjoys playing with Manuel Lanzini and Pablo Fornals. He wants to prove himself at West Ham. “It is not difficult for me,” Scamacca says as he ponders whether it was a sacrifice to leave Italy. “This is my work. This is my passion. It is a dream for me. I don’t worry about pressure. I don’t worry because I’m far from home. No: I just live for football.”

Football wars: what the murder of ‘the Uncle’ says about life inside Italy’s ultras | Football

On 29 October, at 19.48, a 69-year-old man was outside his house in Via Zanzottera, in the north-west of Milan. It was just an hour before kick-off in the match between Internazionale and Sampdoria and Vittorio Boiocchi, nicknamed “lo Zio” (“the Uncle”), was going home to watch the game on TV.

Because of his long criminal record, he was banned from being within 2km of the San Siro, the stadium shared by Milan and Inter. Despite that, Boiocchi had been drinking in Baretto, the historical den for Inter ultras, the “Boys San”.

A motorcycle with two people aboard pulled up and five shots were fired from a 9mm gun, hitting Boiocchi in the chest and neck. He was rushed to hospital in an ambulance but died shortly afterwards. During the first half of the match, the news spread quickly across the terraces. The Inter ultras (the hardcore fans) removed their striscioni, their long banners, and fell silent. At half time, they forced every fan in their section to leave the stadium, a sign of respect for their fallen leader.

At the time of his death, Boiocchi had spent more than a third of his life, just over 26 years, in prison. His criminal career had begun with hold-ups in banks and supermarkets before graduating to wholesale cocaine dealing. Over the years, he had been convicted for international drug trafficking, criminal conspiracy, possession of, and illegal carrying of, weapons, robbery, kidnapping and theft. He had contacts in the Sicilian, Calabrian and Puglian mafias.

Vittorio Boiocchi, left, with Franchino Caravita. Boiocchi was murdered on 29 November.
Vittorio Boiocchi, left, with Franchino Caravita. Boiocchi was murdered on 29 November. Photograph: @lacittanews/Twitter

His last arrest was in March 2021 when – with lockdowns having dented his match income – he was intercepted by police as he was about to kidnap a Milanese businessman. When stopped, he was at the wheel of a stolen car which contained handcuffs, a taser and a Guardia di Finanza bib.

The murder of lo Zio wasn’t the first professional hit on a capo-ultrà. In August 2019, Fabrizio Piscitelli, known as Diabolik, was murdered with a single shot to his temple as he sat in a park in Rome. Diabolik was the boss of the Irriducibili, the undisputed top dogs of the Lazio terraces. He, too, had been involved in large drug deals and was attempting to carve out a space for himself in the crowded Roman underworld.

In July 2016, Ciccio Bucci, a shunned former boss of the dominant Juventus ultras, the Drughi (an Italianisation of the Droogs of A Clockwork Orange fame) was either murdered or committed suicide from a high viaduct connecting Turin to Cuneo. He had been an informant for the secret services, revealing to them the infiltration of far-right extremists and the ’Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia, into the Juventus terraces.

So Boiocchi’s murder has once again turned the spotlight on to the ultra world and its overlap with organised crime. In one recent wiretap, he had boasted about making €80,000 a month. He may have been gilding the lily, but it’s certain that he made vast sums through ticket touting (upping the price on tickets given free, or discounted, by the Inter management to their ultras) and by extorting a cut on the parking fees and burger-van profits from around the stadium.

Since release from his last stint in prison, in 2019, Boiocchi had caused ructions on the Inter terraces by attempting to assert his leadership. His release coincided with a period of intense difficulty for the Inter ultras: they had been under media and investigative spotlights following the death of Daniele Belardinelli, or “Dede”, when the Inter ultras had ambushed their Neapolitan rivals in December 2018. (Belardinelli wasn’t even an Inter ultra, but a member of a Nazi ultra gang from Varese that was allied with Inter’s Boys.)

Policeman Filippo Raciti was killed during clashes after the Sicilian soccer derby between Catania and Palermo in February 2007.
Policeman Filippo Raciti was killed during clashes after the Sicilian soccer derby between Catania and Palermo in February 2007. Photograph: Franco Lannino/EPA

Boiocchi’s reappearance had created tensions and there were violent clashes with another Inter capo-ultrà, Franchino Caravita, during which Boiocchi suffered a heart attack. Many of the younger ultras were enraged by the greed of the Uncle. He was once alleged to have complained: “How is it possible that we control the whole terraces and we eat so little?”

The ultras – a mix of punks, Hells Angels, hooligans and hoods – have been an intractable problem for Italian authorities and football clubs for many decades. In the 2000s, a confrontational approach created bloodshed on both sides, with a policeman, Filippo Raciti, killed in clashes in Catania in February 2007, and a Lazio fan, Gabriele Sandri, shot by a policeman as he left a motorway service station in November of the same year. Dozens of other ultras and policemen, or carabinieri, have been wounded and maimed.

Tensions were sometimes so high that games were abandoned altogether, as with the famous Rome derby known as the “Derby of the Dead Baby” (the death of a baby was a rumour which turned out to be false). The hated tessera del tifoso (an obligatory registration card issued by each club) threw fuel on the fire: it divided almost every ultra group, creating ill will in the movement between those who “sold out” and registered and those who “held out” and therefore could no longer go to games.

The alternative to collusion and accommodation, however, has been equally problematic. Because the ultras of big clubs are counted in the thousands, their power is very large: they can decide to vote en masse for a particular politician, call fan strikes, veto newspapers, force players to be sold and blackmail clubs by threatening to chant racist songs so that the clubs are fined.

Many presidents and politicians conclude that it’s better to have these powerful groups on side than set against them: Matteo Salvini, leader of the rightwing League party, publicly embraced Luca Lucci, a Milan capo-ultrà who has also been convicted of major drug dealing, on the San Siro grass in 2018. However murky, the terraces can make or break a political career.

Counting on the support of their erstwhile colleagues, various ultras even enter parliament, like Daniele Belotti, a Leghista from Atalanta (Bergamo). In 2018, he received the highest votes (105,000) of any deputy in the Italian parliament.

The clubs often have little choice but to indulge the ultras. Attendances in Serie A are the lowest in Europe’s top five leagues (in the 2021-22 season, it saw an average attendance of 18,235, compared to the Premier League’s 39,632). In Serie B and Serie C, the figures are far lower (there were under 3,000 spectators in one Serie B game this season). So presidents will often do whatever is necessary to avoid a fans’ strike: gifting dozens of free tickets to ultra groups and allowing them to operate the burger and parking concessions. In the biggest clubs (where there’s ample evidence of ultras receiving hundreds of tickets), touting can make a capo-ultrà €10-20,000 in a single afternoon.

That easy money has solidified the overlap between the ultras and organised crime. Compared to drug-dealing, touting carries minimal risks and negligible legal sanction, so many mafias have muscled their way in. The ultras, meanwhile, have often gone the other way, moving into drug slinging by acting as couriers, distributors and retailers for the well-known mafias from Sicily and Calabria. The professional nature of the hit on Boiocchi suggests that, like Piscitelli, he had somehow offended a mafia contact.

What’s intriguing is how much the ultra subculture has mutated from its genesis in the late 1960s. Back then, almost all the groups were, politically, from the far left, borrowing names from partisan groups and from leftwing insurgencies across the world. The charismatic leaders were mostly just teenage tearaways and the terraces were an inclusive carnival of many colours and choruses.

Now, however, almost all groups are from the far right. The leaders are, like Boiocchi, often of retirement age. Spontaneity is rare as uniformity is imposed: many groups dress identically, usually in black.

Police investigate near the scene where Vittorio Boiocchi was shot and killed in Milan.
Police investigate near the scene where Vittorio Boiocchi was shot and killed in Milan. Photograph: Claudio Furlan/AP

One of the leading names of Verona’s notorious Brigate Gialloblù, Marco Zanoni, once said that ultras are, ultimately, idealists: “And we know that an idealist can, in certain circumstances, become a tough, even an extremist.” Their language is eerily similar to that of religious believers – they talk of “faith”, “sacrifice”, “martyrs” and how the dead are “always present”.

And, as with organised religion, organised ultras can be a significant force for good as well as bad. After the Amatrice earthquake in 2016, the mayor said ultras from all over Italy had done more for his town than all the country’s politicians and thanked them for their “extraordinary solidarity”. Every time there is a natural disaster, ultras are always in the front line. They often open food banks for the poor, and throughout the Covid pandemic were regularly distributing food parcels.

It remains a very paradoxical subculture, both criminal and altruistic, very arrogant and yet surprisingly humble. But the death of “the Uncle” means that ultras will continue to be known for all the wrong reasons.

Tobias Jones lives in Parma. His prize-winning book Ultra: the Underworld of Italian Football is published by Head of Zeus