No doubt about it, the Italians love their football; they are justifiably proud of their football heritage with both their domestic and national teams. But when hopes are dashed from unexpected fronts - well Mamma mia!
The 1966 World Cup™ in England provided one of the biggest upsets in tournament history when the Italian national side were humbled by North Korea who beat Italy 1-0 at Middlesbrough’s Ayresome Park, and as a result finished above them. The result earned the Koreans qualification to the next round along with the USSR. This was the first time that a nation from outside Europe or the Americas had progressed from the first stage of a World Cup: the next would be Morocco in 1986.
For the Koreans, unknowns from a country enveloped in secrecy, they had provided the shock of the tournament against an Italian side who were one of the pre-tournament four seeds. Pak Doo Ik's goal shortly before half-time propelled them into the quarter-finals and sent their opponents home to a barrage of rotting fruit and tomatoes as their ‘bus was bombarded at the airport.
Dennis Barry from Middlesbrough, where the Korean’s played their group games, said his town was captivated with the style of football played by the plucky Asians. "They played good football - you know they were all small and that was a novelty in itself. It was like watching a team of jockeys playing," he said. "But they moved the ball around really well. I think they took people by surprise, and they were very positive in their approach - they played attacking football, there was nothing defensive about their game, and the crowd got behind them from the way that they saw them play."
In fact in Group 4, Italy needed only to draw to lowly North Korea in its last game to qualify for the quarter-finals and few expected the Koreans to provide much opposition to an Italian side featuring AC Milan star Gianni Rivera (a future European player of the year), Sandro Mazzola (son of Valentino Mazzola, the former Italian team captain) and Giacinto Facchetti (the Internazionale icon).
Pomodori marci – yuk! Still could have been worse – look what happened to Mussolini?
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