The 1966 FIFA World Cup was a momentous occasion for football fans around the world. Held in England, it marked the eighth edition of the prestigious tournament and brought together the best teams from across the globe. One of the biggest upsets of the tournament came in the form of North Korea’s shock victory over Italy, beating them 1-0 in one of the most memorable matches in World Cup history.
Before the match, North Korea were considered to be rank outsiders, with few giving them any chance of progressing past the group stages. The Italians, on the other hand were one of the pre-tournament favourites, having won the coveted FIFA World Cup twice in the 7 years since its conception.
The two nations met each other in the final match of the first round of the competition. North Korea had lost their first match 3-0 to the Soviet Union, and drew their second against Chile 1-1. Italy had also lost to the Soviets, 1-0, but had beaten Chile 2-0.
At this point in the tournament’s evolution, wins were awarded 2 points and draws 1 point in the group stages. This meant that Italy went into the final game in second place with 2 points, behind the Soviets who had 4. North Korea and Chile each had a single point, taking up the final 2 places in the group and expected to be exiting the competition.
The match was played at Ayresome Park in Middlesbrough, as were all group 4 games for this World Cup.
The North Koreans started the match brightly and took the game to Italy from the outset. The Italian team, on the other hand struggled to find their rhythm and were unable to create many clear cut chances. They dominated possession but were unable to produce a goal against the inspired underdogs.
In the 42nd minute, North Korea scored what would prove to be the decisive goal of the game. A long-range shot from Pak Doo-ik found the back of the net to give North Korea a shock 1-0 lead on the brink of half time.
Italy pressed hard in the second half, but despite boasting one of the world’s greatest squads, failed to find an equaliser. North Korea held on for a famous victory on a rainy day in the North East, sending shockwaves through the footballing world and securing their place in the quarter-finals.
In their quarter-final of the 1966 World Cup, North Korea faced Portugal and once again shocked the footballing world, albeit a short-lived upset. They managed to take a 3-0 lead before 25 minutes had been played!
Their famous underdog run in the 1966 World Cup was sadly destined to end at this game, however, and Portugal eventually won the match 5-3. North Korea’s 1966 side still went down in the history books for their efforts, which saw them become the first ever Asian team to progress past the first round of the competition. This feat would not be repeated until 1994, when Saudi Arabia made it to the round of 16 in the USA-hosted 15th instalment of the tournament.