Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Greatest Upset In World Cup History: Northern Ireland Shocks Spain in '82

As the 2010 World Cup looms, I was reminded of the 1982 World Cup in Spain. This was extra special because it was my first ever World Cup finals. The feeling of watching the likes of footballing greats such as Zico, Socrates, Falcao, Rummenigge, Maradona, Platini, Robson and Jennings on one global stage was something that cannot be replicated.

And so, the greatest upset in World Cup history for me, goes to the Northern Ireland-Spain match in which Gerry Armstrong scored the winning goal.

Northern Ireland 1 Spain 0, 1982 (as published in

Before the 1982 World Cup finals, Gerry Armstrong was a jobbing forward at Tottenham and Watford, with the nickname 'The Judge' due to his frequent appearances on the substitutes' bench.

Within a matter of weeks, Armstrong had written his name into the history books as his goal was enough to beat Spain and Northern Ireland had claimed the greatest result in their history.

Having qualified for their first finals since 1958, Northern Ireland started their campaign with a goalless encounter with Yugoslavia and a 1-1 draw with Honduras. Only a win in their final game would ensure qualification to the second round for the first time in their history.

Ominously they were up against the host nation, Spain, and few were forecasting a victory for Northern Ireland. Yet Billy Bingham's side nullified the Spanish threat and were rewarded just after half-time as goalkeeper Arconada failed to hold onto Billy Hamilton's cross and Armstrong drilled home the loose ball.

Northern Ireland held on, despite the dismissal of Mal Donaghy, and remarkably topped the group whilst Armstrong signed for Mallorca following the tournament, the start of a long relationship with his adopted country.

The Telegraph vividly details how the proudest moment in Northern Irish football history was achieved.

...Armstrong took a step into Irish football immortality. He collected a pass 35 yards from goal, left three players in his wake and pushed a perfect lay-off to Hamilton on the right wing.

Outpacing his markers, the strapping Burnley forward whipped the ball into the box where the Spanish goalkeeper Luis Arconada could only palm it into the path of Armstrong, who hit a low right-foot shot under the keeper's body...

Will the 2010 World Cup in South Africa bring about the unpredictability which generates excitement and nail-biting suspense? What are the possible upsets that could happen judging by the World Cup finals grouping? South Korea beating Argentina? Slovakia beating Italy?

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