Top 10 Biggest FIFA World Cup Upsets

Tags: #FIFAWorldCup ,   #WorldCup ,   #Football ,   #Soccer ,   #FootballLife

Michael Wendom

Michael Wendom

Last updated:  2023-09-13 12:49:25

As we remember the champions or unusual records, many FIFA World Cup upsets remain in our memory. Even the weakest teams give their best on such a big stage, knowing that the world is watching. On the other hand, favorites often feel pressure and criticism, even if they win. When you combine these factors with some luck or a moment of inspiration from the outsiders, you get shocking World Cup results. Yet, the focus here is on the upsets that had a massive impact. 

For example, while Norway's win over Brazil in 1998 was a surprise, South Americans still reached the finals. The same goes for Tunisia and Japan, who beat France and Spain in 2022. Yet, France had already won the group before the match, while Spain wanted to finish second and eliminate Germany. Admittedly, South Korea's triumphs against Italy and Spain were massive upsets in 2002, but both matches are considered fixed. Therefore, you can find them on our dedicated list. So here are the ten biggest World Cup upsets that dramatically changed the tournament.

10. Italy Vs. Costa Rica 2014

Costa Rica played great in the tournament, but this was their most impactful triumph

Italy was shocked in 2010, as they finished their world title defense early. However, in 2014 they were back, but in a tough group. Yet, they started by defeating England, meaning they needed a win against Costa Rica to qualify after only two games. The Central American team seemingly stood no chance in a group also featuring Uruguay. Yet, they surprisingly defeated Uruguay, hoping they could progress.

Against Italy, Costa Rica was holding great, creating as many chances and shots on goal. However, unlike their rivals, they scored just before halftime. All that Italy did was produce almost a dozen offsides and hold the ball. Once the final whistle blew, Costa Rica was in the last of 16, and Italy was in all sorts of trouble. The impact of this match can't be overstated. Costa Rica won the group and lost to the Netherlands on penalties in the quarterfinals. On the contrary, the shocked Italians succumbed to Uruguay and returned home.

9. North Korea Vs. Italy (1966)

Still the most famous win in North Korea's football history

Italy effortlessly qualified for the 1966 FIFA World Cup and was among the teams who could win the title. Yet, even after losing to the Soviet Union in the second group game, they needed only a point against North Korea to advance. The Asian team reached the tournament by beating a single opponent (Australia) before the Soviet Union destroyed them 3-0. Furthermore, they barely stayed in the competition with a late equalizer against Chile. Therefore, no one gave them any chance against highly-motivated Italians with Mazzola, Rivera, and other top stars.

Yet, a few minutes before halftime, Pak Doo-ik scored for North Korea! By that time, Italians were playing with a man less, with their captain Giacomo Bulgarelli injured. With no substitution allowed, Italy had no choice but to continue without him. While the favorites attacked in the second half, they wasted a few chances they made. With a single goal, Italy was eliminated and humiliated like never before. As for the North Koreans, they went to the quarterfinals and even shockingly led against Portugal 3-0. Yet, legendary Eusebio turned the tides, sending them home.

8. Argentina Vs. Saudi Arabia 2022

Everyone expected some heavy trashing by Argentina

No one doubted the result when Argentina and Saudi Arabia met in their first group match in the 2022 Qatar World Cup. While South Americans were the top favorites to win the title, Saudi Arabia was ranked as the worst side, next to Qatar. Argentina was undoubtedly dominant, and once Leo Messi scored from the penalty, it looked like it was all over for the Arabs. While the first half ended just 1-0, the Saudis didn't look like they could make this match enjoyable. Yet, they somehow did!

After only eight minutes in the second half, heavy underdogs were now leading, thanks to goals from Alshehri and Aldwaswari! The Arabians went into the second half playing way more aggressively while displaying some of the best defensive skills ever seen! Therefore, desperate Argentinians had only six shots on goal! The rest of the team couldn't do much as Messi was shut down, allowing a massive surprise. While there were reports about Saudi Arabia players getting Rolls-Royce cars as gifts for their achievement, those proved false. However, the impact of this match was minor, as Argentina won the group while the Saudis were eliminated! Yet, it was still a massive upset.

7. Germany – Japan 2022

Japan played much better in the second half

Germany reached the 2022 World Cup with memories of its defeat against South Korea in 2018. However, it was hard to believe that Japan could do the same. Four-time world champions dominated the game and went to halftime with the lead. Looking at the stats, they were doing much better in every category, including possession, passes, accuracy and shots on goal. Therefore, Japan was lucky to lose just 1-0. Yet, the passionate Asian side didn't even think about giving up. 

While the Germans kept possession, their offense couldn't do anything with it. Similarly, in defense, their lack of concentration proved fatal. Suddenly, Japan started easily coming inside Germany's penalty box and finally scored after missing a golden opportunity. However, the real shock came after a brilliant long pass to Takuma Asano, who quickly ran past the German defense to take the lead! What followed were Germany's desperate attempts to score, but it was in vain. Japan won 2-1, putting Germany in a tough spot before their match against excellent Spain. In the end, Japan also beat Spain to progress, eliminating Germany. Yet, it was apparent that Spain wanted to lose this game and have much weaker opponents in the elimination phase. Therefore, while Japan played great, their victory against Germany was way more surprising.

6. United States Vs. Colombia (1994)

This defeat is the most painful one in Colombian history

In 1994 Colombia was better than ever, as they easily conquered their qualifying group. They even destroyed Argentina (at the time without Maradona) 5-0 in Buenos Aires! Therefore, many considered them among the favorites in one of the best World Cups, including Pele. As for the US team, few believed they could survive the stage with Colombia, Switzerland, and Romania. However, as Colombia lost their opening game against Romania, they needed the win versus the USA or at least score a point.

Yet, the USA was a better team but couldn't score until Colombian defender Andrés Escobar did it for them. When Stewart doubled the lead in the 52nd minute, South Americans couldn't respond. Thus, their goal in the dying minutes meant nothing. As a result, Colombia finished at the bottom of the group, despite winning the final game against Switzerland. This was effectively the end of the golden generation, and many still remember it with sadness. However, things became tragic once Andrés Escobar was murdered because of his own goal. His death can't ever be forgotten.

5. South Korea – Germany (2018)

South Korea achieved its greatest triumph ever!

Germany came to the 2018 World Cup as world champions, but things turned into a nightmare after their initial loss to Mexico. However, they recovered by beating Sweden, scoring at the last moment. Still, the only way for them to progress was to beat already eliminated South Korea. Yet, if Germans thought that the Asian team would be demoralized and lack desire, that was so wrong.

It all started well for Germany, as they dominated the game, creating many chances. Yet, they couldn't score, becoming increasingly desperate. As the final whistle approached, they stopped carrying about defense, which South Korea fully exploited, scoring twice! Germany was no more, as they ended up at the bottom of the group. For many, this was Korea's redemption after the scandalous 2002 campaign.

4. France Vs. Senegal (2002)

France played without Zidane, but that is no excuse

The 2002 FIFA World Cup produced many surprises, but other teams delivered them fair and square, unlike South Korea. As the world champion, France opened the tournament against debutants Senegal, so everyone expected an easy win. Yet, while the French side was dominant, Senegal held surprisingly well. It all culminated after half an hour, as Papa Bouba Diop scored, giving them the lead! Yet, instead of desperately defending, Senegal kept playing their way!

Surprisingly, France had only seven shots on target, and not many were a challenge for the Senegalese defense. Furthermore, they were close to scoring, even hitting a crossbar. After this thrilling victory, Senegal continued strongly as they drew against Uruguay and Denmark to progress. Furthermore, they reached the quarterfinals, where they lost on Golden Goal rule against Turkey. As for France, they were so shocked that they couldn't score for the rest of the tournament. Thus, they finished with a single point in one of the worst World Cups.

3. England – USA 1950

The day when England finally understood they were not the best in the world

England boycotted the early World Cups over a constant disagreement with FIFA. Yet, in 1950 they decided to finally prove their superiority on the big scene. It all started well as they easily beat Chile before they met the USA, previously defeated by Spain. That wasn't a surprise, as the Americans barely made it to the championship. Furthermore, they were all semi-professional players who never even trained together. Therefore, everyone beat them in friendlies, including Norway (11-0) and Italy (7-1). Thus, the same was expected from England.

After almost leading within two minutes, England created chances and even hit the post several times. Yet, the USA scored in the 37th minute and endured until halftime. The rest of the match continued similarly, but with some spectacular saves, the Americans survived. Thus, they won their first World Cup game since 1930! Yet, many don't know that this defeat didn't eliminate England. Instead, they needed to beat Spain to survive, yet they lost 1-0. It's not hard imagining that they couldn't stop thinking about their embarrassment against the USA. Tragically, nobody in America cared about this colossal surprise until the 1994 World Cup.

2. West Germany – Hungary 1954

There are still many doubts about this shocking Hungarian defeat

West Germany was a decent team in 1954. Still, after the horrific group-stage loss against Hungary (8-3), many believed it was all over. Yet, they managed to get out of their group and easily beat Yugoslavia and Austria. That meant that in the final, they would again have to face dominant Hungary. "Mighty Magyars" were unstoppable as they eliminated Brazil and then the world champions, Uruguay. Unlike the Germans, they were an entirely professional team, undefeated for five years. Therefore, everybody believed that Hungary would win spectacularly. However, many failed to notice that Hungarians were very tired, with their leading player, Puskás, lacking fitness.

Despite this, Hungary led 2-0 after only eight minutes, making everyone think it was all over. Yet, by the 20th minute, West Germany equalized. Hungary was still dominant in the second half, missing some great chances. On the other hand, the Germans barely tried with some outside shots. Regardless, they scored six minutes before the end of the regular time, as desperate Hungarians missed a few more golden opportunities to equalize. Many believed West Germany's second goal happened after a foul and that Puskás' equalizer wasn't offside. The impact of this match was tremendous on both sides. While Germans became a force, Hungarians slowly faded away to oblivion.

1. Brazil Vs. Uruguay 1950

Uruguay didn't look like a great team at all, so no one believed in them

It all appeared perfect for Brazil in 1950. Not only were they hosting the FIFA World Cup, but they also had a great team. Things looked even better as other favorites, including England and Italy, were out in the first group stage. In the final round-robin, Brazil performed otherworldly, scoring 13 times against decent Spain and Sweden. Hence, a point against Uruguay in their final match was all they needed. No one believed Uruguay could do much, as they could have played better. After qualifying for the World Cup because other teams had withdrawn, they reached the final round after a single win against the terrible Bolivian side. In their first two games, they narrowly escaped defeats to Spain and Sweden, with a draw and a win.

Brazil started the match the right way, as they were going for a win. Still, Uruguay played great defense, managing a goalless draw after the first 45 minutes. Yet, Friaça scored for Brazil quickly after the restart, and it looked like the game was over. However, Uruguay was angry, believing that the goal came from offside. They channeled all that energy into bravery, continually attacking. And just as they did against Spain and Sweden, they overturned the game, with the winner coming ten minutes before the end. That was such a shock for everyone that the home team couldn't do anything to equalize. This is the most impactful and mythical loss in football history, producing many tragedies. Unfortunately, numerous fans committed suicide (even in the stadium), and some players never played for the team again. Brazil even changed its traditional colors to those they use today.

While we could name dozens of other World Cup upsets, those we mentioned had an incredible impact on the rest of the tournament. Therefore, that gives them additional value, as they can hardly evaporate from our collective memory. While some of these results are traumatic for the losing sides, many later still won world titles. Yet, these shocks are a reminder that nothing is impossible.

Have you watched some of these upsets as they were happening? In your opinion, what are some of the most shocking FIFA World Cup results? 

Cover photo: jeffersonassilva/Pixabay



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Dylan Says:

We'll see what was the impact of the Saudi Arabia game. While Argentina won the group and is now in quarterfinals, I think that Saudi Arabia showed that they are vulnerable. Just look at Australia who almost took them to overtime. Argentina didn't even face a decent opponent until their clash against Holland.

December 07 at 05:22:27 PM

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