10 Biggest World Cup Upsets of All Time

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There are a few runs that come to mind when thinking about the World Cup upsets ranking. Every World Cup features a team that draws neutral support because it punches above its weight. Those nations frequently burst onto the scene with a single major result. Alternatively, these teams may only have one defining match that their country will remember for years. 

World Cup history is littered with legendary David vs. Goliath victories, thrilling comebacks, and humiliating setbacks for reigning champions as championship dreams are formed and crushed. The 2018 World Cup in Russia was memorable for Croatia’s run to the final and holders Germany’s harsh elimination in the group stages.

FIFA World Cup 2022 promises a slew of additional surprises in the Middle East, with the hosts hosting their first World Cup and defending African champions Senegal tipped to win the continent’s first World Cup.

Here are 10 Biggest World Cup Upsets of All Time: 

10. Switzerland 1-0 Spain (2010, Group Stage)

This was Spain’s only defeat in the World Cup. Spain was stacked on the field, with players like Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Iker Casillas, David Villa, Sergio Ramos, and Carles Puyol. They went on to win Spain’s first World Cup, of course.

However, the eventual champions’ first game did not go as planned. Switzerland, which had exited the competition in the group stage, stunned everyone. Spain conceded only two goals throughout the tournament. Gelson Fernandes’ goal, on the other hand, will be remembered by the Swiss.

9. Senegal 1-0 France (2002, Group Stage)

The tournament’s first game honored France, the defending champions. Senegal spoilt the party in its first FIFA World Cup appearance, defeating the holders 1-0.

Senegal eventually qualified for the knockout stages ahead of France and Uruguay. The performance versus France put the Senegalese team on the map, making them the tournament’s darlings as they advanced to the quarterfinals.

8. Algeria 2-1 West Germany (1982, Group Stage)

West Germany would eventually leave the group. There was some debate about the form of qualification, but Algeria made it difficult for the Germans.

Algeria have never previously qualified for a World Cup. Algeria outplayed West Germany in terms of skill and enthusiasm despite the fact that the favorites had dismissed the African nation prior to the match. Despite winning two matches, Algeria failed to qualify. After West Germany opened the score in their final group stage match, Austria and West Germany played a pointless 80-minute match.

Following Algeria’s inability to qualify, the last group stage games were played at the same time to avoid collusion.

7. Bulgaria 2-1 Germany (1994, Quarterfinals)

Germany started the competition as the defending champions, having appeared in the previous three World Cup Finals. Bulgaria, on the other hand, was having its best World Cup run in years, driven by Barcelona attacker Hristo Stoichkov.

Bulgaria equalized then took the lead against one of the tournament’s favorites, scoring two goals in four minutes. Such is the power of having one of the world’s best scorers in the World Cup.

6. South Korea 2-1 Italy (2002): Hosts shock Azzurri

Despite four consecutive dismal group-stage exits between 1986 and 1998, South Korea’s optimism pointed at a surprise in the 2002 tournament.

Guus Hiddink’s team won their group, led by a raucous home crowd, with convincing victories over Poland and Portugal. However, a clash with Italy in the last 16 appeared to be a huge test of their talents, as Hiddink’s team held off an onslaught of Italian pressure.

As Italy struggled to capitalise on their 1-0 advantage, the host nation remained in the game until Seol Ki-equalizer hyeon’s forced extra time and Ahn Jung-golden hwan’s goal won it. Despite the overwhelming praise for South Korea’s stunning victory, the post-tournament discussion was dominated by charges of corruption in their subsequent quarter-final victory over Spain.

5. North Korea 1-0 Italy (1966): DPRK breaks new ground for Asian football

Pak Doo Ik’s name is the most well-known in North Korean football history, having secured the most spectacular moment in the country’s history.

Winners twice over Italy was anticipated to stroll through the group stages in England, but they were eliminated when Doo Ik’s winner won a knockout spot for the tournament debutants at the expense of Italy.

4. USA 1-0 England (1950): England’s first World Cup loss

Despite having only made their World Cup debut in 1950, England were projected to upset the established order against an unfancied United States squad replete with part-time players.

The US won 1-0 because to Joe Gaetjens’ goal, but the story of the game lasted for decades, with The Game of Their Lives book and film dedicated to the enormous shock given by Bill Jeffrey’s team.

3. Ireland 1-0 Italy (1994): Irish eyes smiling in the US

Ireland’s march to the quarter-finals of Italia ’90 established the Boys in Green on the international stage, but their defeat to the hosts sticks with them.

As they faced a rematch with Italy in the scorching heat of New Jersey, Jack Charlton was out for vengeance. Ray Houghton’s early strike placed Ireland ahead, but when Italy lay siege to the Irish goal, they were repeatedly repulsed by a Paul McGrath wall.

2. Italy 3-2 Brazil (1982): Rossi at the Camp Nou

Brazil appeared to be on course to end their 12-year wait for a World Cup victory when the Samba Boys traveled to Spain in 1982.

Telê Santana’s team was inspired by Socrates and Zico, but despite a perfect record in their first four games, they were eliminated in the second round by Italy.

Paolo Rossi had one of the greatest individual World Cup performances, scoring a vicious hat trick to eliminate Brazil and inspire his team to victory in the final.

Argentina vs Saudi Arabia
Photo Credit: Fifa.com

1. Argentina 1-2 Saudi Arabia (2022): Messi’s 36-match unbeaten run halted

Argentina’s title hopes when they arrived in Qatar as Copa America champions led by seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi. Lionel Scaloni’s side got off to a flying start against a Saudi Arabia squad rated 48 places lower in the FIFA rankings, with Messi converting a 10th-minute penalty.

There were minimal indicators of concern until Saleh Al-Shehri entered the game after 48 minutes. Five minutes later, Salem Al-sensational Dawsari’s strike drove the green shirts in the crowd into a frenzy.

Scaloni’s men needed to avoid defeat in order to equal Italy’s record of 37 unbeaten international matches, which they were anticipated to break against Mexico in their next game. As it was, their tenacious opponents justifiably held on for one of the most famous results in history, and the largest odds upset of all time, according to US bookmaker BetMGM.

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