The World Cup has produced some of the biggest upsets in football history, from the USA and England in 1950 to Saudi Arabia and Argentina in 2022. As form, reputation, and confidence all vanish overnight and so-called smaller nations take their chance on the grandest stage, the World Cup has a history of producing some of the biggest upsets the sport has ever witnessed. Teams and individual players have been immortalized in the tournament’s legacy for these matches and moments, which have been repeatedly relived and immortalized.
USA 1-0 England – 1950
World Cup rookies once England faced up against part-timers from the USA, they were overwhelming favorites. There must only be one winner, right? Yes, but not who you might expect. Joe Gaetjens, a US striker of Haitian descent, scored the game-winning goal in Brazil, earning him a place in USMNT mythology and earning the nickname “The Miracle of Belo Horizonte.”
North Korea 1-0 Italy – 1966
In England in 1966, Italy was heavily favored to win the Jules Rimet Trophy. They barely beat Chile in the group stage before losing to the USSR, but they were in poor form overall. In their final group match against North Korea, they would need to avoid losing, but amazingly,‘s goal in the 42nd minute would send the Azzurri home as the Asian country advanced to the quarterfinals.
Algeria 2-1 West Germany – 1982
World Cup debut for Algeria versus West Germany, the tournament favorite. There could only be one result, right? The purpose of this article should have made it clear that the North Africans would astound their distinguished adversaries. Algeria triumphed 2-1, but later in the group round, when West Germany and Austria deliberately played out a favorable outcome to eliminate them, they would suffer the infamous Disgrace of Gijon.
Northern Ireland 1-0 Spain – 1982
Being down to 10 men, playing the hosts in a partisan environment, and having to deal with some questionable refereeing decisions, Northern Ireland would somehow win. Shortly after the break, Gerry Armstrong scored the game-winning goal thanks to a goalie error, and the Northern Irish hung on despite having a player sent off with 30 minutes remaining.
Cameroon 1-0 Argentina – 1990
Even though they were playing the defending champions and the formidable Diego Maradona, Cameroon would pull off a massive shock in their opening match of Italia ’90. The African nation, captained by 38-year-old Roger Milla, advanced from the group stage to the quarterfinals, in large part because of Francois Omam-spectacular Biyik’s header against the Argentines.
Bulgaria 2-1 Germany – 1994
At the 1994 World Cup, Bulgaria, led by Hristo Stoichov of Barcelona, came as a surprise. Bulgaria completed a strong run to the semifinals in the USA by stunning defending champion Germany in the quarterfinals after defeating Argentina earlier on in the tournament. They turned the game in their favor late on thanks to two goals in three minutes from Yordan Letchkov and Stoichov, and they went on to earn a renowned victory.
Ireland 1-0 Italy – 1994
Ireland knocked out eventual champions Italy in New Jersey to kick off the 1994 World Cup. Just 12 minutes into the game, Ray Houghton scored the game’s lone goal, blasting home from 25 yards out to erupt the loud traveling crowd. After then, Jack Charlton’s team was able to contain their formidable rivals for the duration of the match.
France 0-1 Senegal – 1998
Most infamous upset in World Cup history, in my opinion. As co-favorites and the host nation at the 2002 World Cup, France had the worst conceivable start as they lost to debutants Senegal. The legendary winner was scored by the late Papa Bouba Diop, and for the French, it was the beginning of a nightmare tournament in which they were eliminated in the group stages.
South Korea 2-1 Italy – 2002
The Ecuadorian referee made several debatable choices during this game, including awarding the hosts a dubious penalty and calling a very little offside for what would have been an Italian golden goal. Instead, South Korea would win in overtime thanks to Ahn Jung-dismissal hwans of the Italians.
Switzerland 1-0 Spain – 2010
Although Spain would eventually go on to win the 2010 World Cup, their tournament got off to the worst conceivable start in their opening match against the Swiss. Seven minutes into the second half, Man City “legend” Gelson Fernandes scored the game-winning goal, and Switzerland held strong defensively to secure an improbable victory.
South Korea 2-0 Germany – 2018
When it came to defending their World Cup crown in Russia, the defending champions, Germany, fell short right away. They suffered a shocking loss to South Korea, and Tottenham star Son Heung-min scored the game-winning goal after goalkeeper Manuel Neuer lost possession of the ball just inside the halfway line. This result eliminated them from the tournament.
Argentina 1-2 Saudi Arabia – 2022
Argentina was one of the favorites going into the 2022 World Cup, as it would undoubtedly be Lionel Messi’s final performance on football’s biggest platform. Messi and company were humiliated after Messi gave his country the lead from the penalty spot as Saudi Arabia mounted a stunning comeback to snag the most unexpected of triumphs. The pivotal play was made by Salem Aldawsari, who slalomed past several defenders before stunningly beating the goalkeeper with a shot.
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