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12 Biggest Upsets in World Cup History

by: Esteban On  Monday, June 16, 2014

biggest world cup upsets

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is less than a week old, but it has already produced some pretty shocking results. Costa Rica’s 3-1 win over Uruguay came as a surprise to most observers, seeing as how Uruguay is currently ranked seventh in the world. And while a few observers might have predicted a Netherlands victory over Spain in the rematch of the 2010 final, nobody on Earth would ever have predicted a 5-1 blowout.

Big upsets? Absolutely. But do they rank amongst the greatest in World Cup history? Hardly.

You don’t have to take my word for it, though. Take a look at our list of the 12 biggest World Cup upsets of all time and judge for yourself.


12. South Korea 2, Italy 1 (2002)

Italy isn’t always a favorite to win the World Cup, but they’re always a contender. And this was certainly true in 2002 when the Azzuri came up against South Korea in the Round of 16. The game was played on the South Koreans’ home soul (in Daejeon), but the Italians were heavy favorites and, until the 89th minute, the game was playing out as expected in spite of some horrendous calls by the referee. In that 89th minute, however, South Korea tied the game at 1-1. Then Ahn Jung-Hwan scored the game-winning golden goal in extra time to send the Italian shame early.


11. USA 2, Colombia 1 (1994)

Like South Korea in 2002, USA was the home team in 1994. However, the Colombians were considered serious contenders to win the tournament, while the Americans were appearing in just their second World Cup since 1950. So when the USA took 1-0 thanks to an own goal from Andres Escobar—which literally got him shot and killed back in Colombia—and held on for a 2-1 win, it was a really big deal. Thanks to this win, the USA advanced to the second round while Colombia did not.


10. Uruguay 1, Brazil 1 (1950)

Yes, Uruguay won the World Cup in 1930. Yes, they were still a world soccer power in 1950. But Brazil would have been favorites to win the tournament in 1950 no matter where it was held. The fact that it was held in Brazil meant nobody gave Uruguay a chance to beat them in the final game of the tournament. So when they did win, 2-1, in front of 200,000 spectators in Estadio do Maracana in Sao Paolo, it was considered a national catastrophe in Brazil.


9. Northern Ireland 1, Spain 0 (1982)

Northern Ireland is one of the smallest counties (by population) to ever play in the World Cup, and in 1982, they were making their first appearance (of three total) since 1958. They should have been no match for Spain, the host country. However, after pulling up 1-0, Norther Ireland managed to hang on and win the biggest game in their country’s history.


8. West Germany 3, Hungary 2 (1954)

It probably seems crazy, now, to consider a win by West Germany an upset, since they would go on to win the World Cup in 1954, 1974, and 1990. However, in 1950, they were making their first appearance after World War II. Hungary, meanwhile, was led by Ferenc Puskas (the guy FIFA named their Goal of the Year award after) and were widely considered the greatest team in the world. So when they lost to Germany in the final, it was a huge upset.


7. Switzerland 1, Spain 0 (2010)

At #7 we have an upset that I think will only seem more incredible as time goes on. This, after all, was a Spain team that won the 2008 Euro, the 2010 World Cup, and the 2012 Euro. That is an unprecedented run of dominance. And yet, in between there, they kicked off their 2010 championship campaign with a shocking 1-0 loss to Switzerland.


6. Bulgaria 2, Germany 1 (1994)

West Germany were runners up in 1982, runners up in 1986, and champions in 1990. So were they among the favorites in 1994? Obviously. Bulgaria, meanwhile, came into the 1994 World Cup having never won a single game in the tournament. So when these two teams met in the quarterfinals, nobody thought Bulgaria had a chance.

After beating Germany 2-1 Bulgaria lost to Italy in the semifinals and then to Sweden in the consolation game. But by then they’d already turned in one of the greatest Cinderella performances in soccer history.


5. Cameroon 1, Argentina 0 (1990)

Speaking of Cinderella’s, that certainly described the Cameroonians in 1990. Making just their second World Cup appearance, they got placed in a group with defending champions Argentina and had to play Maradona and company in the opening game of the tournament. However, despite being down a man, Cameroon managed to score a goal in the 67th minute. Then, after losing another man (see video) in the 89th minutes, they managed to hold on for a 1-0 win.

Cameroon would go on to beat Colombia in the Round of 16 before losing to England in the quarterfinals.


4. Senegal 1, France 0 (2002)

At #4 we have yet another shocking defeat of a reigning champion at the hands of an upstart African team. France won the 1998 World Cup and 2000 Euro and were considered favorites again in 2002. However, they opened the tournament with a shocking 1-0 loss to first-timers Senegal.

Senegal would eventually advance to the knockout stage and beat Sweden in the round of 16 before losing to Turkey, which might be the most improbable run in World Cup History. France, meanwhile, failed to score a goal in the first round and got sent home early.


3. Algeria 2, West Germany 1 (1982)

1982 would prove to be the first of three straight top-two finishes for West Germany. However, before advancing to the finals and losing to Italy, they suffered a shocking 2-1 loss in the group stage to Algeria…in Algeria’s first ever World Cup match.

Amazingly, Algeria would wind up in a first-place tie with Germany and Austria in their group. However, they did not advance to the next round because those teams had the advantage in goal differential.


2. North Korea 1, Italy 0 (1966)

It’s not hard to understand the significance of this upset. You know how shocked the world would be if North Korea beat Italy today? Well, that’s pretty much how shocked they were when North Korea beat Italy in 1966.

Of course, making the upset even more significant was the fact that it was the final group stage game. So it sent North Korea on to the next round while sending Italy home much earlier than expected.


1. USA 1, England 0 (1950)

The 1950 US soccer team was made up entirely of part-time semi-pro or amateur players, while England was a team of elite professionals from the best league in the world. However, thanks to a lucky bounce and stellar goaltending from the USA’s Frank Borghi, the USA miraculously prevailed.

How shocking was this upset? When the result came over the wire, nobody in either country believed it. The New York Times believed the 1-0 result was an error and refused to print it until they received they heard from the only American newspaper reporter actually covering the World Cup.