Some people may consider the Super Bowl to be the biggest sporting event in the world. These people are probably Americans and they are wrong. The biggest sporting event in the world is a tournament that only takes place once every four years, and it can be challenging to even qualify. I mean the World Cup of course!
Since the tournament only takes place every four years, this makes the stakes even higher than in an annual tournament. And, because every country in the world has a chance (even if it’s a long shot) to qualify, it’s the largest group of teams in any tournament. Of the many countries competing in the World Cup, only eight teams have won. They are Italy, Brazil, England, France, Spain, Argentina, Uruguay and Germany.
Since so few teams have won this illustrious competition, you may think there is a lack of parity or that a few teams always dominate. Actually, this is far from the truth. Almost every World Cup presents multiple surprises. Because scoring is so low in soccer, a single goal (and a single moment) may be all it takes for a David to defeat a Goliath.
These surprises add to the atmosphere and excitement of the World Cup in a big way. Here’s a look at 10 of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. The World Cup has been around for so long that some countries involved in these surprises don’t even exist anymore! So strap on your cleats and shin guards, and let’s get into the 10 biggest upsets in World Cup history.
Related: The 10 weirdest things that have happened in football
10 Bulgaria 2-1 Germany (1994)
Germany is a real powerhouse when it comes to world football. They have been a dominant force against teams from around the world and have won four World Cups (1954, 1974, 1990 and 2014). The Germans enjoyed another successful World Cup as defending champions and were heavy favorites against Bulgaria in the 1994 quarter-final.
Most of the casual fans assumed that they would crush the Bulgarian team. In fact, Germany had the most chances and a lot of possession during the early parts of the game. Early in the second half, Lothar Matthaus converted a penalty kick to give the Germans the lead. Many people assumed that the match was over. The Bulgarians had other ideas.
With 15 minutes remaining, Hristo Stoichov equalized with an incredible free-kick. Just three minutes later, the Bulgarians took an improbable lead with a 78th-minute goal from Yordan Letchkov. These two consecutive goals remained the biggest in Bulgaria’s World Cup history and eliminated the possibility of the German coming back. to be champion
9 Switzerland 1-0 Spain (2010)
Spain’s 2010 World Cup team was known for a passing style where they could control possession of the game. With possession, the opposing team would have to chase the Spaniards, get fatigued and frustrated. This style was extremely effective, and the 2010 Spain team is considered one of the best teams in recent history, featuring major world stars such as Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández and David Villa.
In 2010, their first World Cup game in South Africa was against Switzerland. Switzerland scored early on through midfielder Gelson Fernandes. The Swiss were able to keep the lead and won the game. However, Spain had the last laugh at the tournament as they were able to regain their concentration and went on to win the full cup, the nation’s first and only World Cup victory.
8 United States 1-0 England (1950)
Soccer was invented in England in 1863. It is a source of national pride for the nation. Despite this, the first World Cup they participated in was only in 1950! Even so, facing the tournament, the English were seen as favourites. England won their first group match against Chile and then faced an American team made up entirely of semi-professionals.
The US team showed grit and determination, scoring a goal late in the first half thanks to a Joseph Gaetjens header. England continued to press on attack but were unable to score. The American team held on tenaciously with the support of the Brazilian fans. Because soccer was not a popular sport in the United States at the time, only one American journalist traveled to the World Cup. This is the most famous victory in US men’s soccer history and is the only World Cup match in which they have beaten England.
England lost their final group game against Spain and were knocked out of the tournament.
7 North Korea 1-0 Italy (1966)
Italy is a footballing force, having won four World Cup championships. North Korea… not so much. His team was surprised to have even qualified for the 1966 World Cup in England. (Since then, they have only qualified for one World Cup.) The Koreans lost their first match against the Soviet Union. In their second game, they performed better and earned a draw against favorites Chile.
For their third match, they faced an Italian team widely considered to be more talented. North Korea played with tenacity, organization and teamwork. They kept the Italians goalless throughout the ninety minutes and managed to win thanks to a goal from Pak Doo-ik. This eliminated the Italian team in the most notable victory in North Korean football history.
6 Senegal 1-0 France (2002)
Before the 2002 World Cup, the French team was at the top. They had won the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 Euro Cup, so they entered the 2002 tournament with very high expectations.
Senegal must not have gotten the message. They worked hard and through diligent effort got into an effective cross. Bouba Diop, the Senegalese striker, had his first shot saved by the goalkeeper, but on his second attempt, his team took the lead. Diop unveiled an iconic celebration, taking off his shirt next to the corner flag and dancing with his teammates.
Senegal have had other famous victories, but this is the first that showed what they could do on the world stage. On the other hand, France failed to make it out of the group stage. In fact, he could not score a goal in any of his three matches (Denmark, Uruguay, Senegal). Senegal continues to produce top-class players and has greatly enhanced its footballing reputation, in many ways, thanks to this famous victory.
5 Cuba 2-1 Romania (1938)
Cuba is the only team on this list that did not actually qualify. Instead, Mexico withdrew from the 1938 World Cup and Cuba took its place. Unsurprisingly, they were considered serious underdogs compared to the Romanian team.
Romania took an early lead with a 35th-minute goal from Stefan Dobay. Going into halftime, the Cuban team was still behind. However, after half time, the Cubans showed real fighting spirit. By minute 60, the Cuban team had taken the lead, with goals from Héctor Socorro and Carlos Oliveira.
In their only World Cup appearance, the Cubans posted a victory against Romania. Unfortunately, the Cinderella story ended and Cuba lost 8-0 to Sweden in the quarterfinals.
4 East Germany 1-0 West Germany (1974)
The next match on our list is truly unique and took place at the 1974 World Cup in West Germany. It was so unique because it had political ramifications. After World War II, Germany was divided into East Germany and West Germany. The western part was controlled by democratic nations, while communist Russia controlled the eastern part of Germany.
As hosts, West Germany was considered the serious favourite. However, the East Germans stunned the world and cruised to victory, with a 77th-minute goal from Jurgen Sparwasser and staunch defense to keep the West German team goalless. However, the West Germans had the last laugh as they won the tournament with a 2-1 win over the Netherlands.
3 Cameroon 1-0 Argentina (1990)
Argentina won the 1986 World Cup, and many people considered them to be among the best teams in the world. They were led by one of the most famous footballers, Diego Maradona. Maradona was well known and celebrated in Italy (the host nation) for his club career.
Cameroon was not intimidated and came ready to play aggressively. His aggression paid off in the 67th minute when Francois Omam-Biyik scored. The Cameroonians continued to work hard to maintain their lead, even picking up two red cards in the process.
Cameroon showed excellent team spirit despite only having nine men at the end of the game. They held on, eventually becoming the first African team in World Cup history to reach the quarterfinals of a tournament. Argentina was eventually knocked out by their South American rivals Brazil in the round of 16. An African team beating the defending World Cup champion would be incredible by today’s standards, but in 1990, it was truly incredible.
2 Algeria 2-1 West Germany (1982)
It is safe to assume that Germany are the favorites in almost all World Cup competitions. They are a consistently organized team with elite athletes. This was definitely the case at the 1982 World Cup in Spain.
Algeria, on the other hand, made its debut in the World Cup. They certainly made it worth their while with two second half goals to keep the West Germans at bay. They scored on 54 minutes and just seconds after the German equalizer on 68 minutes. While this was undoubtedly a memorable and iconic victory for the Algerians, you have to give the West German side credit. They bounced back from the loss and reached the World Cup final, only to lose to a strong Italian team.
1 Saudi Arabia 2-1 Argentina (2022)
The last game on our list is also the most recent and will be played at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Argentina came from a victory in the Copa América. Argentina’s team was full of talent, including Lionel Messi, widely considered the greatest player of all time, but certainly in the modern game.
Unsurprisingly, Argentina entered the game as the heavy favourite. However, Saudi Arabia had other ideas. Argentina scored early through a Messi penalty kick. Saudi Arabia continued to work hard and scored two quick goals from Saleh Alshehri and Salem Aldawsari. Despite the best efforts of the Argentine team, Saudi Arabia held on to claim a famous victory.
However, things ended up evening out in the tournament. Argentina ultimately won not only their group but the entire tournament. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia went from a moment of glory to being eliminated in the group stage.
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