The 2022 World Cup has already had some stunning results, including some all-time upsets that are just the latest in a long line of shocking results.
Here’s a brief history of some of the greatest upsets in World Cup history.
You’ve probably heard about this one.
Despite their arrogance over their establishment of association football, England did not participate in a World Cup until 1950. Drawn into a group with Spain, Chile, and the United States, they were seen as outright favorites to advance to the next stage of the competition.
They beat Chile in their opener, and were heavy favorites over the US going into the second game. There were supposedly papers printed and ready in England claiming victory over the US before the match had been played. After all, they were on a tear since football resumed post-World War II, and the US team consisted entirely of semi-professional players.
The Americans came to play, though, scoring a goal late in the first half through Joseph Gaetjens’ header. The crowd of Brazilian locals backed them from the start and grew in support as well once the word had spread that the Americans had taken the lead going into halftime. By the end, the crowd was in full voice cheering the Americans, who held on against several waves of attacks before the final whistle blew.
England’s embarrassment wasn’t done yet, as they were eliminated with a loss to Spain in their final group match. Spain advanced as group champions, with the US losing against Chile in their final match. Only one American journalist even bothered to travel to Brazil for the tournament, doing so on his own time and money as his newspaper refused to pay for the trip. The sport just didn’t really catch on, and the US wouldn’t appear at another World Cup until they hosted in 1994.
Another World Cup debutant with little to no experience against teams with developed football infrastructure, DPR Korea had a tough hand dealt to them in Group 4 at the 1966 World Cup. They were defeated by the Soviet Union in their opening game, and drew with Chile (they’re not done popping up in the periphery) to set up an all-important third match against then two-time champion Italy.
What followed was a disciplined and defensive performance against the Italians. The style was remarked to reflect military training, and it held the heavily favored Italians scoreless. Pak Doo-ik scored the only goal of the match, giving his team the upset and winning the hearts of the English fans in attendance.
The Korean team of mystery and intrigue captured the attention of the English fans, with citizens of Middlesbrough welcoming them and embracing them in their victory. They were invited out to celebrate as well as hosted by locals. They were a remarkable story at the tournament and became the first-ever Asian team to advance to the quarter-finals of the competition. They even went up 3-0 on contenders Portugal in half an hour before the great Eusebio scored four goals in a five-goal comeback performance to send the Koreans home.
This is potentially the biggest upset in World Cup history given the disparity between the two teams. By this point professional football in Europe still wasn’t exactly providing a luxurious lifestyle to players, but there was still a clear difference in the level of development and investment that gave Europeans the upper hand. West Germany in particular was considered far above most other nations when it came to football.
Even in that context, the team Algeria sent to the 1982 World Cup wasn’t even considered a threat by most teams, and certainly not by the West Germans, who were blatant with their insults leading up to the match. Players joked about how many goals they would score against the Algerians, with one joke saying they’d dedicate the seventh goal to their wives and the eighth to their dogs.
Algeria responded by playing quick and precise attacking football to force the Germans on their back foot. A Rabah Madjer goal gave them a shocking lead before Karl Heinz Rummenigge equalized. With that, the impression was they would go on to win, but the Algerians strung together a remarkable move from the restart to set up Lakhdar Belloumi for the eventual winning goal.
It was an incredible result for Algeria that shocked the football world, but what followed in the group was a dirty and unsportsmanlike response. West Germany faced Austria in their final group game, with the Germans needing a win and the Austrians needing only to not lose by more than one goal to advance. After an early German goal, both teams passed the ball around to kill the rest of the game. Algeria could only watch on as the tasteless display eliminated them from the competition.
While Senegal is now well known as a footballing nation, with star players in some of the world’s top leagues, the current African Cup of Nations holders were given no chance at the 2002 World Cup to beat imperious France. The defending World Cup and Euro winners boasted a Galacticos-level national team squad, and appeared to have an easy group to deal with on their quest for a third successive major tournament win.
In a tense opening match, Senegal continued to force mistakes and create chances. They were confident and ready for the reigning champs.
Eventually, a cross fell for Bouba Diop, whose first attempt was saved by Fabien Barthez, only for Diop to muscle past Emmanuel Petit to tap home the rebound. He then famously placed his shirt on the ground next to the corner flag as his teammates joined him to dance and embrace after taking the lead over the reigning champions.
This match was famous for starting the trend of defending World Cup champions failing to make it out of their group. In fact, France wouldn’t even score one goal in the competition, eliminated with just one point from a goalless draw with Uruguay. Senegal and Denmark advanced out of the group, with the former advancing as far as the quarterfinals before losing to Turkey 1-0.
Drawn into a group with England, Italy, and Uruguay, very few gave Costa Rica a chance to advance at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
But Costa Rica had other plans.
They came out and blitzed Uruguay in their opening game, winning 3-1 over a side some gave an outside chance of winning the whole thing. They followed this up with a 1-0 win over four-time champions Italy, who were knocked out of the group stage for a second consecutive tournament. Costa Rica’s confidence and organization made them a difficult matchup, and they nearly played their way into the semifinals, only losing in the last eight on penalties against the Netherlands.
Costa Rica certainly weren’t without talent, but their key players such as Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz were hardly household names. Goalkeeper Keylor Navas put himself on the map with his heroics, and earned a move to Real Madrid in the following transfer window where he became one of the best goalkeepers in the game.
Argentina arrived in Qatar as favorites alongside Brazil to win the World Cup. As reigning Copa America champions they came into the tournament with a reputation for physical, organized defending under boss Lionel Scaloni, as well as possessing remarkable attacking talent with Lautauro Martinez, Angel Di Maria, and one Lionel Messi.
While Argentina would still manage to win their group, their arrival in the tournament was less than ideal despite being heavily favored against Saudi Arabia.
Argentina took the lead after an early penalty conversion by Messi, and looked comfortable to add to that with three goals disallowed for offside among other chances created. They lost all control in the second half, though, and Saudi Arabia struck as fast as lightning to equalize and take the lead. Saleh Alshehri and Salem Aldawsari’s goals stunned the Argentines, and forced Scaloni to make changes. While he threw on more creators and forward-thinking players, the team still found no answer other than long balls and crosses against a Saudi team that defended superbly. Goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais came up with a couple big saves toward the end to seal the win.
It was only a one-hit wonder performance from the Saudi team, but one for the record books.
The final, and most recent entry is one that is still being debated and discussed.
Japan, somehow, topped a group with both Germany and Spain. While neither previous champion has fully found themselves again since their most successful iterations from 2010 and 2014, there was very little time spent worrying about who were the consensus favorites to advance to the group stage. In the end, both took hits, with Germany suffering the embarrassment of early elimination.
The Germans led 1-0 against Japan in the opening match of their group, and looked as though they would add to their advantage. Japan grew into the match as the second half went on, however, and by the time Ritsu Doan equalized had started to look the more threatening team. Substitute Takuma Asano had helped breathe new life into the match, and the energy with which Japan attacked so late in the game caught the Germans off guard. Asano would bag the winner in the 83rd minute, sending Germany into panic mode as they played desperately to equalize before the final whistle sealed the upset.
That itself would have been an accomplishment for Japan, but on the brink of elimination, they struck again.
Spain went up 1-0 through an Alvaro Morata goal, only for Japan to once again hit with two goals in close succession. Doan again provided an equalizer for the Blue Samurai before a controversial goal from Ao Tanaka put them in front. Kaoru Mitoma kept the play alive, playing the ball back after it had started to cross the goal line to the right of the Spanish goal. Goal line technology and VAR confirmed that despite appearances, the entirety of the ball had not crossed, and therefore the play was alive when Mitoma played it.
Though Spain pressed for an equalizer deep into stoppage time they were unable to score, and with Germany in control of their game Spain were confirmed second place in the group. Japan, remarkably, topped the group with six points from their two upset games.