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Top 10 biggest upsets in FIFA World Cup history

Since the first World Cup was held in 1930, the event has produced many of football’s greatest-ever moments. The top athletes performing on the biggest stage is what matters most.

However, the World Cup is much more than that, and competition football has historically been a powerful equalizer. The underdogs occasionally pull off the kind of upsets that no one could have foreseen before kickoff, so things don’t always go as planned.

Here is the list of those top craziest surprises in World Cup history:

Brazil 2-1 Uruguay: 1950

In 1950, when Brazil hosted the World Cup for the first time in a country obsessed with football, it appeared to be their divine right to triumph. It was evident they had been the greatest team throughout the entire tournament by the time they faced Uruguay in the championship game, which wasn’t really a final as we would think of it today due to the somewhat odd round-robin system.

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But if they could defeat Brazil, Uruguay, who had previously won the first World Cup in 1930, also had a chance to win it again. However, the hosts held a significant enough lead that they simply needed a draw to win the game overall.

Early in the second half, Brazil, which scores 4.2 goals per game, broke through and appeared to be headed for World Cup victory. Alcides Ghiggia, who was still surviving until 2015, scored another goal at the Maracana to break Brazil’s hearts after Uruguay had equalized.

Spain 0-1 Switzerland: 2010

Spain’s victory in the 2010 World Cup ensured that Madrid would serve as the host city for both the European and world championships during La Roja’s dominant run. However, the 2010 campaign for the Euro 2008 champions in South Africa got off to a difficult start when they suffered a shocking loss to Switzerland.

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The former Manchester City player Gelson Fernandes scored the game’s lone goal early in the second half of Spain’s inaugural match. Spain overcame the shock loss by winning six straight games, including all four of their knockout games by a score of 1-0. Spain ultimately won the championship.

Netherlands 5-1 Spain: 2014

Spain was clearly one of the greatest teams in football history by 2014, having won each of their previous three international competitions going back to 2008. They were no longer at their best, but the Netherlands unexpectedly brutally exposed that and also exacted some retaliation for 2010 final.

Although Spain did lead at the break, the persistent and adaptable Dutch 3-5-2 structure was met with no resistance. After Robin van Persie’s daring and famous diving header gave the Netherlands the lead, they continued to dominate and score goals.

West Germany 3-2 Hungary: 1954

In the World Cup 1954 final, West Germany was the underdog against Hungary’s ‘Magical Magyar’ generation, which comprised players like Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocis, and Nandor Hidegkuti at their pinnacle.

The two had previously advanced past the tournament’s group round, and a raging Hungary won 8-3, tallying three goals in the game’s opening 21 minutes. In the championship match, Hungary once more jumped off to an early lead thanks to goals from Puskas and Zoltan Czibor, who both scored just six minutes.

With less than a quarter of the game remaining, though, the Germans reacted and the score was back to 2-2. In the end, Helmut Rahn secured victory for West Germany.

Scotland 3-2 Netherlands: 1978

Scotland had previously qualified for the World Cup in 1954, 1958, and 1974, so by 1978, they were no newcomers to it. However, nothing about them signaled that they would be a challenge to the 1974 champions Netherlands.

The Dutch were a highly talented side with world-class players even without Johan Cruyff at the World Cup that year. Scotland, on the other hand, had only won one point in its opening matches against Iran and Peru.

The eventual 1978 finalists were defeated three times by a brilliant Scottish performance, highlighted by a brace from Archie Gemmill that included one of history’s great World Cup goals.

East Germany 1-0 West Germany: 1974

Even though they were previously part of the same nation, West Germany and East Germany did not match up well on the football field. There was only one winner anticipated as they faced off in the 1974 World Cup on German soil.

The Western team was loaded with superstars, many of whom, like Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller, had recently started a run of dominance in the European Cup with Bayern Munich. The East’s players, on the other hand, were not well-known.

Because of this, Jurgen Sparwasser’s victory was all the more unexpected, and it even sent East Germany to the top of the first-round group standings. Nevertheless, West Germany bounced back and ultimately won the trophy.

Spain 0-1 Northern Ireland: 1982

Spain did not perform exceptionally well at the 1982 World Cup. After losing to Northern Ireland in the first round, they barely made it into the second group stage before bowing out of the competition on their home turf.

Gerry Armstrong, who ironically went on to have a successful post-playing career as a pundit and co-commentator in Spanish football, scored the lone goal in Northern Ireland’s greatest-ever sporting achievement. It was the first time any Irish side had qualified for a World Cup. Mal Donaghy, who would eventually play for Manchester United, was dismissed, and Northern Ireland even played the final 30 minutes with 10 players.

South Korea 2-1 Italy: 2002

By the time South Korea co-hosted the World Cup with Japan in 2002, they had established themselves as regulars but had yet to claim a victory in any of the five prior competitions. Much just beating Poland was a significant accomplishment, and defeating Portugal to win the group was even more powerful.

Despite losing to Italy in the round of 16, that team would still be remembered as national heroes. But South Korea went even further in a highly contentious match that saw Francesco Totti receive a second yellow card for diving and an Italy goal disallowed for offside.

The Italian superstars were eliminated after Ahn Jung-hwan scored the game-winning goal in the 117th minute. Uncomfortably, Ahn was playing club football for Perugia at the time, and an enraged owner terminated his contract the next day. Even so, this was not Italy’s worst World Cup loss to a Korean team.

Argentina 1-2 Saudi Arabia: 2022

Argentina, who had not lost in 36 international contests, was among the favorites to win the 2022 World Cup as they began to play. Lionel Messi and the company should not have felt threatened by Saudi Arabia, which FIFA ranks outside the top 50 nations in the world.

It appeared to be proceeding according to plan as well. Argentina dominated the first half and repeatedly scored, but an offside flag disqualified them. The only difference at halftime was Messi’s penalty from the first half.

However, Saudi Arabia started the second half as a different squad and scored virtually right away through Saleh Al-Shehri. After scoring a great second goal, Salem Al-Sawsari, the underdogs managed to hang on for more than 40 minutes.

Argentina 0-1 Cameroon: 1990

Even worse, in 1990, after Diego Maradona led the Albiceleste to victory in 1986, Argentina entered as the host nation and fell to a Cameroon team that no one had given a chance.

The match that elevated 38-year-old Roger Milla to the status of a World Cup icon wasn’t this one. His time would come later in the competition because he was on the bench and only entered in the waning moments.

The game-changing play was instead Francois Omam-thunderous Biyik’s header, which slid under goalkeeper Nery Pumpido’s body. Late in the game, Benjamin Massing was also dismissed for what may be considered an assault on Claudio Cannigia.

USA 1-0 England: 1950

England finally embraced the international game in 1950, although they were defeated by a USA team made up of amateur players. England had first refused to even join FIFA and had not participated in any of the first three World Cups throughout the 1930s.

Even though the United States came in second that day, England was unable to overcome goalkeeper Frank Borghi’s outstanding performance. Meanwhile, Joe Gaetjens, an American forward, scored the game’s decisive goal.

Since the World Cup was not televised at the time, it was long believed that when newspaper editors back home received word of the outcome, they decided it must have been an error and reported it as a 10-1 victory instead. However, that allegation has since been debunked.

France 0-1 Senegal: 2002

France was one of the few teams in history to hold both the World Cup and the European Championship championships at the same time in 2002 after dominating for the previous four years. Since 1992, they hadn’t truly lost a game in 90 or 120 minutes at a big tournament.

But on a memorable day in Seoul in May 2002, a golden generation of Senegal players changed everything. Due to Zinedine Zidane’s injury, France was taken off guard by a Senegal team that was motivated by the occasion. The Lions of Teranga celebrated as if they had won the cup after the late Papa Bouba Diop scored the only goal.

Italy 0-1 North Korea: 1966

Before 1966, North Korea had never participated in the World Cup, while Italy had—albeit three decades earlier—won it twice and still had many of the best players in the world, including some who had just helped Inter win back-to-back European Cups.

North Korea was defeated by the Soviet Union, while Italy defeated Chile in their opening match. The Soviet Union defeated Italy as well, but the Koreans fared better after drawing with Chile.

When they faced off in the final group game at Middlesbrough, everything was still up for grabs. Pak Doo-ik’s goal in the first half and North Korea’s ability to hold on were nonetheless a remarkable shock. Italy was eliminated, and when their athletes returned home, they were attacked with tomatoes.

Brazil 1-7 Germany: 2014

Although Germany eventually defeated Argentina in the championship match, they were more than deserving champions of the 2014 World Cup as a whole, therefore it wasn’t the outcome that made this the biggest World Cup shock in history.

However, no one could have ever foreseen how lopsided the semi-final would be against a Brazil team playing on home territory and with hopes that they would win the trophy and atone for the pain they had experienced the last time they hosted in 1950 by winning.

The world watched in shock as Germany sprinted to a 5-0 lead in less than 30 minutes while Brazil fans sobbed both inside the stadium and at home. In the second half, the goals came less often, but it was still 7-0 when Brazil scored even a consolation goal at the very end.

Read: Liverpool sporting director Julian Ward to leave at the end of 22/23


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