Today, we will talk about the biggest upsets in World Cup history. The Qatar World Cup 2022 will begin in a couple of weeks, and football fans are gearing up to be entertained by the best teams in the world. There are the big dogs and the underdogs. World Cup fixtures are often unpredictable; you can predict who will win based on history. But you might be holding your head with your hands as you watch your ticket cut because the so-called underdog team won the big team.
This is the fun of football. It’s both exhilarating and heartbreaking, and the World Cup offers both in abundance. In anticipation of Qatar 2022, let’s look at the top 10 biggest upsets in World Cup history.
Top 11 biggest upsets in World Cup history
11. Cuba 2 – 1 Romania (1938)
One of the earliest upsets in World Cup history happened in 1938 when a small Island country Cuba faced off against a more experienced Romania in the round of 16. Note that Cuba wasn’t even supposed to be in the tournament in the first place. But they got their chance when Mexico withdrew. The Cuban squad, who had earlier played a 3-3 draw against the Romanian squad, were not even expected to score a goal in the round of 16. But they surprised everyone when they beat their fan-favourite opponents 2-1, knocking them out of the tournament.
10. Senegal 1 – 0 France (2002)
The 2002 World Cup in Japan was one of the best in African history. Senegal, who had qualified for the tournament for the first time, pulled one of the biggest upsets by defeating World champions France 1-0 in the opening game. Senegalese legend Papa Bouba Diop pulled this miracle in the 30th minute of the game to cement his name as one of the greatest footballers to come out of the African continent.
9. East Germany 1 – 0 West Germany (1974)
Remember that this was in the 70s, and East Germany and West Germany were political rivals. So, this particular fixture was a politically charged affair. In football history, East Germany stood no chance with their better rivals, who had gone ahead to win the World Cup in 1954 and finished second in 1966. West Germany hosted the 1974 World Cup, and the team was expected to wipe the floor with their Eastern rivals. However, the painful opposite was the case as East Germany defeated the hosts 1-0 in the group stage. But this only spurred the West Germany squad to win the tournament for the second time.
8. Bulgaria 2 – 1 Germany (1994)
Few could have predicted the eventual turnout of the game between Bulgaria and Germany. Germany was gearing up to enter the fourth World Cup final when they were unexpectedly knocked out in the quarterfinals by the underdogs. Lothar Matthaus had put the Germans in front with a 47th-minute goal, but Hristo Stoichkov equalised for the Bulgarians in the 75th minute. Yordan Letchkov’s volley in the 78th cemented the Bulgarian team’s place in the semi-finals and ended the German team’s time in the tournament.
7. Korea Republic 2 – 1 Italy (2002)
The game between Korea and Italy proves that home advantage in football is real. South Korea was the tournament’s co-host, but the team was not expected to reach the semifinals. But they proved everyone wrong as Jung-Hwan scored the winning goal after extra time to book his team’s place in the next round. However, South Korea’s win was controversial after Italy’s Francesco Totti was sent off two minutes before the end of the extra time.
6. North Korea 1 – 0 Italy (1966)
Long before the Azurri encountered their humiliating defeat at the hands of the South Koreans, the North Koreans had the honour first. North Korea, making its first appearance as an independent nation, beat the two-time World champions in Middlesbrough. Also, North Korea was the first Asian side to qualify for the tournament. Italy, who were already struggling in the group stages, were confident that they would beat the World Cup debutants who had previously lost to the Soviet Union and managed a draw with Chile. And then, the unthinkable happened Pak Do-ik struck the winning goal to hand the Italians an early exit from the tournament. This caused outrage in Italy.
5. Algeria 2 – 1 West Germany (1982)
This was Algeria’s first-ever World Cup, and it ended in the group stage. However, they didn’t make it easy for West Germany as the African side outplayed the Germans, who had seriously underestimated them. Lakhdar Belloumi scored the winning goal in the 68th minute, but it wasn’t enough to keep the North Africans in the tournament. West Germany and Austria qualified for the next round after playing a draw. Many questioned the style of qualification after watching Algeria play with passion and skill in the historic game that gave them victory over the tournament’s favourites.
4. West Germany 3 – 2 Hungary (1954)
To the millennials and Gen-Zers, West Germany beating Hungary is not a big deal. But this was 1954, and Hungary was the indabosky bahose of football at the time, As in, the Hungarian team had not lost a match in four years before the World Cup. On the other hand, West Germany was already established as a footballing giant, but the country was coming out of a devastating second World War.
The Germans had already been thrashed 8-3 by the formidable ‘Mighty Magyars’ and weren’t expected to win them when they faced off again in the finals. Hungary showed their strength by scoring twice inside eight minutes. But 20 minutes later, West Germany was level. And then Helmut Rahn’s second goal of the match gave the Germans their first-ever World Cup title. Funny enough or not, Hungary has not qualified past the quarterfinals since then.
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3. Cameroon 1 – 0 Argentina (1990)
Italia ’90 saw the defending champions, Argentina, taste an upsetting defeat at the hands of Cameroon in the group stage. The African side was making their second appearance at the World Cup and defeated the Argentina side featuring Diego Maradona, Jorge Burruchaga and other team members that previously became world champions. Even more remarkably, Cameroon picked up two red cards and still went ahead to defeat the champions when Francois Omam-Biyik scored the match’s only goal in the 67th minute.
2. USA 1 – 0 England (1950)
The United States was not known to be a footballing nation then and not now. But the rag-tag team of 1950 defeated the self-proclaimed kings of the sport, England in Brazil. England were the favourites to win the tournament and were expected to sweep out the US side in the group stage. However, Joseph Gaetjens, a Haiti-born dishwasher, only ever scored one goal for the USA, stunning the Three Lions and the world at large.
1. Uruguay 2 – 1 Brazil (1950)
The 1950 World Cup is best remembered for Brazil’s shocking defeat to Uruguay in the finals. Brazil, the host, had practically celebrated a World Cup win, but hundreds of thousands of fans in the stadium ended up witnessing what became known as the Tragedy of the Maracaña. Brazil was already leading in the second half, but a pair of goals from Uruguayans Juan Alberto “Pepe” Schiaffino and Alcides Ghiggia killed the Brazilian fans’ joy. At the sound of the final whistle, Uruguay, the underdogs and noisy neighbours, celebrated the greatest moment in football history. Uruguayan fans still tease Brazil about it today.