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football | Tuesday, November 1, 2022 3:37 PM (Revised at: Monday, December 5, 2022 1:21 PM)

The World Cup's Biggest Upsets: A Brief History of World Cup Shocks

The World Cup's Biggest Upsets: A Brief History of World Cup Shocks
BSR Agency / Alamy Stock Photo

While the giants of world football tend to dominate the history of World Cup football, it isn’t always smooth sailing. Upsets occur at the World Cup more often than you might suspect.

In fact since 1998, there have been a total of 19 teams that began a World Cup match at odds of 5.00 or larger that went on to win the match with at least 2 such teams winning in each World Cup from 1998 to 2018.

But what are the biggest upsets in World Cup history?

In this article:

In this article I will be taking a look at the biggest shocks in the history of the World Cup. I’ll begin by taking a look at the biggest upsets before the modern betting era, before the age where odds were widely available online, from 1994 and earlier.

Then I’ll take a look at the ten biggest upsets results based on bookmaker odds from 1998 onwards.


World Cup’s Biggest Upets: Before Modern Betting Era

Let’s first take a stroll through the entire history of the World Cup up until 1994. What have been the biggest World Cup shock results from 1930 to 1994? I’ve listed the ten biggest upsets at the World Cup in chronalogical order:

1938. Cuba defeats Romania (3-3) 2-1

Cuba entered the 1938 World Cup thanks to Mexico withdrawing. Opening round of the 1938 World Cup saw Cuba face Romania, a match up that took a replay and a total of 9 goals to decide.

After drawing 2-2 in normal time in the opening match, each nation would score in extra time to set up the replay. The replay saw the Romanian’s open the scoring before the Cubans scored twice in the second half to progress to the next round.

The Cuban’s fortunes would be short lived, conceding eight goals to Sweden in the following round.

1950. USA defeats England, 1-0

After losing to Spain in their opening group match, the USA faced England, a match the English desperately needed in a group format that saw only group winners progress to the second stage of the tournament. The USA would cause the upset thanks to a single goal from Joe Gaetjens in the 38th minute.

The USA would still finish bottom of their group thanks to losses to Spain and Chile in the final round of the group stage.

Watch official FIFA highlights of 1950 USA vs England

1950. Uruguay defeats Brazil, 2-1

The USA’s win over England was not the last major upset of the 1950 World Cup. One of the biggest upsets of them all saw Uruguay defeat hosts Brazil in the final to claim the 1950 World Cup.

Brazil took the lead just after halftime with Friaça putting the hosts up 1-0. But the Uruguayians were not to be denied, with Juan Alberto Schiaffino scoring in the 66th minute before Alcides Ghiggia would give Uruguay a lead they would not surrender 13 minutes later.

Watch offical FIFA highlights of 1950 Uruguay vs Brazil

1954. West Germany defeats Hungary, 3-2

The second round group match between the two nations saw Hungary smash the West Germans 8-3. Few gave the West Germans a chance when they met again the final, especially when the favoured Hungarians opened a 2-0 lead after just eight minutes of play.

But the West Germans responded immediately thanks to Max Morlock in the 10th minute and Helmut Rahn in the 18th. The score would remain 2-2, before Rahn would score his second in the 84th minute giving the Germans an unlikely World Cup title.

Watch official FIFA highlights of 1954 West Germany vs Hungary

1966. North Korea defeats Italy, 1-0

A match that would ultimately see the Italian eliminated from the 1966 World Cup. North Korea scored late in the opening half thanks to Pak Doo-ik. The North Koreans would hold on to claim second place in Group 4.

North Korean then took a 3-0 lead against Portugal in the quarter finals before conceding five goals to the Portuguese, losing 3-5.

Watch official FIFA highlights of 1966 North Korea vs Italy

1974. East Germany defeats West Germany, 1-0

A battle for top spot in Group 1 (and much more) was at stake when hosts West Germany met East Germany in the group round of the 1974 World Cup. The match would remain tied until the 77th minute when East Germany’s Jürgen Sparwasser would score the only goal of the match.

The result would see East Germany progress to the second group stage where they would be eliminated following losses to both Brazil and the Netherlands.

Watch official FIFA highlights of 1974 East Germany vs West Germany

1982. Northern Ireland defeats Spain, 1-0

Hosts generally perform above expectations at World Cups. This was not the case in 1982 when Northern Ireland upset Spain in their final group match. Northern Ireland’s Gerry Armstrong would score the only goal of the match shortly after halftime. The result would see Northern Ireland go on to top Group 5, with hosts Spain taking 2nd place.

Northern Ireland progressed to the second group stage, drawing with Austria 2-2 before losing to France 4-1.

Watch official FIFA highlights of 1982 Northern Ireland vs Spain

1982. Algeria defeats West Germany, 2-1.

Following a scoreless opening half, Algeria would score first thanks to Rabah Madjer’s 54th minute goal. Karl Heinz Rummenigge would reply 13 minutes before Lakhdar Belloumi’s immediate response in the 68th minute.

Despite group stage victories over both West Germany and Chile, Algeria would fail to qualify for the second group stage.

Watch official FIFA highlights of 1982 Algeria vs West Germany

1990. Cameroon defeats Argentina, 1-0

Few gave Cameroon a chance when they opened Group B action with defending World Cup title holders Argentina in 1990. But it would take only a François Omam-Biyik goal in the 67th minute to get the job done.

The result would help Cameroon top the group, progressing to a knockout stage meeting with Colombia. They would advance 2-1 after extra time before giving England a fright in the quarter finals, taking the English team to extra time, losing 2-3.

Watch official FIFA highlights of 1990 Cameroon vs Argentina

1994. Bulgaria defeats Germany, 2-1

Defending World Cup winners Germany booked their ticket to the quarter finals of the 1994 World Cup with a 3-2 win over Belgium while Bulgaria required extra time and penalties to progress past Mexico.

The Germans opened the scoring thanks to a Lothar Matthaus penalty shortly after halftime. But the Bulgarians would score twice in quick succession, firstly Hristo Stoichkov in the 75th minute before Yordan Letchkov put the favoured Germans on the back foot with a second goal in the 78th minute.

Bulgaria would advance to the semi finals, losing to eventual runners up Italy 2-1.

Watch official FIFA highlights of 1994 Bulgaria vs Germany


World Cup’s Biggest Upsets: Modern Betting Era

Some of the biggest upsets in World Cup history have occurred since the World Cup in France, 1998. Here’s the top 10, ranked by pre match odds. In fact the only World Cup that doesn’t appear on this list is the World Cup of 2006.

#10. Mexico defeats Germany, 1-0, 2018

Mexico Odds: 7.30

The disaster that was Germany’s 2018 World Cup title defence began with a 1-0 loss to Mexico. Hirving Lozano scored for the Mexicans in the 35th minute giving the underdogs a lead they would not surrender.

The result helped Mexico finish 2nd in the group. They would run into Brazil in the Round of 16, going down by the score of 2-0.

Watch official FIFA highlights 2018 Mexico vs Germany

#9. USA defeats Portugal, 3-2, 2002

USA Odds: 7.40

The USA met Portugal in their opening match of the 2002 World Cup. In a match that would see a total of five goals, the USA opening the scoring in just the 4th minute thanks to John O’Brien. They would extend the lead to 2-0 in the 29th minute thanks to an own goal before taking a commanding 3-0 lead in the 36th minute with Brian McBride scoring.

The USA would finish second in Group D ,continuing their run with 2-0 victory over Mexico in the Round of 16. They would face Germany in the quarter finals, going down 1-0.

Watch official FIFA highlights 2002 USA vs Portugal

#8. Costa Rica defeats Japan, 1-0, 2022

Costa Rica Odds: 7.45

Few gave Costa Rica a chance following their shock victory over Germany in the opening round of the 2022 World Cup group stage (the 9th biggest upset in modern World Cup history). But Costa Rica would cause the upset with Keysher Fuller scoring in the 81st minute giving Costa Rica a lead they would not surrender.

Costa Rica began the match at average odds of 7.45 and a best price of 8.20, flipping the script in Group E.

Watch official FIFA highlights 2022 Costa Rica vs Japan

#7. Australia defeats Denmark, 1-0, 2022

Australia Odds: 7.50

Australia kept their knockout stage qualification hopes alive with a 1-0 victory over Tunisia in the second round of Group D action at the 2022 World Cup. Needing a victory or a draw to earn qualification, Australia would score in the 60th minutes thanks to Mathew Leckie, giving Australia a win and a date in the knockout stage with Argentina while Denmark would be eliminated, scoring just 1 goal through the group stage.

Australia began the match at average odds of 7.50, and a best price of 8.70 to cause the upset.

Watch official FIFA highlights 2022 Australia vs Denmark

#6. Cameroon defeats Brazil, 1-0, 2022

Cameroon Odds: 8.70

Although they were almost certainly assured qualification for the knockout stage, Brazil entered their third round group match with Cameroon at the short odds of 1.36 to get the victory.

Cameroon would cause the upset thanks to Vincent Aboubakar’s goal in the second minute of added time, giving Cameroon the shock result. Cameroon began the match at average odds of 8.70 to get the win and a best price of 11.0.

Watch official FIFA highlights 2022 Cameroon vs Brazil

#5. Costa Rica defeats Uruguay, 3-1, 2014

Costa Rica Odds: 9.00

Group D action in 2014 would get off to a wild start with Costa Rica putting Uruguays knockout stage hopes well on the back foot. Uruguay opened the scoring with an Edinson Cavani penalty in the 24th minute. Trailing 1-0 at the half, Costa Rica would score three times in the second 45 minutes.

Costa Rica would top the group (thanks to their previously mentioned victory over Italy in the final group match). They progressed past Greece on penalties in the Round of 16 before being eliminated in the same fashion by Netherlands in the quarter finals.

Watch official FIFA highlights 2014 Costa Rica vs Uruguay

#4. Senegal defeats France, 1-0, 2002

Senegal Odds: 9.10

France’s 2002 World Cup title defence got off to a lets say rocky start with a loss to heavy underdogs Senegal. It would take only a 30th minute Papa Bouba Diop goal for Senegal to get the victory.

Senegal would finish 2nd in the group and progress by Sweden in the Round of 16 before being eliminated by Turkey in extra time in the quarter finals.

Watch official FIFA highlights 2002 Senegal vs France

#3. Switzerland defeats Spain, 1-0, 2010

Switzerland Odds: 14.00

Spain’s 2010 World Cup title run didn’t get off to a smooth start, losing 1-0 to Switzerland. The Swiss entered the match at the long odds of 14.00 (best price of 17.00) and received +1.5 goals in the Asian handicap market. Gelson Fernandes scored shortly after halftime to give the Swiss the 1-0 lead they would not concede.

While Spain recovered to win the 2010 World Cup, Switzerland would fail to reach the knockout stage, finishing 3rd in the group.

Watch official FIFA highlights 2010 Switzerland vs Spain

#2. South Korea defeats Germany, 2-0, 2018

South Korea Odds: 18.60

We return again to Germany’s 2018 World Cup defence. The Germans needed a win in the final group match to progress to the knockout stage and heading into their match with South Korea at odds of 1.16, a victory seemed all but certain for the reigning World Champions.

South Korea had other plans. Entering the match as 18.60 underdogs (best price of 23.00) South Korea would score twice in added time to eliminate Germany from the 2018 World Cup.

Despite the victory South Korea failed to reach the knockout stage finishing 3rd in the group.

Watch official FIFA highlights 2018 South Korea vs Germany

#1. Saudi Arabia defeats Argentina, 2-1, 2022

Saudi Arabia Odds :26.70

It only took to the third match day to see a major upset at the 2022 World Cup. And a major one it was.

In fact, Saudi Arabia’s win over Argentina is the biggest upset in the history of the World Cup.

Saud Arabia began the group stage match at odds of 26.70 and a best price of 35.0 to get the win. Trailing 1-0 at halftime, the underdogs were at odds 101.0 to get the win.

With two goals early in the second half, Saudi Arabia would hold on to record the win and the biggest upset in the history of the World Cup.

Watch official FIFA highlights 2022 Saudi Arabia vs Argentina


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