Continuing World Cup Month, we present the 10 biggest upsets in World Cup history.
We’ve seen some major upsets in Brazil this year – from tiny Costa Rica (population 4.5 million) reaching the Quarter Finals, to the holders Spain going out in the Group Stage. Here at Highsnobiety we’ve been inspired to dust off our history books and chart some of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. Take a look below for the 10 biggest upsets in World Cup history.
10. North Korea beats Italy 1-0 in 1966
North Korea is hardly known for its sporting prowess- unless, Wikipedia tells me, you’re a fan of Olympic weightlifting – but in 1966 they struck a blow that has gone down in history. At their first World Cup and faced with an Italian side that two years later would be European Champions, they pulled off the mother of all shocks, with Pak-Doo-Ik firing them to a 1-0 victory, and writing his name into the memories of thousands of British schoolboys.
9. Algeria beats Germany 2-1 in 1982
Before 1982, no African side had ever won a game at the World Cup. Algeria arrived with no expectations whatsoever and were immediately faced with a German team featuring the likes of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Paul Breitner.
It was a huge shock, then, when the Algerians took the lead. The Germans equalized but Lakhdar Belloumi went straight up the other end and put the Desert Foxes back in front. They clung on for a famous win, before being squeezed out of the Group Stage after “The Disgrace of Gijon,” where Germany and Austria conspired to a 1-0 result, which saw both through and the Algerians out, in one of the most shameful episodes in football history.
8. USA beats England 1-0 in 1950
It’s hard to overstate the gulf in class that existed between England and the United States in 1950. Despite the English appearing at their first World Cup – the FA had previously refused to stoop to the level of playing with Johnny Foreigner—they boasted some of the greatest players of the time, where as the Americans were mostly part-timers, drawn from local leagues in St Louis and Massachusetts. Stan Mortenson, Tom Finney and Will Mannion are still regarded amongst the legends of the British game but it was Joe Gaetjens, a Haitian-born dishwasher, who scored the only goal.
The Brazilian crowd, heavily backing the underdog Americans, was 10,000 strong at the start of the game, but swelled as locals, listening on the radio, rushed to the stadium as they heard of the chance of an upset. The English attacked in waves but goalkeeper Frank Borghi stood strong, holding out for a 1-0 victory.
7. East Germany beats West Germany 1-0 in 1974
In their home tournament, big brother and archenemy West Germany suffered an astounding defeat, in a Cold War proxy against near-neighbors East Germany. Due to the political system in the German Democratic Republic, players were not allowed to play outside the country, so they came into the tournament largely as an unknown quantity. West Germany, on the other hand, was full of internationally known stars.
The biggest star that night, however, was East Germany’s Jurgen Sparwasser, who scored the only goal of the game to shock the favorites and tournament hosts. Franz Beckenbauer, West German captain and star player, admitted later that without Sparwasser’s winning goal, his team may have remained complacent, but such was the political and sporting embarrassment, it galvanized the West Germans, spurring them on to eventual victory in 1974.
6. South Korea beats Italy 2-1 in 2002
In the DNA of a great upset is always controversy and no upset victory has been more controversial that South Korea’s Quarter Final defeat of Italy in 2002. The Koreans, on home soil and roared on by a partisan crowd, had battled through the Group Stage, but were faced with an Italian side that had been runners up in Euro 2000 and boasted some of Europe’s finest players.
One of those greats, Inter Milan striker Christian Vieri, put the Italians in front and in typical style, the Azzurri resolved to sit on their lead. They lasted out until the 88th minute but were finally broken when Seol-Ki-Hyeon capitalized on an error to equalize. The game went into golden-goal extra-time and the fun really started. Francesco Totti, Italy’s star man, was clearly fouled in the box but the referee instead called a dive and sent the striker off. Italy then had a golden goal disallowed for offside. Finally, two minutes from penalties, Ahn Jung-Hwan popped up to fire the Taeguek Warriors into the next round. The Italians were outraged, so much so that Ahn, who played for Perugia, was sacked by the Italian club and referee Byron Moreno never blew a whistle in the World Cup again.
5. Cameroon beats Argentina 1-0 in 1990
Known as the “Miracle of Milan,” the defending world champions Argentina – lead by the legendary Diego Maradona – suffered a surprising loss at the hands of unfancied Cameroon.
The underdog came into the game with a fairly obvious scheme to neutralize Maradona with some – ahem – robust defending. As a result, André Kana-Biyik saw red, but his brother François Omam-Biyik, rose to the occasion and scored the only goal in this game with a header that squirmed through the goalkeepers arms. The Cameroonians suffered another dismissal, Benjamin Massing going after one of football’s all-time funniest fouls but managed to battle on to a 1-0 victory, the first for a sub-Saharan African nation at the World Cup.
4. Senegal beats France 1-0 in 2002
Spain are far from the first world champions to get eliminated in the Group Stage four years after winning the title. France suffered the very same fate in 2002, losing the opener in tragic fashion against former colony Senegal. All 11 players on the Senegalese team were employed by clubs in France and the French fielded Patrick Viera, born in Dakar.
Papa Bouba Diop grabbed the only goal, bundling in from two yards and sparking another iconic African corner flag dance routine. The French couldn’t break down the Senegal defense and indeed failed to score at all at Japan/Korea 2002, resulting in a tournament that ended in disgrace for Les Bleus.
3. Ireland beats Italy 1-0 in 1994
The Ireland side that competed at USA ’94 were already well-loved back home, though perhaps more for their hard-playing, hard-partying style than their results record. Lead by maverick Englishman Jack Charlton, the rag-tag side of second-generation players from the English leagues and homegrown talents pulled off one of the great upsets, defeating an Italian side packed with world-class players.
In the heat of Giants Stadium, before a packed crowd of Irish and Italian Americans, Ray Houghton volleyed home from outside the box to give the Irish the lead, before a stunning rearguard action that kept Baggio and co at bay.
2. West Germany beats Hungary 3-2 in 1954
The idea of Germany as underdogs might seem unrealistic, but faced with the star Hungarian side of 1954 and competing in their first World Cup since the war, they most certainly were. They had battled to the final against the Mighty Magyars but were given no chance of success by almost everyone. Hungary had trounced them 8-3 in the Group Stage and were widely seen as the best team in the world, courtesy of the likes of Sandor Kocsis, Nandor Hidegkuti and their star, Ferenc Puskas.
The Germans, though, were nothing if not self-confident. The deluge that fell before the game gave them hope; they called it Fritz-Walter-Wetter after their captain, who claimed to play better in the rain. They had a secret weapon too, as Adi Dassler, of adidas fame, had kitted them out with brand-new boots, replete with exchangeable studs.
Equipped with these, the Germans felt lighter on their feet and proceeded to down the Hungarians 3-2 and depart with their first World title. The scoreboard, featuring the final result and the game clock stopped on 90 minutes, now stands proudly as a monument outside the Stade de Suisse, commemorating the biggest upset in German football history, Das Wunder von Bern: “The Miracle of Bern.”
1. Uruguay defeats Brazil 2-1 in 1950
This upset victory is one of the most remarkable for many reasons. In 1950, point totals were used to determine the winner, not a final, and Brazil needed only a draw against Uruguay to be crowned champions for the first time in their history. 200,000 crammed into Rio’s Maracana, still the world record. The mayor of Rio announced the team’s victory at a dinner the night before. The newspapers had already been printed proclaiming the champions.
Brazil took an expected 1-0 lead but were quickly pegged back, and, 10 minutes from time, Alcides Ghiggia beat Gilmar at his near post to win the cup for Uruguay. Fans wept openly in the streets, Gilmar never played again for Brazil – the selecao burnt their shirts, and changed the color of their jerseys forever. The shame of the Maracanazo continues to haunt the nation and will until Brazil wins the tournament again on home soil. No pressure then, Neymar.
Check out the rest of our World Cup Month features here.