Every World Cup usually has at least one surprise in store, and as this list of World Cup huge upsets proves, sometimes those surprises are so huge that no one could have possibly seen them coming. Here is our list of the biggest upsets in World Cup history.
Cuba Defeat Romania In 1938 Replay
Until Mexico withdrew from the 1938 FIFA World Cup, The tiny Caribbean island of Cuba wasn’t even meant to be a part of the tournament. The Cubans weren’t expected to score even one goal, but they proved the critics wrong by knocking off Romania.
The 1938 competition was a straight knock-out tournament of 16 nations, and once the tournament began, the Cuban team defeated Romania in a replay 2–1 after drawing 3–3 with them in the first round.
The first Caribbean team to ever qualify for the World Cup finals was then eliminated by Sweden, 8–0, in the quarter finals. Since then, Cuba has not qualified for another World Cup.
The USA Unlikely Win Over England In 1950
The USA soccer team that defeated its more polished English opponents at the World Cup contained eight native-born players and one player from the UK. The bookies gave the USA squad no chance of winning since they had lost seven straight international matches by a combined score of 45-2.
Joe Gaetjens scored the winning goal for his team. Upon returning to the U.S., the journalist dubbed this victory “Miracle on Green“. England was eliminated from the World Cup two days later when Spain defeated them. The US team was also knocked out in the group stage as they lost their other two matches.
West Germany Beat Hungary In 1954 Final
Unstoppable Hungary failed to win its first World Cup trophy. There was no doubt that Hungary was the team to beat at the 1954 World Cup. In just five games, they scored a tournament record of 27 goals. The West Germans had not yet won a World Cup title in 1954 and had only recently been reinstated by FIFA after World War II.
Having met first in the group stage, Germany had fielded a team made up mostly of reserves and lost 8-3. Hungary scored twice in the first eight minutes of the final to take a 2-0 lead. It appeared that a similar outcome would follow. West Germany had hope when Max Morlock replied in the 10th minute. Helmut Rahn scored the late winner to make it 3-2 in the 84th minute after he had equalized in the 18th minute.
North Korea Beat Italy In 1966
The idea of a team like North Korea beating a team like Italy today is incredible and unthinkable. And while both of these teams looked decidedly different back in 1966, the gulf between them was just as significant.
North Korea was expected to finish points-less and to be dominated every minute of every game. During a 3-0 loss to the Soviet Union, this was the case, but they managed to shock the world in their next game when they beat Italy 1-0. In the group’s final game, they nearly secured an even more significant shock result when they went 3-0 up against Eusebio’s Portugal, but the star striker dragged Portugal back into it and eventually beat North Korea 5-3.
East Beat West In 1974
One FIFA World Cup game between East Germany and West Germany was played in 1974, with East Germany winning 1–0 in one of the biggest upsets in world cup history. Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion saw more than 60,000 fans, including 1,500 East Germans, watch the teams compete in the World Cup finals.
Both countries seemed content with a goalless draw in the closing stages. However, that changed in the 77th minute. Despite being on the pitch for only ten minutes, Erich Hamann, who was released by East Germany goalkeeper Jurgen Croy, raced forward unchallenged for 30 yards after being allowed to free run down the right side.
West Germany’s defense gave him the opportunity to cross the ball. He picked out Jurgen Sparwasser, who controlled the ball and slotted home a winner to seal a sensational 1-0 victory.
Scotland Beat Netherlands In 1978
Johan Cryuff took the Netherlands to the World Cup final in 1974, winning the Player of the Tournament as he did so. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get over the final hurdle that time, and while their magic midfielder had retired by the time the 1978 World Cup came around, they were still expected to breeze through the group stage.
This was the era of “Total Football,” after all. But that era faced a massive bump in the road in the form of Scotland, a team that the Netherlands were expected to dominate, but one that beat them 3-2. Of course, Scotland was the better team on the day, but they didn’t make it out of the group while the Netherlands made it to their second final in two consecutive FIFA World Cups.
Northern Ireland Beat The Hosts In 1982
The 1982 World Cup was the green and white army second tournament, having only participated in the 1958 edition. But in their final group match, they made their mark on the world stage.
Gerry Armstrong’s goal helped Northern Ireland to a shock 1-0 victory over the Spanish hosts at the Estadio Luis Casanova after drawing their first two group matches. Northern Ireland held on for victory despite playing the final half-hour with 10 men after Mal Donaghy was sent off for a straight red card.
Algeria Beat West Germany In 1982
During the 1982 World Cup, Algeria upset West Germany in Gijón with a winning goal scored by Lakhdar Belloumi to create one of the biggest upsets in world cup history. In Algeria’s finest hour, Beloumi assisted one and scored the winner after Germany’s Karl-Heinze Rummennigge had equalized.
In 1966, Algeria beat West Germany 1-0 in a friendly match. It wasn’t the first time West Germany had lost to Algeria. This wasn’t just a friendly; it was the World Cup, and thanks to Djamel Zidane’s ingenuity and Lakhdar Belloumi’s winning goal, the Algerian people celebrated a triumphant sporting victory.
Algeria’s triumph was to be eclipsed by the ‘Disgrace of Gijón,’ in which West Germany and Austria played out the worst-performing match to win by a 1-0 score, sending both nations through to the next round. This meant Algeria was knocked out.
Cameroon Beat Argentina In 1990
Argentina had run rampant in 1986. Then, it was the Diego Maradona World Cup, one in which he scored the greatest World Cup goal ever and one of the most controversial. Four years later, Argentina was the reigning world champions and expected to do well, so it is fair to say that no one saw their defeat coming to Cameroon.
Cameroon had a man sent off behind they scored the winner, making this an even more surprising result. And Argentina would still make it to the final, suggesting this was more down to the momentary brilliance of the African nation as opposed to a poor Argentina side.
The Cameroonian team made it all the way to the quarter-finals, the first African nation ever to achieve this feat, but were defeated 3-2 by England after extra time.
Bulgaria Knocks Out Germany In 1994
The defending champions Germany seemed to be on its way to reaching its fourth consecutive World Cup final when they met Bulgaria in the quarter-finals. Germany scored the first goal of the match via penalty kick early on in the second half, but Bulgaria answered the Germans by scoring back-to-back goals late in the match. Yordan Letchkov was the hero scoring the winning goal after Hristo Stoichkov equalized only three minutes earlier.
Since 1978, Germany has never lost from ahead during a World Cup game. In spite of this, Bulgaria proceeded to the semi finals against Italy and lost 2-1. Yordan Letchkov became a national hero for his header, which gave Bulgaria victory. Upon returning home, he became mayor of his hometown before being imprisoned for corruption.
Senegal Frustrate France In 2002
Having to face the defending champions in the tournament opener of the 2002 World Cup was no doubt a bit daunting for Senegal as they made their World Cup debut.
Papa Bouba Diop scored the only goal of the game in the 30th minute as the Lions from the African nation defeated Les Bleus 1-0. It was a miserable title defense for France as they were knocked out at the group stage. Senegal lost to Turkey in the quarter-finals in their debut tournament.
Germany Smash Brazil In 2014
The 2014 World Cup semi-final between Brazil and Germany was expected to be a close affair. Brazil was without their star defender Silva and their star striker Neymar, but they were the hosts, and as a result, many expected them to triumph over Germany. But within half an hour, the game was over, and Brazil’s hopes were quashed.
Germany opened the scoring on 11 minutes before adding a second on 23 minutes. Before Brazil could come to terms with what was happening, Germany had added another and another. With 30 minutes gone, it was 5-0, and the world was in utter disbelief.
It was 7-0 at one point, but Brazil scored in the 90th minute to make it 7-1.
Costa Rica At The 2014 World Cup
This list is full of single games because the World Cup history is littered with massive shocks that have occurred during a single 90-minute match. But Costa Rica managed to extend it to several games, captivating the world in one of the biggest upsets in world cup history.
Costa Rica was the rank outsider in their group, nicknamed the Group of Death because it contained three of the best teams in the world: Italy, England, and Uruguay. Before the tournament, no one gave them a second thought. They were the whipping boys, and everyone thought they were there to see who could get the highest score against them and build a big goal difference.
But Costa Rica went on to win the group, beating Uruguay and Italy and stopping England and Italy from making it out of the group. They then beat Greece on penalties before losing to the Netherlands on penalties in the quarter-finals.
Rhett is an Australian-born, globe trotter who is a UEFA ‘A’ Licence Soccer Coach. With his family, he has traveled and coached soccer in more than 30 countries, while attending World Cups, European Championships, and some of the biggest local derbies in the world!