10 Of The Greatest Upsets In FIFA World Cup History

One of the most exciting part of football is its unpredictability. Fans love fairytale matches where underdogs will upset more established opponents.

The FIFA World Cup has produced some of the greatest upsets and fairytale runs in soccer history.

In this piece, FootballOrbit brings you 10 among the greatest upsets in World Cup history.

1. Brazil vs Uruguay (1950)

Brazil were South American champions, having won the 1949 Copa America in grand style — scoring 46 goals in eight matches.

They hosted the 1950 World Cup and were to play against Uruguay in the final.

The Brazilians had scored 23 goals in five games before the final match against Uruguay at the Maracana Stadium.

As a result, they were extremely confident of victory, with newspapers and politicians declaring victory before the game had even begun.

During the game, Brazil took the lead but Uruguay equalised and added another goal — which proved to be the winner as the Uruguayans resolutely held on.

When the match ended, the stadium was said to be filled with “disturbing and traumatic absolute silence.”

Two Brazilian fans committed suicide right inside the stadium and many suicides were reported across the country in the following days.

In Brazil, many newspapers and fans refused to accept the fact that they had been defeated and famous radio journalist Ary Barroso (briefly) retired.

Brazil later bounced back to win back-to-back World Cups in 1958 and 1962.

The term Maracanaço (in Portuguese) or Maracanazo (in Spanish) — translated as “The Blow of Maracanã” — became synonymous with the match.

Attended by over 200,000 people, the Maracanazo remains the most highly-attended football match ever played.

2. North Korea vs Italy (1966)

Pak Do-ik’s strike was enough for North Korea to upset Italy at the 1966 World Cup.

North Korea had shocked the world by even qualifying but they weren’t content with resting on their laurels and shut out their much-fancied European opponents for a famous triumph in England.

3. Northern Ireland vs Spain (1982)

Northern Ireland faced hosts, Spain, in their final group game at the 1982 World Cup, with both countries fighting for top spot.

Gerry Armstrong gave N. Ireland the lead and they survived an heavy onslaught from the embarrassed Spaniards — hanging on to victory despite playing with a man down in the last half hour of the match.

The win ensured Northern Ireland finished above Spain in the group. Although they got eliminated in the next round, they will forever cherish that famous night at the Mestalla.

4. Algeria vs West Germany (1982)

Algeria was making its first ever World Cup appearance and were to face West Germany in their opening group game.

The Germans, favourites to win the tournament, were overconfident.

But the Algerians — full of talented players — stunned them with a 2-1 victory in one of the greatest upsets in FIFA World Cup history.

5. Cameroon vs Argentina (1990)

In what became known as the “Miracle of Milan,” Cameroon toppled defending champions, Argentina, thanks to a goal from François Omam-Biyik.

Cameroon ended the game with only 9 players and carried the momentum from that victory to become the first African nation to reach the World Cup quarterfinals.

Diego Maradona-led Argentina recovered from that loss to eventually reach the final, losing 1-0 to West Germany.

6. Bulgaria vs Germany (1994)

Bulgaria upset France by eliminating them in the qualifiers for 1994 World Cup.

In the group stage of the competition, they stunned Argentina 2-0 and defeated Mexico in the round of 16 to set up a quarterfinal clash against Germany.

However, Germany were the defending champions and were looking to become the first country to retain the title since Brazil in 1962.

The Germans scored the first goal of the match via a penalty kick by Lothar Matthaus early on in the second half, but Bulgaria answered by scoring back-to-back goals late in the match through Hristo Stoichkov and Yordan Letchkov to send the Germans packing.

7. Senegal vs France (2002)

Making its first ever World Cup appearance, Senegal came up against defending champions, France, in the opening game of the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

Pape Bouba Diop’s goal was enough for the Africans to stun the reigning World and European champions on a memorable evening in Seoul.

Senegal would go on to reach the quarterfinals while the defeat set the tone for France’s disastrous campaign as they finished bottom of Group A with one point and no goals.

8. South Korea vs Italy (2002)

Although they were managed by Guus Hiddink but nobody expected South Korea’s fairytale run to the World Cup semi-finals in 2002.

Their last-16 extra-time win over Italy was one of the most controversial moments in FIFA World Cup history.

Italy seemed to be cruising to victory when Gianluigi Buffon saved Ahn Jung-Hwan’s 4th-minute penalty and Christian Vieri gave them the lead.

But with just two minutes of normal time remaining, Seol Ki-Hyeong struck to force extra-time.

With two minutes left of the first extra-time period, Francesco Totti went down in the box. Having already been booked, the Roma striker was penalised for simulation and sent off.

The Italians were still fuming at the injustice when Jung-Hwan — who had earlier missed the 4th-minute penalty — popped up with the golden goal to book a quarter-final date with Spain, sparkling wild jubilations across the country.

9. Spain vs Netherlands (2014)

The Netherlands had painfully lost the 2010 World Cup final to Spain. Four years later, they got their revenge in a group stage encounter.

Netherland — led by Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben — ran riot, reducing the reigning world and European champions to shocks.

The Dutch went on to secure 3rd-place in the tournament while Spain embarrassingly crashed out of the group stages.

10. Brazil vs Germany (2014)


This is regarded as an upset not because of the unlikelihood of the winner but the manner of the victory.

Brazil’s hopes of clinching a 6th World Cup on home soil were brought to a humiliating and brutal end at the hands of a ruthless Germany side.

The Germans mercilessly tore through the hosts till the final whistle where the Brazilians were left shell-shocked, haunted and utterly inconsolable.

Neymar and captain Thiago Silva missed the game for the Selecao and their absence showed as the defence collapsed in spectacular fashion while the attack was toothless.

Thomas Müller, Toni Kroos, Andre Schurrle and co. had a field day in Belo Horizonte.

The result plunged Brazil into national mourning.

The game was subsequently known as “Mineirazo” (agony of Mineirão), given it took place at the Mineirão stadium and echoed the Maracanazo defeat of 1950.

Leave a Reply