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Japan turning over Germany, Saudi Arabia dismantling Messi & Argentina - it's the biggest World Cup upsets of all time

15:10 GMT 23/11/2022
World Cup upsets GFX
Saudi Arabia and Japan have produced two huge shocks at the 2022 World Cup, with the competition having had a rich history of mega upsets.

Down the years, the World Cup has had a habit of throwing up some of the greatest upsets the sport has ever seen, as form, reputation and confidence all go out of the window in an instant, and so-called smaller nations seize their opportunity on the biggest stage.

These are games and moments that have been immortalised and re-lived time and time again, with teams and individual players written into the tournament's folklore.

Here, GOAL runs through the most shocking turn ups for the books in the competition's gilded history...

  • USA 1950

    USA 1-0 England - 1950

    World Cup debutants England were huge favourites when they came up against part-timers the USA. Surely there would only be one winner? Well, yes - but not who you'd think.

    Haitian-born US striker Joe Gaetjens wrote himself into USMNT folklore with the winning goal in Brazil, in what is now known as The Miracle of Belo Horizonte.

  • Italy 1966

    North Korea 1-0 Italy - 1966

    Italy were much fancied to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy in England in 1966. However, they were in stuttering form in the group stage, edging past Chile before suffering defeat at the hands of the USSR.

    They would need to avoid defeat in their final group game against North Korea, but remarkably Pak Doo-ik's 42nd-minute strike would send the Azzurri packing as the Asian nation reached the quarter-finals.

  • Germany Algeria World Cup 1982 06161982

    Algeria 2-1 West Germany - 1982

    Algeria, making their World Cup bow, against tournament favourites West Germany.

    Surely, surely there would only be one outcome? As you've probably ascertained from the nature of this article, the North Africans would stun their illustrious opponents.

    Algeria won 2-1, but they would fall victim to the infamous Disgrace of Gijon later in the group phase, when West Germany and Austria purposely played out a favourable result to knock them out.

  • Norman Whiteside - Northern Ireland

    Northern Ireland 1-0 Spain - 1982

    Against quite literally all the odds - facing the hosts in a partisan atmosphere, down to 10 men and contending with some dodgy refereeing decisions - Northern Ireland would prevail, somehow.

    An error from the goalkeeper gifted Gerry Armstrong the winner shortly after half-time, and the Northern Irish held on despite having a man sent off with half an hour still to play.

  • François Omam-Biyik Argentina Cameroon 1990 World Cup

    Cameroon 1-0 Argentina - 1990

    Despite being faced with the mighty Diego Maradona and the defending champions, Cameroon would produce a huge upset in their opening game of Italia '90.

    Led by 38-year-old Roger Milla, the African nation made it through the group stage all the way to the quarter-finals, thanks in no small part to Francois Omam-Biyik's flying header against the Argentines.

  • World Cup Bulgaria 1994

    Bulgaria 2-1 Germany - 1994

    Bulgaria were the surprise package at the 1994 World Cup, led by Barcelona star Hristo Stoichov.

    Having already beaten Argentina in the group phase, Bulgaria capped a fine run to the semi-finals in the USA with a remarkable win over holders Germany in the quarters.

    Two goals in three minutes from Stoichov and Yordan Letchkov swung the game in their favour late on and they went on to secure a famous victory.

  • Ireland Italy 1994

    Ireland 1-0 Italy - 1994

    Ireland started the 1994 World Cup with a bang, defeating eventual-finalists Italy in New Jersey.

    Ray Houghton bagged the only goal of the game just 12 minutes in, firing home from 25 yards out to send their strong travelling support into raptures.

    Jack Charlton's men then managed to keep their big-time opponents at bay for the remainder of the game.

  • Papa Bouba Diop Senegal 2002

    France 0-1 Senegal - 1998

    Arguably the most famous upset in World Cup history.

    France arrived at the 2002 World Cup as holders and joint-favourites, but things got off to the worst possible start as they suffered defeat to debutants Senegal.

    The late Papa Bouba Diop netted the iconic winner, and the result would signal the start of a nightmare tournament for the French as they crashed out in the group stages.

  • Ahn Jung-hwan Paolo Maldini South Korea Italy 2002 World Cup

    South Korea 2-1 Italy - 2002

    This is a match that lives in infamy following a string of controversial decisions by the Ecuadorian referee - including awarding the host nation a questionable penalty and a very marginal offside call for what would have been an Italian golden goal.

    Instead, it would be South Korea who would net the extra time winner, with Ahn Jung-hwan sending the Italians packing.

  • Gelson Fernandes

    Switzerland 1-0 Spain - 2010

    Spain would, of course, go on to win the World Cup in 2010, but their tournament got off to the worst possible start in their opening game against the Swiss.

    Man City 'legend' Gelson Fernandes bagged the winner seven minutes into the second half, and Switzerland defended resolutely to hold on for an unlikely victory.

  • Germany Korea World Cup 2018

    South Korea 2-0 Germany - 2018

    Holders Germany were expected to make a staunch defence of their World Cup title in Russia, but fell at the first hurdle.

    The result that knocked them out was an incredible defeat to South Korea, with Tottenham star Son Heung-min capitalising on a horrible mistake from goalkeeper Manuel Neuer - who lost the ball close to the halfway line - and running clear to roll the ball into an empty net to seal the points.

  • Saudi Arabia 2022 World Cup

    Argentina 1-2 Saudi Arabia - 2022

    Argentina entered the 2022 World Cup among the favourites in what would surely be Lionel Messi's last dance on football's biggest stage.

    But having given his nation the lead from the spot, Messi and co. were humiliated as Saudi Arabia produced a stirring comeback to snatch the most unlikely of victories.

    Salem Aldawsari produced the defining moment, slaloming away from multiple defenders before bending a stunning strike beyond the goalkeeper.

  • Japan celebrating 2022

    Germany 1-2 Japan - 2022

    After Saudi Arabia's humbling of Argentina, another upset was coming just a day later at Qatar 2022.

    Incredibly, Japan rallied from a goal down at half-time against Germany to clam a historic 2-1 win over Hansi Flick's side. It was all going according to plan after Ilkay Gundogan's penalty put the Germans in front but second-half strikes from Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano - who, ironically, both play their domestic football in Germany - completed a remarkable comeback.

    Indeed, it's the first time ever that Japan have recovered from a goal down at a World Cup to claim a victory. What a moment, what an upset!