World Cup surprises: the biggest shocks in FIFA tournament history

The World Cup can offer some of the most memorable moments in a player’s career, but also some they would rather forget…

Argentina suffered a surprise 2-1 defeat by Saudi Arabia in the opening game of the 2022 World Cup.

In the early stages everything seemed to be going according to plan for Scaloni’s side and they took an early lead thanks to a Messi penalty. Confident of extending their 36-game unbeaten streak, the Copa America champions led 1-0 at the break.

Saudi Arabia was the second-lowest team to enter the tournament and few expected them to make a dent in Qatar 2022. However, Saudi Arabia did not stick to the script in the second half and put on a heroic and shocking comeback in the second half with two quick goals from Al Sherhi and Al Dawsari.

The victory puts Saudi Arabia at the top of their group and aiming for a place in the last 16 for the first time since 1994. The result is far from the only shock of the tournament, and four-time winners Germany also fell to a shock 2-1 loss to Japan.

Saudi Arabia’s result will undoubtedly go down as one of the biggest shocks in the tournament’s 92-year history and the nation even declared a national holiday on Wednesday 23 November to commemorate the result.

But what is the biggest shock in World Cup history? Here we take a look back at five other big World Cup dampers from years past.

What was the biggest shock in World Cup history?

Germany 0-2 South Korea: Group stage of the 2018 World Cup

Germany entered Russia 2018 as the defending champions and were considered one of the most talented teams in the competition.

They had an immensely talented team consisting of players like Manuel Neuer, Thomas Müller, Toni Kross and Mesut Özil. The German national team was immensely consistent at the World Cup, having finished in the last four in every competition since 2002 – notably, Germany had also reached at least the quarter-finals in every tournament since 1938.

Germany was drawn in Group F alongside Sweden, Mexico and South Korea and was considered the clear favorite to win the group. Things didn’t go so well in Russia, however – Germany started the tournament with a 1-0 defeat by Mexico but recovered in the second game by beating Sweden 2-1.

In their last group game, Joachim Löw’s side met South Korea, who had already been eliminated from the competition. All Germany had to do to progress was defeat South Korea and it was considered a formality that Low’s side would progress to the last 16. However, Germany suffered a surprise 2-0 defeat and failed to beat a stubborn South Korean defense.

Italy 0-1 Costa Rica: 2014 World Cup group stage

Four-time world champions Italy were looking to make amends at the 2014 World Cup after a poor performance in South Africa 2010.

Italy had entered the tournament as one of the teams most likely to succeed, finishing as European runners-up in 2012. Cesare Prandelli named a strong and experienced squad for the tournament, which included key players such as Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon.

Italy were drawn into the death group alongside England, Uruguay and Costa Rica. But they started the tournament in impressive fashion with a 2-1 win over England.

On the other hand, Costa Rica were considered absolute underdogs in terms of progression and, despite a surprise win over Uruguay in their opening game, gave them little hope against the 2006 winners.

That day was a different story as Costa Rica were in the thick of it, beating Italy 1-0 to secure their place in the knockout rounds of the tournament. The 2014 World Cup proved to be a breakthrough tournament for goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who earned a move to Real Madrid after the tournament.

Brazil 1-7 Germany: World Cup 2014 Semifinals

Hosts Brazil entered the tournament in 2014 as the clear favorite for the world title.

Brazil is the most successful team in the history of the competition, having won football’s biggest prize five times. The host country had a number of talented players at their disposal en route to the tournament, including Neymar, Thiago Silva and Dani Alves. Brazil was also led into the tournament by manager Luis Felipe Scolari. Scolari had a range of experience at international level and had previously proven himself on the big stage, guiding Brazil to victory at the 2002 World Cup. It seemed all the odds were in Brazil’s favor and they easily sailed through the group stage as leaders, beating Chile and Colombia to reach the last four.

Germany itself was viewed as a contender for the tournament and proved impressive throughout the competition. In the eyes of many people, the game would be a close encounter.

That night, however, saw a very different outcome, and most of the hosts were defeated 7-1 in what would ultimately prove to be the biggest semi-final win in World Cup history.

France 0-1 Senegal: World Cup 2002 group stage

France entered the 2002 World Cup as reigning world and European champions after winning the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000.

The defending champions have been blessed with an immensely talented team consisting of Thierry Henry, Lilian Thuram and Patrick Vieira. Les Bleus were set to ride through a group made up of Senegal, Uruguay and Denmark.

In the opening game, France met Senegal, who at the time were considered the lightest of the three opponents. Senegal won the game 1-0 and Papa Bouba Diop established himself as a national hero.

France eventually failed in the group stage of the tournament – a pattern that cursed reigning champions such as Italy, Spain and Germany in the years that followed.

Brazil 1-2 Norway: 1998 World Cup group stage

Brazil entered the 1998 World Cup as defending champions and started the tournament perfectly, with Ronaldo shining on the world stage.

Brazil recorded comprehensive victories in their first two games and were considered favorites to win the World Cup. In their last group game, they met a Norwegian team that had previously won just one World Cup game in their history.

Norway had drawn their opening two games and needed a win to secure their place in the knockout rounds. Tore Andre Flo and fellow striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were the day’s heroes, scoring the crucial goals to give Norway a historic victory.

The win was Norway’s last at a World Cup and they have yet to qualify for a World Cup since that tournament.


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