There was silence, shock and joy and euphoria on the other. It felt as if the scoreboard had some glitch because it didn’t make sense. Argentina 1-2 Saudi Arabia. The Asian team had just executed one of the biggest upsets as it defeated Lionel Messi’s Argentina to start their World Cup with a bang.
It leaves Argentina with a mountain to climb as their two remaining matches come against Mexico and Poland, two sides far better than Saudi Arabia. However, the World Cup is where shock results like these have often happened. Time and again, a minnow and underdog has defied the odds to beat a bigger and better team and become part of football’s history.
It is one of the reasons why the FIFA World Cup remains the pinnacle of football. So, look at the top 10 shocking underdog victories in FIFA World Cup history without further ado.
Argentina vs Saudi Arabia 1-2 2022 FIFA World Cup
Before the 2022 World Cup, Saudi Arabia had lost its last five opening matches at the World Cup by a combined scoreline of 24-0. However, all that changed that day at the Lusail Stadium. Argentina started the game brilliantly and won a penalty within ten minutes, which Lionel Messi duly converted. They scored three times in the first half but, every time, were caught in the offside trap laid by the Saudis. Nevertheless, the Asian team reached half-time, only one goal down.
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However, in the second half, the Saudis were a changed side pressing Argentina in their half. Their first goal came through Salah Al Sheehri. But Argentina still felt confident as they had the star power to turn around the match. But what happened next is a moment that has already been immortalised in Saudi football history. After a goal-bound shot from the Saudis was saved and went high in the air and fell to Salem Aldawsari, who controlled the ball with a magical first touch and then chopped and cut his way through the Argentine defence like a hot knife to butter before blasting the ball past a hapless Emiliano Martínez. Saudi held on for the rest of the match to become part of football folklore.
Uruguay vs Brazil 2-1, 1950 World Cup
Imagine a team being favoured so much in the final that a newspaper announces them as champions before the final, and even the President of FIFA prepares a speech in Portuguese, the most spoken tongue of the nation. In the 1950 FIFA World Cup, the final four teams were put in a round-robin format, with the teams with the most points winning the World Cup. And the final match was between Brazil and Uruguay, with the former only needing a draw while the latter required a win to win the World Cup.
Everyone had dubbed Brazil the favourites, and the President of FIFA, Jules Rimet, had prepared his speech in Portuguese, Brazil’s most spoken language. However, Uruguay would make a comeback after falling 1-0 behind and scoring two goals to silence the 2,00,000 fans into stunned silence. Many people refused to believe that Brazil had lost, and the pain remains even after five World Cup titles.
West Germany vs Hungary, 1954 FIFA World Cup
The match that led to the birth of a footballing powerhouse, When Germany arrived in Switzerland for the 1954 FIFA World Cup, few gave them any chance of making any mark in the tournament. They finished second in the group after defeating Turkey and South Korea but lost to tournament favourites Hungary 8-3. After that, they beat Yugoslavia and Austria to reach the final, but Hungary was waiting for them.
The top dogs were the East European led by the brilliant Ferenc Puskas. Nicknamed the ‘Mighty Magyars,’ the team were unbeaten for 31 matches. And they looked to be on the rope in the final as Hungary scored two goals within eight minutes. However, under the leadership of Fritz Walter, the Germans started the counter fight.
Maximilian Morlock scored the first goal before star striker Helmut Rahn added another to put the match in the balance. For the next 66 minutes, both teams went back and forth as they looked for the winning goal. And in the 84th minute, Rahn scored the one for Germany to put an entire country on their feet. West Germany won their first World Cup, which was a significant boost of confidence for a nation devastated by World War 2 less than a decade back.
USA vs England, 1966 FIFA World Cup
Uruguay-Brazil was one of many 1950 FIFA World Cup matches that gave a surprise result. When England arrived for the 1950 World Cup, they were one of the favourites for the title alongside host Brazil. The English team included greats such as Roy Bentley, Stan Mortensen, Jimmy Mullen, Alf Ramsey, John Aston, and Billy Wright, who was their captain.
On the other hand, the USA sent an amateur side with players who worked as teachers, dishwashers, and drivers. In fact, one of the players, Ben McLaughlin, had to withdraw because he couldn’t get time off from his job to attend the World Cup. As a result, US coach Bill Jeffrey told the press that the team had no chance.
And England started the match on the front foot as they had ten chances within 30 minutes as the US struggled to match their rivals’ pace. However, the United States took the lead in the 37th minute as Joe Gaetjens’s diving header went past Bert Williams in the English goal.
The ‘Kings of Football’ as England was there tried hard from there on, but an inspired performance from US goalkeeper Frank Borghi in the second half included a brilliant save from a Jimmy Mullen header. The USA held on for the win. It sent such a shock that many refused to believe it, with one newspaper wrongly attributing the 1-0 victory to England.
North Korea vs Italy, 1966 FIFA World Cup
When North Korea arrived for the 1966 FIFA World Cup, nothing much was expected from them. During that time, football was dominated by the European and South American teams, and the tiny Asian nation was not seen as a significant force by any of the top teams at the event. On top of that, they were drawn into a group with 1962 World Cup semi-finalist Chile, the Soviet Union and two-time world champions Italy.
The Koreans lost the opening match to Lev Yahsin’s Soviet Union before managing a draw against Chile. So the equation was straightforward: win the game against Italy or go home with everyone expecting the latter to take place.
And the Italians started the match on the front foot getting multiple chances which they failed to bury. However, bad luck struck Azzurri as midfielder Giacomo Bulgarelli got injured and left the field. During the time, substitutions were not allowed; thus, Italy had to play the first game with ten men.
Taking advantage of it, the North Koreans began to attack and took the lead through Pak Doo-Ik. A long-headed ball from a defender found Doo-Ik and slotted the ball past Enrico Albertosi. The Italians tried hard but failed to equalise and would be eliminated from the group stage after finishing third.
Meanwhile, North Korea would face Eusebio’s Portugal in the quarter-final, losing despite racing to a three-goal lead within 25 minutes.