What are some of the biggest upsets in the history of the FIFA World Cup?

As the 2022 World Cup kicked off at the end of November, most people were looking to the likes of Brazil, Argentina and France as the most likely nations to glide through the group stages and deep into the tournament, with other perennial heavyweights also in the conversation. At the other end of the favourites pool, there were teams such as Saudi Arabia, Australia, Japan, and, of course, our controversial hosts Qatar.

World Cup 2022 surprise results

With the round of 16 now complete, there are only eight of our original 32 teams remaining and, as it happens, most of those expected to be at this stage have made it. But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some shocks along the way.

Few people would have had Saudi Arabia down to pull off the first giant-killing result of Qatar 2022. Not only were they up against one of favourites to win the tournament, until now they had never even won their opening game at any World Cup – this being their sixth appearance. Yet they pulled off one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history – Saudi Arabia, the rank outsiders whose odds to lift the trophy stood at +50000 before kick-off, delivered a potential sucker punch to Messi’s Argentina, ranked at +650.

A day after the Saudi win, the Japanese thought they’d have a little taste of that, coming from behind to beat four-time winners Germany 2-1. Unlike Argentina, who did enough in their other two games to progress, the European nation, champions in 2014, were on an early flight home. More surprises were to come, as Australia beat Denmark (ending their hopes of progression), while France and Brazil lost out to Tunisia and Cameroon, respectively, despite both giants already having qualified.

Into the round of 16 and the headline surprise came as Spain’s group of talented stars went out at the hands of African neighbours Morocco.

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Messi and Argentina lose to Saudi Arabia

Hervé Renard’s men went in at half-time trailing 1-0 in Tuesday’s opening Group C match in Lusail – Messi’s ninth-minute penalty separating the two sides. Whatever Renard said in his pep talk, it seemed to do the trick – within seven minutes of the restart, Saleh Al Shehri and Salem Al Dawsari had put the Green Falcons into the lead. After that it was a case of clinging on for the remaining 38 minutes of regulation time plus an agonising four minutes of stoppage-time while fans in the stands looked on in a mixture of amazement, and trepidation.

Full screen

Messi leaves the pitch after the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group C football match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, north of Doha on November 22, 2022. ODD ANDERSENGetty

But they did it, pulling off one of the greatest coups of World Cup history, matching those of North Korea, who beat the mighty Italy in 2002 and the USA’s 1-0 triumph over England with a team comprised of amateur players at Brazil 1950.

Saudi Arabia can proudly take their place among the teams who defied all the odds to pull off David vs Goliath wins at the World Cup. Here are some of the other more memorable shock World Cup wins.

Biggest upsets and shock results in World Cup history

Cuba 2-1 Romania (France 1938)

North Korea 1-0 Italy (England 1966)

East Germany 1-0 West Germany (West Germany 1974)

Algeria 2 – West Germany 1 (Spain 1982)

Northern Ireland 1-0 Spain (Spain 1982)

Argentina 0-1 Cameroon (Italy 1990)

Bulgaria 2-1 Germany (USA 1994)

Italy 0-1 Republic of Ireland (USA 1994)

Brazil 1-2 Norway (France 1998)

Senegal 1-0 France (Korea/Japan 2002)

Korea Republic 2-1 Italy (Korea/Japan 2002)

Switzerland 1-0 Spain (South Africa 2010)

Italy 0-1 Costa Rica (Brazil 2014)

Argentina 1-2 Saudi Arabia (Qatar 2022)

Germany 1-2 Japan (Qatar 2022)

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