Biggest World Cup upsets: Saudi Arabia vs. Argentina is the latest


In a World Cup result for the ages, Saudi Arabia bested Argentina, 2-1, on Tuesday’s Group C opener in Lusail, Qatar. The Green Falcons not only equalized the heavily favored Argentines’ first-half goal but scored again five minutes later with a galvanizing shot from Salem al-Dawsari that ultimately stood as the game-winning goal.

When it was over, it looked as if no one on the field could believe what had just happened: The 51st-ranked Saudis had toppled World Cup stalwarts and ended Argentina’s 36-match unbeaten streak in international play. Saudi Arabia’s win was even more impressive given the long odds it faced: The squad was given an 8.7 percent chance of victory, according to data analyst Nielson Gracenote, making its win statistically the biggest upset in World Cup history.

Here are seven more moments in World Cup history when the underdog beat the odds for a memorable and stunning upset.

Saudi Arabia shocks Argentina with a World Cup upset for the history books

United States 1, England 0 (1950)

At the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, the American squad was a “band of no-hopes”: Its bench was full of amateurs and unknowns, including a student, a hearse driver and a dishwasher. But a single goal, on a shot by Philadelphia schoolteacher Walter Bahr that was redirected into the net by Haitian-born student Joe Gaetjens, stunned the world — including the English press. According to FIFA’s history of the game, the results were such a shock that pressmen in England assumed the 1-0 score was a misprint and reported England winning 10-1. At the end of the match, Brazilian fans raced onto the pitch to hoist American players on their shoulders in a game that became known as the “Miracle on Grass.”

Switzerland 1, Spain 0 (2010)

Top-ranked Spain sailed into the 2010 World Cup in South Africa as the heavy favorite to take the tournament. The Spaniards were expected to breeze through their group along with Chile but instead were surprised by the Swiss. A messy attack that broke up just outside the goal area was saved when a speedy Gelson Fernandes tore through the play and buried the ball in the back of the Reds’ net. It was a thrilling upset by the Swiss, but the Spanish were able to get past it. After the unexpected opening loss, Spain regrouped and won the rest of its matches before topping the Netherlands, 1-0, in the World Cup final.

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Algeria 2, West Germany 1 (1982)

During the group stage of the 1982 World Cup in Spain, the Germans were so sure of their chances against a first-timer Algerian squad that one German player boasted of “dedicating our seventh goal to our wives, and the eighth to our dogs,” according to FIFA archives. But West Germany never got the chance to run up the score against the Greens; Instead, it was caught off-guard by the quickness and creativity of the Algerian squad and never recovered after a flawless goal by attacking midfielder Lakhdar Belloumi.

Following the upset, Algeria failed to advance from its group after Austria was accused of colluding with West Germany to throw their match so both European teams could advance to the round of 16 in a game that became known as the “Disgrace of Gijon.” Neither West Germany nor Austria was officially found guilty of wrongdoing, though the match prompted changes to how group-stage games are scheduled. Algerian defender Chaabane Merzekane later told FIFA: “To see two big powers debasing themselves in order to eliminate us was a tribute to Algeria. They progressed with dishonour. We went out with our heads held high.”

Ghana 2, Czech Republic 0 (2006)

Group E, the “Group of Death” in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, was full of surprises — but the showdown between Ghana and the Czech Republic delivered the biggest shock. The Czechs, fresh off dismantling the United States, 3-0, encountered a Ghanaian squad that had just been downed by Italy. But instead of an easy win, the Czechs were stunned by Ghana’s first goal just 70 seconds into play. Midfielder Sulley Muntari delivered a gorgeous second goal later in the game, helping the Black Stars advance to the round of 16 along with Italy, which went on to win the tournament.

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Uruguay 2, Brazil 1 (1950)

In an unusual turn for the 1950 tournament, there were only two stages and no single-match final. Instead, each group winner played the other group champion in round-robin play for the championship. Tournament host Brazil was heavily favored to win, and in the final stage it had easily demolished Sweden and Spain with 7-1 and 6-1 wins, respectively. Uruguay, the fourth team in the final group, drew with Spain and eked out a one-goal win over Sweden on its way to meeting Brazil.

Before stepping on the pitch against Uruguay, Brazil had been so confident in a win that newspaper front pages and Brazilian officials were already saluting the team as victors. The score was tied deep into the second half, and with a larger goal differential, a draw would have been enough for Brazil to win the Cup.

But that hope was buried when Uruguay’s Alcides Ghiggia dribbled down the right flank and into the box and launched a shot with 11 minutes left in the match. The stadium reportedly went silent as the ball sailed past the fingertips of Brazilian goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa.

Nelson Rodrigues, the late Brazilian author and playwright, once described the loss this way: “Everywhere has its irremediable national catastrophe, something like a Hiroshima. Our catastrophe, our Hiroshima, was the defeat by Uruguay in 1950.”

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South Korea 2, Germany 0 (2018)

At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, calling South Korea and Germany mismatched was an understatement: Out of nine World Cup appearances, South Korea had only twice advanced from the group stage. Germany, meanwhile, entered the tournament as the defending champion. But after an early loss to Mexico, the rattled Germans were handed another surprise when South Korea capitalized on a corner kick and followed it up with an empty-net goal from Son Heung-min.

Germany finished last in the group, failing to advance from the first round for the first time in 80 years.

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Senegal 1, France 0 (2002)

Senegal, one of the smallest countries to compete at the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan, delivered one of the mightiest opening matches in tournament history. Senegal, whose national team is known as the Lions of Teranga, roared to a 1-0 win over defending champion (and former colonizing force) France in the first game of the group stage.

“Today’s victory is a victory for all of Africa and Senegal,” forward El Hadji Diouf said at the time. “No one expected that Senegal will beat France. But we did.”

World Cup in Qatar

Highlights: Saudi Arabia stunned Argentina to open a day that also included defending champion France rolling to a win and a pair of draws from Denmark-Tunisia and Mexico-Poland. Here are seven more matches in World Cup history when the underdog beat the odds for a memorable and stunning upset.

USMNT: In their return to the World Cup, the young Americans settled for a 1-1 draw against Wales in their Group B opener. The US men’s national team will face a taller task Friday against Group B favorite England, which demolished Iran, 6-2, earlier Monday.

Qatar controversy: Soccer fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusivity, have said they were refusing entry into World Cup stadiums and confronted by members of the public to remove the emblem.

Group guide: The US men’s national soccer team, led by Coach Gregg Berhalter and star forward Christian Pulisic, qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement from its disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 campaign. Here’s a close look at how all of the teams in each group stack up.

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