The six biggest shocks in World Cup history

FT Desk
  • FT Desk
  • 22 Nov 2022 12:40 GMT
  • 5 min read
FT Desk 22 Nov 2022 12:40 GMT 5 min read
World Cup shocks

We have our first shock of the 2022 World Cup – and it will go down as one of the biggest surprises in the history of the tournament.

Argentina were favoured by many experts to win Qatar 2022 but fell to a shock 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia in their opening game of Group C.

We look at the biggest shocks in World Cup history.

Argentina 1-2 Saudi Arabia: 2022

Argentina went into the 2022 World Cup as second favourites to win the whole tournament.

They travelled to Qatar on the back of a 36-game unbeaten run – and would have equalled Italy’s all-time record of 37 if they avoided defeat in their opening game.

That seemed to be a formality as they were playing supposed whipping boys Saudi Arabia.

It all started well as Lionel Messi converted an early penalty. Argentina had a number of goals disallowed for offside but Saudi Arabia stunned them with two quick-fire goals at the start of the second half.

Argentina tried desperately to find an equaliser but created little thereafter as Saudi Arabia held on for a shock victory.

France 0-1 Senegal: 2002

France went into the 2002 World Cup as world and European champions, having added the Euro 2000 crown to their 1998 Mundial success.

Their team was filled full of superstars; the likes of Thierry Henry, Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira and Marcel Desailly.

They played Senegal in the first game of the tournament, a nation in their first ever World Cup.

But France were under-par throughout as Papa Bouba Diop scored the winner on 30 minutes. Les Bleus ended up exiting the tournament in the group stage.

Bulgaria 2-1 Germany: 1994

Germany were the reigning champions in 1994, having lifted the World Cup four years earlier in Italy.

Their team in 1994 was still incredibly strong, boasting superstars such as Lothar Matthaus, Jurgen Klinsmann, Andreas Brehme and Rudi Voller.

They were expected to beat Bulgaria with ease in the quarter-finals, with the East Europeans the weakest team remaining in the competition.

But Bulgaria launched a famous comeback after Matthaus had given Germany the lead. Hristo Stoichkov curled home a stunning free kick to equalise before Yordan Letchkov’s flying header won the day.

Argentina 0-1 Cameroon: 1990

Partly due to bias or even racism, African nations weren’t treated very seriously as we headed into the 1990 World Cup.

In fact, they were treated as something of a joke.

That all changed in the opening match of Italia ’90 as Cameroon shocked reigning champions Argentina.

Argentina had the best player in the world in Diego Maradona but Francois Oman-Biyik’s header clinched a shock victory for Cameroon.

Cameroon would have two players sent off but held on for victory comfortably and made it all the way to the last eight.

Italy 0-1 North Korea: 1966

Serie A was the strongest league in the world during the early to mid 1960s, with Milan and Inter winning three straight European Cups between them.

The Italy national team was full of stars from these teams and were one of the favourites to win the World Cup in England.

However, they were eliminated in the group stages after a shock loss to North Korea in Middlesbrough.

Pak Doo-Ik scored the winner for a nation who no knew anything about. Italy’s players were greeted with rotten fruit from angry fans upon their return to their homeland.

England 0-1 United States: 1950

England proudly boast that they invented the beautiful game – and it was for this reason that they thought they were too good to enter the World Cup in its early tournaments.

They finally agreed to take part in the 1950 World Cup and entered as one of the favourites.

They boasted superstars of the world game such as Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney and Stan Mortensen.

In their opening match they played against a part-time United States team comprised of players were not even U.S citizens.

England were expected to win in double figures, but fell to a shock 1-0 defeat with the winner scored by Haiti-born Joe Gaetjens.