Top 10 World Cup upsets

Top 10 World Cup upsets

5 min

Top 10 World Cup upsets

Host nation: Qatar Dates: 20 November-18 December Coverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Day-by-day TV listingsFull coverage details

Northern Ireland toppling Spain in 1982 and Senegal beating defending champions France in 2002 – big upsets help make the World Cup so special. But which one was the biggest?

Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer and Micah Richards discussed the topic in the latest Match of the Day: Top 10 podcast.

You can listen to the podcast on BBC Sounds and have your say by ranking your choices at the bottom of this page.

  • Listen to the Match of the Day Top 10: Biggest shocks

South Korea 2-1 Italy 2002 (Richards: 7, Shearer: 10)

South Korea’s fairytale run to the 2002 World Cup semi-finals included a dramatic 2-1 victory over Italy in the last 16. Ahn Jung-hwan – who, rather awkwardly, had spent the previous two seasons on loan at Italian side Perugia – scored a golden goal in extra time to eliminate a star-studded Azzurri side containing Gianluigi Buffon, Paolo Maldini and Alessandro del Piero.

South Korea v Italy
South Korea stunned Italy in front of a home crowd to reach the quarter-finals

Lineker: It was a big shock and it was an incredible game. South Korea have improved and that was the start of it. However strong a team is, there is always that unknown factor. The value of a goal is so big and the crowd can get behind it and give a team something to cling on to.

Richards: That was a big shock at the time even though South Korea were a decent side.

Netherlands 5-1 Spain 2014 (Richards: 10, Shearer: 7)

Spain’s World Cup defence began in bruising fashion as they were crushed 5-1 by the Netherlands in their opening group game of the 2014 tournament in Brazil, allowing the Dutch to gain a modicum of revenge for their defeat to the same opposition in the 2010 final. It was also the biggest losing margin by a defending champion at a World Cup.

Arjen Robben
Spain’s defeat by the Netherlands was the first time they had conceded five or more goals for 51 years

Shearer: Spain lost their next game as well and went out after coming into the tournament as holders.

Lineker: The Netherlands just battered Spain that day and you’re thinking ‘what’s happened to them?’

East Germany 1-0 West Germany 1974 (Richards: 6, Shearer: 9)

A West German side led by captain Franz Beckenbauer and containing prolific striker Gerd Muller were heavy favourites against East Germany, especially as they were also World Cup hosts and European champions. But Jurgen Sparwasser’s late strike sealed a stunning victory for East Germany and ensured they topped the group ahead of their rivals.

East Germany v West Germany
The 1974 World Cup was the only time West Germany played East Germany during the 41 years the country was divided

Lineker: West Germany had so much power in those days. It was such a surprise because the hosts ended up winning the World Cup that year.

Senegal 1-0 France 2002 (Richards: 4, Shearer: 8)

Another tournament opener, another shock defeat for the reigning World Cup champions. Papa Bouba Diop’s goal was enough for World Cup debutants Senegal to shock holders France in the first game of Korea/Japan 2002. Senegal would go on to reach the quarter-finals, but a miserable tournament for Les Bleus saw them finish bottom of their group with just one point from three matches.

Patrick Vieira challenges for the ball
El-Hadji Diouf confirmed a move to Liverpool just 24 hours after his man-of-the-match display against France

Scotland 3-2 Netherlands 1978 (Richards: 9, Shearer: 3)

Archie Gemmill scored one of the greatest ever World Cup goals to help Scotland stun the Netherlands at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. With the game deadlocked at 2-2 with 20 minutes left, Gemmill slalomed past three Dutch defenders before calmly lifting the ball over advancing goalkeeper Jan Jongbloed and into the net.

Scotland score against Netherlands
Despite their victory over the Netherlands Scotland failed to qualify for the knockout stages

Shearer: I can remember that goal, cutting in from the right-hand side and curling it in. Scotland had some decent players in that period and that Netherlands team got to the final.

Spain 0-1 Switzerland 2010 (Richards: 8, Shearer: 4)

Spain arrived at the 2010 World Cup as European champions and tournament favourites, but their competition got off to the worst possible start in South Africa as they slipped to a 1-0 defeat by Switzerland courtesy of a goal from former Manchester City midfielder Gelson Fernandes.

Carlos Puyol
Spain responded to their loss to Switzerland by winning their next six matches without conceding a goal to lift the World Cup for the first time

USA 1-0 England 1950 (Richards: 1, Shearer: 6)

England arrived in Brazil for the 1950 World Cup as one of the favourites for the tournament and were expected to breeze past a United States side made up of amateurs and semi-professionals. But Haiti-born Joe Gaetjens, an accounting student who also washed dishes in a Brooklyn restaurant, scored the only goal to secure the unlikeliest of victories.

USA v England in 1950
England were eliminated at the group stage after winning one and losing two of their three group matches

Lineker: It was a huge upset. England had players like Billy Wright, Stan Mortensen and Tom Finney. England came home in embarrassment.

Shearer: USA were 500-1 outsiders and they beat England with all those players.

Argentina 0-1 Cameroon 1990 (Richards: 2, Shearer: 5)

Four years after Diego Maradona inspired their stunning World Cup victory in Mexico, Argentina were shocked by Cameroon in the opening match of Italia ’90 at Milan’s iconic San Siro stadium. Francois Omam-Biyik’s second-half header was enough to secure the win for the tournament minnows, who had Andre Kana-Biyik and Benjamin Massing sent off.

Diego Maradona against Cameroon
Cameroon went on to reach the quarter-finals at Italia ’90, where they were beaten 3-2 by England after extra time

Shearer: That was the miracle of Milan.

Lineker: Cameroon were a sumptuous football team. They played beautiful football and had intelligence in their play.

Spain 0-1 Northern Ireland 1982 (Richards: 5, Shearer: 1)

Few gave Northern Ireland a chance when they took on hosts Spain in their final group match, needing a win in order to qualify for the next stage. But Gerry Armstrong’s goal at the start of the second half secured one their greatest victories, made even more remarkable by the fact they played much of the second half with 10 men after Mal Donaghy was sent off.

Northern Ireland players celebrate
Gerry Armstrong (right) scored 12 goals in 63 appearances for Northern Ireland

Shearer: It was incredible to see Northern Ireland beating Spain. They played with 10 men for the last half an hour as well.

Lineker: For Gerry Armstrong it was a life-changing moment. After that he moved to Spain and became the go-to Spanish pundit. Talk about one goal changing your life.

Italy 0-1 North Korea 1966 (Richards: 3, Shearer: 2)

Italy, who were among the favourites for the 1966 World Cup, arrived at Middlesbrough’s Ayresome Park needing just a draw against tournament debutants North Korea to reach the quarter-finals. But a goal from Pak Doo-ik sent North Korea through instead and condemned the Azzurri to a humiliating early exit.

North Korea celebrate
A bronze cast marking the spot where Pak Doo-ik scored his winning goal has been installed on the housing estate where Ayresome Park once stood

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