World Cup upsets
World Cup upsets

World Cup upsets

International tournaments like the World Cup are notoriously difficult to predict.

However, based on experience, we are likely to see a favourite suffer a shock elimination and an unfancied team becoming a surprise package in the knockout stages.

We’ve looked back at the six previous tournaments in the 32-team era to identify the biggest World Cup upsets.

Shock eliminations

France (2002)

Despite entering the 2002 tournament as defending World and European champions, France failed to score in any of their three matches as they suffered a humiliating exit.

Without their talisman Zinedine Zidane, who sustained a thigh injury on the eve of the World Cup, Les Bleus lost their opening game to Senegal – the second-lowest ranked side at the tournament.

Their next match ended in a goalless draw with Uruguay – during which Thierry Henry was sent off – before Denmark put the final nail in France’s coffin with a 2-0 victory.

Germany (2018)

Germany experienced one of the most dramatic campaigns in World Cup history in 2018.

Requiring a win against Sweden in their second group game after an opening loss to Mexico, the reigning champions were drawing 1-1 with four minutes of stoppage time already elapsed.

Enter Toni Kroos, who kept his nation’s hopes alive with virtually the last kick of the game – a magnificent curling free-kick from a narrow angle.

There was to be another twist, however, as Germany hunted victory in their final match against South Korea.

With the game poised at 0-0 in injury time, the Koreans scored two goals on the counter-attack to knock out the world’s top-ranked side.

Spain (2014)

In a tournament full of shock early exits, Spain’s demise in 2014 was arguably the biggest surprise of them all.

The writing was on the wall right from the start of the campaign, when the defending champions were thrashed 5-1 by the Netherlands, who they had beaten in the 2010 final.

A further defeat to Chile in their second game rendered a closing win over Australia meaningless.

It proved to be the end of an era for Spain’s all-conquering side, who had won two European championships either side of their World Cup triumph.

Surprise packages

Turkey (2002)

Turkey had a tournament to remember in 2002, reaching the semi-finals and pushing eventual winners Brazil not once but twice – in the group stage and the last four.

After losing their first game to a late goal by Rivaldo, Turkey set about qualifying for the last 16 by earning a point against Costa Rica and beating China.

They went on to defeat co-hosts Japan in the first knockout round and followed that up with an extra-time win over Senegal in the quarter-finals.

Unfortunately, they met Brazil again in the semis and were unable to prevent a rampant Ronaldo from scoring the winning goal.

The Turkish players would not lie down, however, and managed to rouse themselves for victory in the third-place play-off against the other tournament host – South Korea.

Croatia (2018)

Croatia made their first appearance in a World Cup final in 2018, having gone into the tournament ranked 20th by FIFA.

They hit the ground running in the group stage, beating Nigeria and Iceland either side of a magnificent 3-0 win over Argentina.

Croatia showed their mettle in the knockout phase by winning three consecutive extra-time matches against Denmark, Russia and England, having trailed at one stage in each of them.

The final proved to be a bridge too far against a supremely talented France side, although Croatia emerged with immense credit having played their part in an entertaining game that ended 4-2.

South Korea (2002)

South Korea flourished as co-hosts in 2002 and became the first – and currently only – Asian side to reach a World Cup semi-final.

After topping their group ahead of the United States, Portugal and Poland, South Korea were handed a tough last 16 draw against Italy.

They spent much of the game trailing to an early Christian Vieri goal, before Seol Ki-Hyeon equalised in the 88th minute to spark pandemonium in the stands.

The Koreans went on to score a golden goal with just three minutes of extra-time remaining.

South Korea then defeated Spain in the quarter-finals via a penalty shoot-out, before their run ended courtesy of a narrow 1-0 defeat against Germany.

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