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5 Biggest Upsets in World Cup History: Does South Korea Beating Germany Make the List?

German keeper Manuel Neuer
German keeper Manuel Neuer couldn't save his team from falling 2-0 to South Korea in the Russia 2018 Group Stage. Where does the loss rank among all-time World Cup upsets? Photo by Steindy (wikimedia commons) [CC License].

The defending champions are going home. Germany needed a win over South Korea in their final game of the Group Stage in order to advance to the Knockout Round of Russia 2018. Instead, they lost 2-0, despite controlling 70% of possession, winning three-times as many corners, and firing 26 shots toward the Korean goal.

Does Korea’s massive upset instantly crack the top-five biggest upsets in World Cup history? Let’s count them down. 

5. Germany 7-1 Brazil (2014)

When and where did it take place? Brazil 2014 Group Stage.

What were the consequences? Host nation and tournament favorite Brazil was eliminated (and massively embarrassed) in the semifinals.

Why does it make the top-five? Brazil makes its first of two appearances on the list thanks to a 7-1 drubbing at the hands of Germany. While this game wasn’t the massive mismatch that the rest are – Germany (no. 2 in the world) was actually ranked higher than Brazil (no. 3) at the time – the blowout nature and the fact that it came in Rio de Janeiro make it worthy.

All set to party through the night, the home crowd had plenty of time to cancel their plans and schedule a post-mortem instead as Thomas Muller scored just 11 minutes into the game and Germany extended the lead to 5-0 before the game was even 30 minutes old. It was 7-0 before a late consolation marker by Oscar, a goal which didn’t live up to its name, offering little solace to the 58,000 fans in attendance.

Germany’s four-goal outburst from minute 24-29 left indelible scars on Brazil’s national identity. Germany “pierc[ed] piercing Brazil’s defence with such frequency and brutality and engendering such horror among onlookers that footage really should be viewed through an opaque shower curtain,” wrote The Guardian’s Simon Burnton. So take your computer to the banheiro before watching the clip below …

4. Germany 3-2 Hungary (1954)

When and where did it take place? Switzerland 1954 Final.

What were the consequences? The unstoppable force that was Hungary was denied its first-ever World Cup.

Why does it make the top-five? If you weren’t alive in the 50s, you’re probably surprised to see Germany beating Hungary listed as an upset. But in 1954, Hungary was unquestionably the team to beat. They were pretty much the Steph Curry/Kevin Durant-era Golden State Warriors of soccer. From 1950-56, the “Golden Team” lost just one game, compiling a 42-7-1 record.

In the 1954 World Cup, alone, they amassed a tournament-record 27 goals in just five games.

[I]n 1954, Hungary was … pretty much the Steph Curry/Kevin Durant-era Golden State Warriors of soccer. From 1950-56, the “Golden Team” lost just one game.

Germany, on the other hand, had yet to win any of its four World Cup titles in 1954 and had only recently been reinstated by FIFA post-WWII.

The teams actually first met in the Group Stage and Germany, fielding a team of mostly reserves, was obliterated 8-3. A similar result seemed to be a fait accompli in the finals when Hungary took an early 2-0 lead, scoring twice in the first eight minutes.

But a crucial answer from Max Morlock in the 10th minute gave Germany hope. Then Helmut Rahn equalised in the 18th minute before scoring the late winner in the 84th.

As you can see in the old-timey highlight reel below, the “beautiful game” wasn’t quite as beautiful back then, but that doesn’t make the result any less improbable.

3. Korea 2-0 Germany (2018)

When and where did it take place? Russia 2018 Group Stage.

What were the consequences? Defending champion Germany was knocked out of World Cup.

Why does it make the top-five? Germany, the victors in our first two upsets, become the vanquished in number three. Not only were the Germans the defending champs in 2018, they were also the #1 ranked team in the world at the time.

Korea, meanwhile, was a lowly 57th, fourth-lowest in the entire tournament, and were 500/1 longshots to win the World Cup. They were also 0-0-2 entering the game, already falling to Mexico and Sweden.

After a win and a loss in the first two Group Stage games, Germany sat tied for second in their quartet (behind Mexico, level with Sweden). They absolutely needed a win to boost their chances of moving on.

Indeed, thanks to complicated tie-breaking scenarios, winning didn’t even guarantee they would advance. They needed to pile on and win by multiple goals to truly feel safe. That’s why Bovada had the spread at an almost unprecedented Germany -3 heading into the match.

Bovada.lv had the spread at an almost unprecedented Germany -3 heading into the match [with South Korea].

But right from the opening kick, the champs looked nervous and out of sorts. While they generated a few good chances over the course of 90 minutes, they were routinely turned back by a previously underwhelming Korean defense. And then, in the third minute of stoppage time, disaster struck (or jubilation, depending on your allegiances).

2. Uruguay 2-1 Brazil (1950)

When and where did it take place? Brazil 1950 Final Round.

What were the consequences? Uruguay won the World Cup over host Brazil.

Why does it make the top-five? Uruguay was a good team, make no mistake. They were ranked 18th in the world entering the 1950 World Cup. But Uruguay was also a nation of roughly 2.5 million people and basically received a free pass to the final round: they were originally placed in just a three-team group, and that was trimmed to just two after France withdrew. All they needed to do to reach the final four was beat Bolivia, the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, which they did handily (8-0).

An upset of Sweden (3-2) and a draw with Spain (2-2) in the final round robin set-up a match with host Brazil, who had themselves walloped both the Swedes (7-1) and Spaniards (6-1), for the title. Brazil needed only a tie to become world champions.

Uruguay … basically received a free pass to the final round … All they needed to do to reach the final four was beat Bolivia, the lowest-ranked team in the tournament.

The Seleção were the undisputed class of South America at the time and were ranked fourth in the world, 14 spots higher than their southern neighbors. They had won the 1949 South American Championship the year prior and looked to have the World Cup in the bag after taking a 1-0 lead against Uruguay early in the second half.

But oles turned to oh-nos in Maracanã Stadium when Uruguay responded with two goals in the final 33 minutes. The match became known as the Maracanazo (meaning “The Maracanã Blow”) in the aftermath.

1. United States 1-0 England (1950)

When and where did it take place? Brazil 1950 Group Stage.

What were the consequences? The result helped eliminate no. 2-ranked England from the World Cup in the Group Stage.

Why does it make the top-five? The biggest upset of all time also comes from the 1950 tournament.

Even though there were only 13 teams in the field, the USA was a whopping 500/1 to win the World Cup. For comparison, those are the same odds the expansion Vegas Golden Knights were given to win the 2018 Stanley Cup in the 31-team NHL. Team USA’s world ranking of 40 was second-worst in the tournament, ahead of only Bolivia (63).

The American team wasn’t even made up of professionals in 1950. It was a hodgepodge of amateurs just hoping to be competitive on the sport’s biggest stage.

[Team USA] was a hodgepodge of amateurs just hoping to be competitive on the sport’s biggest stage.

England, meanwhile, was the no. 2 team in the world and was expected to challenge for the title. The Group Stage was supposed to be a mere formality.

The opening minutes went as predicted as England fired shot after shot toward the American goal. They didn’t manage to break through, though, unlike Joe Gaetjens, who gave the US a 1-0 lead by heading in a cross from Walter Bahr at the 38-minute mark.

The lead would hold up thanks to keeper Frank Borghi playing the game of his life.

The size of the upset is somewhat attenuated by the fact that England’s Stanley Matthews, arguably their best player, was left out of the lineup that day. But the game was still a complete mismatch, as evidenced by England’s dominance in every area except the scoreboard.

The amateur status of the US team and the strength of the English side make this upset comparable to hockey’s Miracle On Ice, and it still stands as the most improbable outcome in World Cup history.

Think we messed up the ranking? Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook and Twitter pages. 

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Sascha was a hockey player in his youth. He has now been SBD's lead odds-maker/number cruncher since 2014, writing and editing about everything you can possibly put odds on. He's happiest when those things are baseball, hockey, football, and basketball.