5 Greatest Upsets in Soccer (Football) History

All sports are susceptible to some major upsets, and football is no exception. Though it’s rarer as the better team tends to come out on top, there have been a handful of matches (or perhaps overall seasons) in which the team that was given no chance pulled off the impossible and wound up coming out victorious.

Let’s go through the long history of the sport and take a look at some of the upsets that left the world stunned. There were a lot of upsets to choose from, but these five were in front of worldwide audiences and featured some of the biggest longshot odds in sportsbook history.

North Korea vs. Italy (1966 World Cup)

England played host to the World Cup in 1966 and would end up winning the entire tournament, but not before some events took place. All of Africa boycotted the event, Czechoslovakia didn’t qualify after finishing second in the previous World Cup, and the championship trophy was stolen but recovered by a dog. There was also one of the biggest upsets in football history, which took place during the group stage.

North Korea has qualified for two World Cup events. 2010 in South Africa, and the 1966 event in which they drew a group with Chile, the Soviet Union, and Italy. The massive underdogs were expected to get swept and lost the opening match 3-0 to the Soviets. After drawing with Chile (1-1), the North Koreans kept Italy out of the knockout stage, defeating them 1-0. North Korea took their place but lost 5-3 to Portugal in the quarterfinals.

Leicester City (2015-16 EPL Season)

2016 was a strange year overall between Brexit, Harambe, Syria, and Donald Trump, but things were just as wild in the sports world. In Major League Baseball, the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series title in 108 years while Leicester City pulled off the greatest underdog story in English football history. At 5,000-to-1, nobody thought they could win the EPL.

Leicester City started strong, lost just one of its first 17 matches, and started winning more than they drew. Many thought it was simply a ‘cute’ story midway through the season, but the second half was even stronger for Leicester City. The club dropped just one more match en route to 81 points, putting them 10 ahead of runner-up Arsenal. 

Greece vs. Portugal (Euro 2004)

Like Leicester City, almost nobody gave Greece a chance during the Euro 2004, especially with host Portugal being one of the favorites. Greece was placed into the same group as Portugal, as well as heavyweights Spain and Russia. Greece had a stunning upset of Portugal (2-1) to kick off the tournament, then drew 1-1 with Spain before dropping a 1-2 decision to Russia.

Greece still advanced and the surprises kept coming. The country defeated France 1-0 in the quarterfinals, then had another 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic in the semis. In a rematch with Portugal, the 1-0 trend would continue with Greece coming out on top once again and clinching the 2004 Euro title.

Saudi Arabia vs. Argentina (2022 World Cup)

Essentially what everyone will remember about the 2022 World Cup was that it was in Qatar and Lionel Messi won his first World Cup with Argentina. However, Argentina’s run for the World Cup title didn’t go off without a hitch. During the group stages, the club had its struggles with one of the event’s biggest underdogs in the form of Saudi Arabia.

In the group’s opening match in Lusail, Argentina got off to a 1-0 advantage thanks to a Messi penalty kick, but the Saudis netted the next two in the 48th and 53rd minutes. Saudi Arabia held on for the 2-1 victory in what would be their only win of the tournament, as well as Argentina’s only match that didn’t end with them winning.

USA vs. England (1950 World Cup)

Heading into the 1950 World Cup, England was one of the favorites to win the entire event while the United States mostly sent players who took on football as a hobby instead of a job. When the two met up in the group stages, England was expected to dominate the Americans, but it wasn’t to be. England failed to score while Joseph Gaetjens netted the lone goal, giving the US a 1-0 victory.

England still had a chance to advance out of the group stage, but were demoralized after what they thought would be an easy victory and dropped another 1-0 decision to Spain. As for the Americans, their other two matches ended in 3-1 and 5-2 defeated to Spain and Chile, respectively.

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