With a spirited home crowd cheering on, Russia made a memorable contribution to the World Cup’s history of upsets.
The Russians beat Spain on penalty kicks in the round of 16 on Sunday, eliminating the 2010 champions and overcoming seemingly nonstop possession by the Spaniards. Russia is No. 70 in the FIFA ranking and Spain is No. 10, and the Spanish were considered serious contenders to win the tournament.
The FIFA ranking may have underrated Russia because as the host country, it didn’t have to play any qualifiers. Still, this upset was a significant one, especially since it occurred in the knockout phase and put the Russians through to the quarterfinals.
Here’s a look back through World Cup history at some of the event’s other famous upsets:
SENEGAL’S RUN (2002)
France was the defending World Cup and European champion when it was eliminated in the group stage in a dismal showing in 2002. The French never recovered from their 1-0 loss to Senegal in the tournament opener in Seoul. This was a wild World Cup in which South Korea and Turkey both reached the semifinals. The United States made it to the quarterfinals — and Senegal did as well, beating Sweden 2-1 in the round of 16 on a goal by Henri Camara.
GERMANY STUMBLES (1994 and 1998)
Arguably the most consistent contender in World Cup history, Germany dropped a pair of quarterfinals against unheralded European challengers. Bulgaria knocked the Germans out 2-1 in 1994 in New Jersey. Four years later in France, the Germans lost 3-0 to Croatia .
ARGENTINA’S ROLLER COASTER (1990)
Defending champion Argentina rarely looked impressive in Italy in 1990, but Diego Maradona’s team managed a runner-up showing anyway. Cameroon shocked Argentina 1-0 in the opener despite two red cards, but from that point on, the Argentinians kept advancing — barely — even when up against seemingly superior opponents. They beat Brazil 1-0 in the round of 16 and edged host Italy in the semifinals on penalties.
The Italians hadn’t allowed a goal all tournament before Argentina’s Claudio Caniggia scored in the second half of the semifinal.
ALL FOR NAUGHT (1982)
Algeria shook up the 1982 World Cup in Spain with a 2-1 victory over West Germany at the start of the initial group stage. The Germans advanced anyway under controversial circumstances. Heading into the group’s final match between West Germany and Austria, a 1-0 win by the Germans would allow both those teams to advance at Algeria’s expense. That’s exactly what happened in a timid match that became known as the “Disgrace of Gijon.”
OUT OF NOWHERE (1966)
For a brief moment in England in 1966, it appeared North Korea — yes, North Korea — might reach the semifinals of the World Cup. The North Koreans had already beaten Italy 1-0 in the group stage. Then they raced out to a 3-0 lead over Portugal in the quarterfinals before eventually falling 5-3.
TURNING THE TABLES (1954)
The biggest upset in a World Cup final may have been West Germany’s “Miracle of Bern” in 1954. Hungary had run roughshod through this tournament in Switzerland, scoring 25 goals in four matches before the final — including an 8-3 win over the Germans in group play. Ferenc Puskas and the Hungarians led 2-0 early in the final before West Germany rallied for a 3-2 victory .
There was no winner-take all final in 1950, only a final group stage, but the climactic match between Brazil and Uruguay decided the title. The host Brazilians had won their previous two games by a combined 13-2 and needed only a draw against Uruguay to win the World Cup. But the visitors rallied in the second half for a 2-1 victory at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro. The match is known as the “Maracanazo.”
BELO HORIZONTE (1950)
Earlier in that 1950 tournament, England endured its own massive upset, losing 1-0 to the U.S. in Belo Horizonte. A goal by Joe Gaetjens in the first half held up until the end. Neither team made it out of that group. The U.S. would not win another World Cup match until 1994.
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