Memorable World Cup Upsets by Asian Teams

World Cup upsets were all over the news in the first week of Qatar 2022 with Asian teams acting as the principal protagonists.

Asian teams have long been overlooked as ones capable of making a difference at World Cup. Apart from a controversial semifinal appearance in the 2002 edition, South Korea has only reached the round of 16 once in 2010. Japan also previously managed to advance to that stage on three occasions.

However, this current results in the group stage of this year’s edition demonstrate Asian football’s potential. The three World Cup upsets in this year’s World Cup were done by Asian teams, instead of African sides. Saudi Arabia’s shocking win over Argentina, Japan’s triumphant victory against Germany or Iran’s stunning result versus Wales might be just the beginning.

South Korea did manage to share spoils versus Uruguay on Thursday, but the hosts and Australia failed to even impress their fans. Will they have their turn to make their own World Cup upsets in their next two games? Or will Salem Al-Dawsari and co plus Hajime Moriyasu’s men continue their top form? It is definitely worth waiting for. While wondering what might happen to them, check out the previous World Cup shockers by AFC teams.

Most notable World Cup upsets by Asian Teams before 2022

North Korea vs Italy (1966)

North Korea made their debut in the 1966 edition in England, and were grouped with USSR, Italy and Chile. No one would have dared to imagine how they were able to take points from their experienced oppositions. However, not only did they take a point against Chile in a 1-1 draw, but they defeated Italy in the last game. Park Doo Ik scored the historic winning goal. Gli Azzurri wasted a number of chances before conceding and afterwards. Such victory led them to go through the quarterfinals, the first achievement by an Asian side in World Cup history.

South Korea vs Portugal (2002)

Guus Hiddink’s men had already collected four points before heading to the final match of the 2002 World Cup group stage. Portugal only had three points in hand. They needed a win to progress. It was thought that South Korea would struggle in leveling the star-studded Portugal led by Luis Figo. Yet, it was a different story on the pitch. Both teams were locked in a stalemate until two Portuguese players, João Pinto and Beto, were sent off.

The hosts took the opportunity to charge and eventually netted the winning goal. Park Ji Sung found the back of the net to take the lead. Portugal actually responded well, but Luis Figo missed the chance via a free kick just outside the penalty box and the current Porto boss, Sergio Conceição, attempted through an overhead kick. Unfortunately, it only hit the post. The Taeguk Warriors triumphed, the Seleccão das Quinas withered and sent home early.

Japan vs Denmark (2010)

Japan made their first upset to a stronger side back in South Africa 2010 against Denmark. It was the third game of the round robin with having collected three points. Niklas Berdner and co were the favorite to qualify but they were stunned by the Japanese’s opener. It was Keisuke Honda’s wonderful free kick which broke the deadlock. In the 30th minute, Denmark conceded again through another free kick from Yasuhito Endo. They replied once as John Dahl Tomasson gave them a lifeline bu,t Japan restored their two-goal lead from Shinji Okazaki six minutes later.

South Korea vs Germany (2018)

Four years ago, the defending champions Germany suffered their first World Cup upset by an Asian side in a decisive third match against South Korea. They needed a win after losing at the opener versus Mexico and won over Sweden afterwards. Unfortunately, lady luck did not smile at them. Joachim Löw’s side had been knocking on the door but failed to find a way through.

Then the trouble came on 93rd minute as Kim Young Gwon bagged the opener. A few minutes later, the overlapping Neuer lost the ball leading to the long ball for Son Heung-Min who was running free in German defence and tucked away into the empty net. Germany had to end their campaign way too early.

Japan vs Colombia (2018)

Another upset made by Japan was in Russia 2018. They shocked the world after beating Colombia 2-1 at the opener. They took the lead through Shinji Kagawa’s penalty but Jose Pekerman’s men found their equalizer from Juan Quintero’s free kick. The AFC team finally scored the winning goal through Yuya Osako. It was Japan’s first victory against an South American team.

Saudi Arabia vs Belgium (1994)

Before 2022, Saudi Arabia once made a stunning debut with their unthinkable victory against Belgium at the group stage at USA 1994. What was even more unbelievable was their only winning goal. Saeed Owairan bagged a memorable wonder goal similar to Diego Maradona’s goal of the century against England in 1986. It is one of the best goal in the World Cup history. However, Owairan was not the only hero of the match. The Green Falcon’s defensive line plus Mohammed Al-Deayea’s performance between the sticks helped them to hold on till the final whistle.

South Korea vs Italy (2002)

There is no bigger World Cup upset than South Korea’s unexpected triumph in the round of 16 against Italy. Guus Hinddink’s side once again proved their fortune despite being one goal behind at the first half. Christian Vieri’s header gave Gli Azzurri the lead. The co-hosts of the 2002 edition did respond well as they were given a penalty.

Sadly, Ahn Jung Hwan’s execution was denied by Gianluigi Buffon. The miracle came on 89th minute as Seol Ki Hyeon registered a late equalizer. Once again, the Taeguk Warriors had the advantage as Francesco Totti was sent off on 104th minute. In the 117th minute, Ahn Jung Hwan finally found his redemption. The Perugia man netted the golden goal and the home fans burst in joy.

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