Rising underdogs: A new era of football excellence unleashed

The 2022 FIFA World Cup showcased an amazing display of skill, both from teams that were long-time favourites to win, such as France and Argentina. However, we also saw some lesser-known teams that do not traditionally place very high in the ranks do the same. Watching these matches gave many viewers a new appreciation for these underdog teams, who, despite not playing in the finals, proved that they punch above their weight under the right circumstances.

Historically, only teams from Western Europe and South America make it very far into the World Cup. Teams from other regions are generally expected to drop out in either the group stages or, if they are lucky, the round of 16. While this usually ends up being the case, there are rare instances where an unexpected team makes it much farther than anyone anticipated, and this has never been as true as it was in the 2022 World Cup.

A history of upsets

Throughout the 93-year history of the FIFA World Cup, there have been several notable upsets:

  • USA beats England (1-0) in 1950
  • DPR Korea beats Italy (1-0) in 1966
  • Algeria beats West Germany (2-1) in 1982
  • Cameroon beats Italy (1-0) in 1990
  • Senegal beats France (1-0) in 2002
  • Costa Rica beats both Uruguay (3-1) and Italy (1-0) in group stages in 2014

While each of these matches made headlines at the time, nothing compares to that of the 2022 World Cup. The exciting nature of these underdog teams coming out victorious played a role in the tournament being the most viewed World Cup to date, reaching 1.5 billion viewers for the finale.

As we look over the most unexpected results, we see just how many noteworthy games there were during the competition.


Possibly the team to punch above their weight the most throughout the World Cup, Morocco did not lose a single game until the semifinals when they lost 2-0 to France. Before their loss, Morocco was able to best Belgium, Canada, Spain, and, most surprisingly, Portugal. The Atlas Lions became one of the biggest dark horses of the tournament.


Throughout the tournament, Japan repeatedly turned out on top when they were largely expected to lose. In group stages, they beat two European superpowers early on, before being knocked out in the round of 16. The team managed to win 2-1 against Germany, following it up eight days later with another 2-1 win against Spain.


The first game of the quarterfinals saw the top ranked nation, Brazil, taking on Croatia. After being tied 1-1 at full time, Croatia would win 4-2 in the penalty shootout. About a week later, the central European team would beat Morocco to end the tournament in third place.

South Korea

Despite not making it out of the group stage, South Korea surprised everyone when they won 2-1 in their match against Portugal.


Even though they were a strong team, Denmark was knocked out during group stages, after they were unable to win any of their three games, including a surprise defeat against Australia, where they lost 1-0.


In an unexpected turn of events, Cameroon managed a win against Brazil, by scoring the first and only goal of the match two minutes into stoppage time with a wonderful header by Vincent Aboubakar. After scoring his winning goal, Aboubakar celebrated by taking off his shirt, resulting in his second yellow card of the game, removing him for the remainder of stoppage time.


After a well-played game from both sides, Tunisia would take home the victory against France in their group stage game. In what was a nail-biting finish, Antoine Griezmann scored for France with just seconds left in stoppage time. However, his goal would ultimately not count, as the Referee determined that he was just barely offside. The final score ended at 1-0.

Saudi Arabia

In what was undoubtedly the most surprising result of the tournament, Saudi Arabia ended victorious against the heavily-favoured Argentina, winning 2-1 after Lionel Messi had multiple goals taken away from him for being off-side.

Argentina had 70% possession, and had 15 shots, with 6 being on goal. Saudi Arabia only made 3 shots, 2 of which were on target. This game would be the wake-up call that Argentina needed to make some changes to their lineup and eventually take home the first-place trophy in 2022.

The future of football

This World Cup saw more major upsets than any before it. With interest in football growing worldwide, and teams receiving more funding and talent than ever before, we will likely continue to see many lesser-known teams do surprisingly well.

The 2026 World Cup will increase the number of teams that qualify from 32 teams to 48, which is the first time since 1998 that the format has been changed. With an additional 16 teams playing, There is more chance than ever before for less experienced teams to prove to the world that they have what it takes to compete at the highest level.

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