The 10 Biggest Comebacks in Women’s World Cup history
The 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand will match the men's tournament by including 32 teams for the very first time. We rank the 10 biggest comebacks in FIFA Women’s World Cup history.
The days leading up to the ninth edition of the Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand offers a timely opportunity to delve into the archives and explore the most remarkable World Cup comebacks in the history of women's soccer.
In addition to this listing, be sure to check out our other sections on the upcoming 2023 World Cup, including the favorites to win the tournament, Women’s World Cup sleepers, each team’s odds to win Women's World Cup, and Women's World Cup Group stage predictions. Plus, a list of the most intriguing group-stage games to watch.
Women’s World Cup History
The Women's World Cup tournament began with the inaugural event in 1991.The U.S. women won that first tournament and have won three more since, making the USWNT the most successful team in women’s soccer history.
The 2023 Women’s World Cup, taking place in Australia and New Zealand, features 32 teams for the first time in tournament history – a total that matches the number of teams in the men's World Cup. The most recent Women’s World Cup in 2019 included 24 teams, while the inaugural tournament in 1991 only featured 12.
What was the Biggest Comeback in Women’s World Cup History?
Argentina pulled off the biggest comeback in Women’s World Cup history in 2019 when the Argentinians pulled themselves back from a 3-0 deficit for a 3-3 draw with Scotland.
After Argentina cut the Scottish lead to 3-2, a penalty decision in the Argentinians’ favor gave them an opportunity to level the score. Adding to the drama, the penalty was initially saved before the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) reviewed the play and ruled that the Scottish goalkeeper had left her line early.
The spot kick had to be retaken, and Flor Bonsegundo converted on her second attempt. The 3-3 tie gave Argentina a real shot at getting through to the tournament’s knockout stages as a third-place team via tiebreakers. Unfortunately, however, those hopes were crushed by Cameroon, which edged them out on points.
Ranking the Top 10 Biggest Comebacks in Women’s World Cup History
- Cameroon defeats Switzerland (2015 Group Stage)
Final Score: 2-1 Cameroon
Going into the third and final group-stage game for both Cameroon and Switzerland at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, each team had three points in the standings. This matchup would determine which squad advanced to the knockout rounds.
Switzerland had the lead at halftime, but Cameroon tied the score early in the second half on Gabrielle Onguene’s sweet strike from the edge of the box.
Substitute Madeleine Ngono Mani would then score just six minutes after coming off the bench to give Cameroon its victory. When a fast-paced pull back from the right-hand side came her way, Ngono Mani guided the ball beautifully into the far corner to give her team the lead for good.
- New Zealand ties Mexico (2011 Group Stage)
Final Score: 2-2
Things weren’t going New Zealand's way at the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany, and the Kiwis found themselves at the bottom of their group with no points through the first two games of group-stage play.
New Zealand’s players knew they would not advance to the knockout rounds, but a late comeback in their final game against Mexico allowed them to leave with something to celebrate.
Trailing 2-0 as the clock ticked past 90 minutes, defender Rebecca Smith converted a corner kick with a powerful header, and the Kiwis quickly scrambled back to their half with only injury-time minutes remaining.
In the fourth minute of injury time, New Zealand striker Hannah Wilkinson carefully controlled a hopeful long ball on the edge of the penalty area. Wilkinson, who had come on as a substitute earlier in the game, held off defenders and volleyed the ball home for a 2-2 draw that set off a celebration among the New Zealand players and coaching staff.
- Sweden defeats Canada (2003 Semifinals)
Final Score: 2-1 Sweden
Sweden and Canada have had some very intense women’s soccer showdowns over the years, including a 2019 World Cup Round-of-16 matchup and the 2021 Olympic gold-medal game.
The first major meeting between the teams came in 2003, when Sweden and Canada went head-to-head in a Women’s World Cup semifinal match played in the United States. The game was deadlocked for over an hour, but Canada broke through and took the lead, suddenly putting itself in position to reach the final.
Sweden didn’t get back into the game until the closing minutes, and the Swedes weren’t going to go home without a fight. Malin Mostrom tied the score with just 10 minutes to play. Then, in the 86th minute, Sweden completed one of the best comebacks in women’s soccer history and advanced to the championship game against Germany.
- South Korea defeats Spain (2015 Group Stage)
Final Score: 2-1 South Korea
Brazil dominated Group E at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, leaving only one Round-of-16 berth open for either of its main group rivals, Spain and South Korea. Heading into their third and final group-stage game, both teams knew they needed a win if they wanted to advance.
Spain took the lead shortly before the game’s 30-minute mark on a goal by Veronica Boquete. South Korea immediate realized it would have to really work to wear the Spaniards down and get back in the game.
South Korea’s equalizer didn’t come until almost 10 minutes into the second half, and it was scored on a neat header from close range. Suddenly, everything hung in the balance once again.
The game-winning goal resulted from what might have merely been a crossing attempt from the right-hand side. The ball, however, floated over the Spanish goalkeeper and into the net.
South Korea advanced to the knockout stages as a result of its win, while Spain finished at the bottom of the group and headed home.
- China ties USA (1995 Group Stage)
Final Score: 3-3
The USA won the inaugural World Cup title in 1991, and the defending champions were strong favorites to win it again in 1995.
The Americans’ tournament opener came against China, and they seemed to be off to yet another hot start when they took a 2-0 lead inside 35 minutes of play.
China got one back to make it 2-1 by halftime, but Chinese hopes seemed dashed when the USWNT extended its lead to 3-1 in the second half.
Considering the prowess of the U.S. soccer team, China’s performance over the match’s final 15 minutes deserves tremendous respect. The Chinese took the game from 3-1 to 3-3, managing to earn a point in the standings. The result led to each team finishing group play with seven points, enabling both to reach the tournament’s knockout stage.
- Japan defeats Sweden (2011 Semifinals)
Final Score: 3-1 Japan
After crashing out of the Women’s World Cup group stage in 2007, Japan came back seeking redemption in 2011.
The Japanese put together an inspired performance to hold off Germany in the quarterfinals before squeaking out a 1-0 win in extra time. That victory set the stage for a tough semifinal matchup against Sweden.
When the Swedes took a 1-0 lead less than10 minutes into the game, Japan suddenly faced an uphill climb to stay alive in the tournament. Despite staring elimination in the face, the Japanese spun that 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 victory.
Not only did Japan come back to beat Sweden 3-1, but they went on to become the only team in history to beat the USWNT in a Women’s World Cup final.
Japan fell behind the U.S. women twice in what might just be the greatest Women’s World Cup final to date. The game ended 2-2 after extra time, and Japan went on to claim the title on penalties.
- Australia defeats Brazil (2019 Group Stage)
Final Score: 3-2 Australia
Australia’s rally from a 2-0 deficit to beat Brazil in the 2019 World Cup group stage certainly deserves a spot on this list.
This was the game in which Brazilian icon Marta became the first player to score goals at five separate Women’s World Cup tournaments. Australia, however, would spoil the celebration. With her team up 1-0, Marta converted a penalty kick to double the lead, only to find it squashed by a miraculous comeback.
The Australians scored during injury time just before the match’s first half ended, and they came out energized for the second half. Midfielder Chloe Lozargo tied the score just before the 60-minute mark, and less than 10 minutes later, a deep cross went in off the head of Brazilian defender Monica to complete the 3-2 comeback.
The stunning win helped Australia gain a spot in the knockout rounds of the competition and enabled the Aussies to finish ahead of Brazil.
- Sweden defeats Germany (1995 Group Stage)
Final Score: 3-2 Sweden
Germany and Sweden have consistently been two of women’s soccer’s best European teams, and they faced one another in the group stages of the 1995 World Cup, where Sweden happened to be the host nation.
The Swedes had lost their first game to Brazil, leaving them with a tough group-stage schedule in their remaining two games against Germany and Japan.
Giving Germany a penalty-kick opportunity within the first 10 minutes of their second group-stage game only complicated matters for Sweden. Then, when the Germans made it 2-0, the host nation found itself potentially facing a very early exit from the tournament.
What followed was one of the most inspired second-half performances in women’s soccer history. It was also one of the best comebacks ever in a World Cup match.
The Swedes converted a penalty kick of their own at the 65-minute mark, but they would have to continue to fight to get the equalizer. That goal came in the 80th minute, shifting all the momentum back to Sweden, which was playing in front of thousands of jubilant fans.
That home crowd got to enjoy a euphoric celebration after Malin Andersson scored the winner in the 86th minute.
- Germany defeats Sweden (2003 Final)
Final Score: 2-1 Germany
Eight years after the epic match between Germany and Sweden in the 1995 Women’s World Cup, the two nations met again -- only this time with far greater stakes.
The 2003 World Cup Final was played in front of over 26,000 soccer fans at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles. Sweden grabbed the early lead when Hanna Ljungberg received a beautiful through-ball that she tucked behind the German goalkeeper.
Germany leveled the score barely a minute into the second half -- the worst possible scenario for Sweden coming out of halftime.
The game went to extra time. In that era, overtime in the Women’s World Cup had a golden goal (sudden-death) format, so the stakes were remarkably high during those additional minutes.
Germany walked off as champions after defender Nia Kunzer came through with a powerful header on a ball that had floated into the box. Germany won the tournament -- becoming the only country to date that has won both the men’s and women’s World Cup championships.
- Argentina ties Scotland (2019 Group Stage)
Final Score: 3-3
Argentina’s stunning 2019 performance against Scotland earns the top spot on this list, because it remains the biggest comeback in Women’s World Cup history.
How many teams have come back from a 3-0 deficit in a Women's World Cup game? Only one team has done it, and that was Argentina in stunning fashion.
Scotland had lost its first two group-stage games, while Argentina had only taken one point from theirs, so both teams needed a strong showing if they hoped to claim one of the available third-place spots in the knockout stages.
The Scottish team dominated the game’s early stages and led 1-0 at halftime. Scotland then made it 2-0 less than five minutes into the second half and stretched the lead to 3-0 some 20 minutes later at the 69-minute mark. It seemed as if Scotland would cruise to one of the available third-place positions in the Round of 16. All they had to do was keep their lead for 20 more minutes.
Argentina had other plans for those final 20 minutes, and the Argentine surge came seemingly out of nowhere. Early in the game, Argentina had failed to clear its lines, and players were not on the same page, but the team dug deep and got one back to cut the lead to 3-1 in the 74th minute.
The Argentinians’ second goal was a sweet strike by Flor Bonsegundo from the edge of the penalty area that the keeper failed to keep out. It was officially an own-goal, but calling it that doesn’t do it justice.
A brash challenge in the box during the dying seconds of the game led the referee to take a look at the VAR system for a potential penalty kick for Argentina. When she awarded it, the stadium erupted.
Flor Bonsegundo was once again in the spotlight – this time with a chance to tie the game. The drama only grew when her shot was saved by Scottish keeper Lee Alexander. VAR stepped in again to reveal that Alexander had come off her line too early in order to make the save, and the penalty had to be retaken.
This time Bonsegundo converted, capping off one of the greatest soccer comebacks in the history of the women’s game.
Argentina would have earned a spot in the 2019 tournaments’ knockout stages if a couple of other group-stage results had gone their way, but Cameroon's win over New Zealand crushed those hopes. Despite their thrilling rally, the Argentinians were headed home. Nevertheless, Argentina’s fans certainly had a great time watching their team’s incredible comeback.
Parameters of Rankings
These all-time biggest comebacks in the history of the Women's World Cup have been ranked based on the magnitude of the comeback and the significance of the moment.
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