The 10 Biggest Upsets in Women’s World Cup history
With some of the top teams struggling in the opening matches of the 2023 Women’s World Cup, we decided to take a look back through the archives at some of the biggest upsets in competition history.
This year the USA had the strongest odds to win the women’s World Cup, but they’ve been caught off guard in the Round of 16, which landed the game on this list of the biggest upsets in women’s World Cup history to date.
The 2023 tournament has thrown out two more almighty upsets, and has not been short of drama with the competition boasting 32 nations for the very first time. This list features some of the best FIFAWWC games from the biggest comeback in women’s soccer history to the greatest moments the competition has ever seen, we’ve got you covered.
From the 1991 FIFA Women’s World Cup in China to the most recent tournament in 2019 and 2023, there have been some thrilling matchups and several giant killings. So, let’s take a look at them and rank the very best.
If you need some guidance on the tournament, we compiled a list of the top 10 Best FIFA women’s World Cup Group Stage games to watch!
Honorable Mentions1999 Women’s World Cup Group Stage: Ghana vs Australia
Final Score: 1-1
The Australia women’s national soccer team were expected to take a step forward in 1999, although faced a tough group with both China and Sweden also looking to advance.
If the Australians were going to challenge those two teams for a spot in the knockout stages, their first matchup against Ghana was critical. Australia needed the win, and Ghana were the lowest seeded team and presented an opportunity to get the tournament underway on the right foot.
Things were going to plan when the Matildas finally broke through Julie Murray in the 74th minute, but Australia dropped their guard and gave the lead up almost immediately. The game finished 1-1 and Australia, disheartened by the result, then lost to both China and Sweden to exit the tournament with just a single point. 2015 Women’s World Cup Group Stage: South Korea vs Spain
Closing Final Betting Lines: South Korea +210, Spain +120
Final Score: 2-1 South Korea
Spain had a disappointing start to the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, tying in a game they should have won against Costa Rica, and losing 1-0 to Brazil in their second group stage game.
South Korea were one of the tournament's biggest underdogs, with +25,000 odds to win the World Cup compared to Spain's +400. The final group stage game presented an opportunity for the winning team to advance to the knockout stages in second place behind Brazil.
Spain took the lead right before the half an hour mark, but a remarkable comeback that led to a 2-1 South Korea win left the European side stunned. They were headed home, and South Korea won their very first women’s World Cup game and advanced to the knockouts.
Ranking the Top 10 Biggest Upsets in Women’s World Cup History
- 1995 Women’s World Cup Group Stage: Brazil vs Sweden
Final Score: 1-0 Brazil
In 1995 the Brazil women’s soccer roster was far from the talented team they have become over the years. Soccer fans associate Brazil with some of the greatest soccer players in the world, players like Ronaldo Nazario, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Marta, who has become an iconic figure in women’s soccer.
But in 1995 they hadn’t found their rhythm yet in the women’s game, and their opening game of the tournament saw them face host nation Sweden.
Brazil were the underdog, and Sweden were considered one of the tournament favorites as both the hosts and a team that had finished third in 1991. The host nation came out of the gate a little slow, and Brazil frustrated them, stealing a 1-0 win through forward Roseli’s goal in the 37th minute. Sweden fans were stunned, and Brazil had caused chaos in Europe.
- 2011 Women’s World Cup Quarter Final: Japan vs Germany
Final Score: 1-0 Japan (After Extra Time)
Germany had just made their way through the group stage in first place, and were looking to defend their title as the World Cup champions in back to back years in 2003 and 2007.
Most pundits and bettors looked past Japan, who had qualified through Group B in second place behind the English Lionesses.
Germany were the favorites, and they came close to taking the lead on multiple occasions, but Japan battled and toughed it out for 90 minutes. With extra time on the horizon, they knew they had a chance.
In the 108th minute, a lofted through ball was latched onto by Karina Maruyama, who beat the German goalkeeper at her near post. Japan had knocked out the number two ranked team in the World and the defending champions that had been tipped to win the competition by many for the third time in a row.
Japan would continue to fly through the tournament too, eventually beating the USA in remarkable fashion in the 2011 Women’s World Cup finals, a feat which remains an all-time sporting accomplishment in Japan.
- 1999 Women’s World Cup Group Stage: North Korea vs Denmark
Final Score: 3-1 North Korea
The 1999 World Cup Group A featured the host nation USWNT, Denmark and two longshot underdogs in African nation Nigeria and Asia’s North Korea.
Denmark were looking to catch up with the likes of Sweden and Norway who had both already made their mark on women’s soccer, and the ‘99 World Cup would give them an opportunity to challenge for a spot in the knockout stages along with the USA.
With a tough first game against the hosts, Denmark lost 3-0, but were still expected to perform against both Nigeria and North Korea in the remaining two games. North Korea didn’t get that memo, and shot out to a stunning 3-0 lead in the game.
A 74th minute goal from Janni Johansen wasn’t enough to mount a comeback, and Denmark ended up crashing out of the tournament with zero points.
- 1995 Women’s World Cup Quarter Final: China vs Sweden
Final Score: 1-1 (China won 4-3 on penalties)
Sweden had suffered that bitterly disappointing loss to Brazil in the opening game of the 1995 World Cup hosted in their own backyard. While it was a shocking result, the Swedes dusted themselves off and got back on track with back-to-back wins against Germany and Japan.
Those wins earned them a knockout stages game against China, who were a strong women’s team, but not considered a favorite against the European hosts.
It was however China who took the lead on 29 minutes, and Sweden would find their way back into the game in the dying moments of stoppage time while staring elimination square in the face.
Eventually penalties would decide it, and it would be China who came out on top when Sweden missed their fifth and final spot kick.
- 2007 Women’s World Cup Group Stage: North Korea vs USA
Final Score: 2-2
North Korea made quite the nuisance of themselves at the 2007 World Cup in China. They took part in what became known as the ‘Group of Death’ at the tournament, being drafted into the same group as both the USA and Sweden.
The USA were ranked number one in the women’s FIFA rankings at the time, Sweden were third, and North Korea were fifth. Somebody was going home, and North Korea was determined that it wasn’t going to be them.
It was an uncomfortable start for the USA and one of the most interesting women’s World Cup games in recent memory. Abby Wambach gave the USWNT the lead, but less than 10 minutes later North Korea fought back and equalized.
Then, in stunning fashion, North Korea took the lead, scoring twice within five minutes of one another to completely flip the game on its head. The USA would equalize, but the game ended in a 2-2 draw, which really knocked the USWNT out of rhythm to start the tournament.
- 2023 Women's World Cup Rounds of 16: Sweden vs USA
Final Score: 0-0 (Sweden won 5-4 on penalties)
Heading into the 2023 Women’s World Cup, the USWNT were the heavy favorites to win the whole thing and complete the very first three-peat in either Men’s or Women’s tournament history.
When the competition got underway, the U.S. beat Vietnam 3-0 in their opening game, but didn’t look as convincing as they should have against an opponent they were a very heavy favorite against.
The struggles continued through the group stages too, with draws against both the Netherlands and Portugal and only one goal scored across the two games. They qualified for the knockout rounds, but fans were looking a little concerned.
The Sweden game brought more of the same with a really unfamiliar type of struggle to find the back of the net for the USWNT. The game finished 0-0 again, and penalties would be the deciding factor.
The U.S. looked good early in the shootout too, with Andi Sullivan, Lindsey Horan and Kristie Mewis all scoring, while Sweden missed their third spot kick.
Megan Rapinoe stepped up fourth, and with all the confidence in the world blasted her penalty straight over the bar, swinging the momentum of the shootout back towards the Swedes.
When Sophia Smith missed the very next one as well, the U.S. were in serious danger, and after goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher scored penalty number six the pressure fell to Kelley O’Hara. She stepped up, calmly sent the ball right and clattered the post, meaning if Sweden scored they were through.
The final spot kick was as dramatic as they come, with Lina Hurtig sending her attempt to Naeher’s left, and the keeper diving and getting a strong paw on it to send the ball spinning up in the air. It came down just over the line, and after confirmation from the referee, the goal stood, and the USWNT suffered their worst and most humiliating exit in Women’s World Cup history.
- 2015 Women's World Cup Group Stage: Colombia vs France
Final Score: 2-0 Colombia
France were ranked third in the world at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, and the heavy favorite to win their group and advance into the knockout stages.
Colombia were ranked 28th in the world, and making just their second appearance at a women’s World Cup. They tied 1-1 with Mexico in the opening game, and would need a strong result in a tough group with both France and England if they wanted to advance.
Surprisingly, Colombia took it to France, and it was the South American side that took the lead through Lady Andrade in the 19th minute. Colombia then held their own and shut down France’s advances to hold onto their lead, sealing the win with a second goal in second half stoppage time.
Both teams ended up advancing through the group stage with Colombia ranking among the best of the third place teams. France went through top, having taken their frustration from the Colombia game out on Mexico in a 5-0 thrashing in their third and final group stage game.
Colombia’s win against the French is among the most memorable upsets in Women’s World Cup history, and it's officially the biggest upset between any women’s World Cup teams if you go purely off of FIFA rankings going into the tournament.
- 2023 Women's World Cup Group Stage: Colombia vs Germany
Final Score: 2-1 Colombia
Colombia are going to earn quite the name for themselves in the Women’s World Cup tournament, with yet another stunning performance in the 2023 group stage against one of the tournament favorites.
Germany came into the tournament ranked number two in the world, while Colombia were ranked 25th and one of just three nations from the COMMEBAL region.
The Germans had just torn through Morocco with a 6-0 win in their opening game, and looked every bit as advertised as the tournament got started. However, they then encountered Colombia, and what would be the unraveling of their campaign.
Linda Caicedo’s piece of fine footwork to create an angle for herself in the box followed by a sweet strike into the far corner gave the South American’s the lead, and they held it until the very final moments of regular time.
A fine German through ball sent Lena Oberdorf through, and Colombian goalkeeper Catalina Perez brought her down to create late drama and a chance for Ge
Alexandra Popp fired the spot kick home, but the drama wasn’t over yet. With a corner in the 90+6 minute of the game, Colombia fired an outswinging ball into the box which met the head of left back Manuela Vanegas, who guided it beautifully into the near corner of the goal.Colombia won the game 2-1, and the win was enough to guide Germany to an early demise and a bitterly disappointing group stage exit from the competition
- 1995 Women’s World Cup Group Stage: China vs Norway
Final Score: 4-0 China
The 1991 World Cup was the very first tournament in women’s World Cup history, and China would host the 12 teams with a celebration of the women’s game. In its infancy, the tournament was not even called the World Cup at the time, as they hadn’t been granted permission to use FIFA’s renowned ‘World Cup’ trademark just yet.
Teams like the USA, Germany and Norway were considered some of the most well supported women’s teams in the early stages of the women’s game, and therefore some of the early favorites for the tournament.
China had some great quality of their own too, and were considered to be women’s World Cup sleepers but nobody expected the show they put on to open the tournament. Facing Norway in a clash of two of the games best teams, in front of 65,000 fans (which was a tremendous showing at the time), China thumped the European outfit 4-0.
Norway were stunned, China were elated, and it was a superb start to the game that kicked off women’s soccer on an International stage.
- 1995 Women’s World Cup Semi Final: Norway vs USA
Final Score: 1-0 Norway
Norway and the USA have been two of the best FIFA women’s World Cup teams since the very beginning, but the USWNT still had the strongest women’s World Cup odds in 1995 and Norway faced an uphill battle if they wanted to beat them.
The USWNT were the defending champions having won the maiden tournament in 1991, and looked to defend their title with a very talented squad once again in 1995.
Norway were in fine form in the competition though, and when they met the USA they were brimming with confidence that perhaps it was their turn this time around.
It was a tight game, but it was Ann Kristin Aarones goal after just 10 minutes that proved to be the difference.
Norway handed the USWNT their first ever World Cup loss, and went on to win the 1995 FIFA women’s World Cup with a 2-0 win over Germany in the final. The Norwegian players dominated the awards too, with Aarones winning the Golden Boot and Hege Riise winning the Golden Ball, while Gro Espeseth earned silver honors and Aarones claimed bronze.
Parameters for ranking
These all time upsets have been ranked based on the surprise factor and impact of the upset. Beating host nations, defending champions and tournament favorites has all been factored into the list, resulting in 10 great all-time upsets in the women’s game.
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