With 2012 fast approaching, FIFA.com takes a look back at some of the most memorable upsets from the past 12 months.
Nadeshiko conquer the world
Few would have entertained the idea of Japan winning the FIFA Women’s World Cup™, given that they had failed to make it beyond the first round in their three previous attempts, but that's exactly what they achieved. The Asians' road to the title was, nevertheless, anything but straightforward. After finishing second in Group B behind England, the Nadeshiko had the daunting task of facing hosts and reigning champions Germany in the quarter-finals. They took the challenge in their stride, however, with Karina Maruyama scoring the only goal of the game in the second period of extra time.
That impressive victory earned Japan a place in the semi-finals, where they once again defied expectations by beating Sweden 3-1. Their reward was a showdown with two-time world champions USA in the final, where they would go on to record one of the greatest upsets in the history of the competition.The odds were stacked firmly against Japan, just as they had been in the quarter-final, but the Nadeshiko held their nerve to win the match on penalties, and in doing so became the first Asian side to lift the FIFA Women’s World Cup trophy.
“At the start of the competition our objective was to be competitive, reach at least the quarter-final stage, and perhaps even pick up a medal,” Japan midfielder Homare Sawa told FIFA.com, reflecting on her side’s achievement. “But I could never have imagined winning the title and collecting the Golden Boot.”
La Celeste end 16-year wait
Uruguay’s Copa America triumph came as a shock to the majority who expected either Argentina to win a 15th title in front of their home fans or Brazil to make it five titles from the last six editions of the tournament. Diego Forlan and Co caused the upset of the tournament, though, beating La Albiceleste in the quarter-finals to prolong their opponents' trophy-less spell. Uruguay's run continued all the way to the final, where they defeated a Paraguay side who themselves had beaten Brazil on penalties in the last 16. Uruguay’s Copa America success was their first in the competition since 1995, and followed on from their excellent showing at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
2011 will also go down in history for American Samoa, who recorded their first-ever victory with a 2-1 win over Tonga in Oceania qualifying for Brazil 2014. The Pacific nation had waited 17 years for that moment, which put an end to their run of 30 straight defeats. During their losing streak, American Samoa conceded 299 goals, including 31 in a single match against Australia in April 2001.
Lebanon have been one of the surprise packages in the Asian qualifying zone, recording victories against all three of their third-round opponents in Group B, including a hugely unforeseen 2-1 win over Korea Republic in Beirut. Theo Bucker’s men are now on the verge of reaching the fourth and final round of preliminaries for the first time in their history.
Surprises aplenty in Asia
Al-Saad wrote themselves into Asian football history by becoming the first Qatari side to win the AFC Champions League, knocking out all the pre-tournament favourites on their long road to glory. Their success was made all the more remarkable by the fact that they had to pre-qualify for the competition, overcoming Syrian side Al Ittihad and Indian outfit Dempo to secure a place at the tournament proper. Al-Sadd impressed in the group stage and beyond, defeating sides from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Uzbekistan and Korea Republic on their way to winning the prize.
Al-Sadd broke yet more new ground when they appeared at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011. Jorge Fossati's men finished third after beating Kashiwa Reysol, who themselves were surprise champions of Japan in their first season after promotion to the country’s top flight.
Monterrey also appeared at this year’s FIFA Club World Cup. The Mexicans qualified for the competition after winning the CONCACAF Champions League title for the first time in their history.
Asia was the setting for another surprise achievement, with Uzbek side Nasaf winning the AFC Cup to end years of dominance of the competition by Arab clubs. Nasaf’s triumph - their first at continental level - assures them of a place in next season’s AFC Champions League.
There were also upsets aplenty in Europe, namely in the group phase of the 2011/12 UEFA Champions League. Basel caused perhaps the biggest shock, defeating three-time champions Manchester United to progress beyond the first group stage for the first time since 2002/03.
Giants fall in Africa
It would be difficult to compile a round-up of the year’s surprises without mentioning the preliminaries for the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. Both Botswana and Niger made history by qualifying for the finals for the first time, while Libya achieved the admirable feat of reaching the main event despite their off-field troubles. Niger secured their berth at the notable expense of African heavyweights Egypt, who failed to qualify for the first time since 1978. The Pharaohs' absence will be a major disappointment for their fans, who no doubt had their sights set on winning another continental crown.
Egypt can take some comfort in the fact that several other African favourites also failed to make the grade. South Africa, Cameroon, Nigeria and Algeria all missed out the continental showpiece less than two years after appearing at the FIFA World Cup.
Surprises on the sand
The FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Ravenna/Italy 2011 was the scene for another major upset, with Russia beating favourites Brazil in the final to win the competition for the very first time. The tournament witnessed a number of other shock results, which underlined the rapid progress of the sand-based form of the game around the world. Senegal reached the second round before eventually falling to Portugal on penalties, while El Salvador knocked out hosts Italy in the quarter-finals.
Have your say
Which team caused you the biggest surprise of 2011?