5 Best Teams Who Failed to Make It Through a World Cup Group Stage

Alex RichardsContributor IDecember 3, 2013

5 Best Teams Who Failed to Make It Through a World Cup Group Stage

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    The FIFA World Cup draw takes place on Friday afternoon in Bahia, meaning all 32 nations who will be in Brazil for football's major festival will know exactly who they'll meet at the group stage next summer.

    As such, fans can now start to get excited about their own World Cup wallcharts and will be able to plan who they think will be progressing to the knockout stages and beyond.

    However, as is so often the case, the World Cup finals have a nice habit of not going according to plan, and sometimes the best teams don't always navigate their way through the group stage.

    With that in mind, here's a look at five of the best nations who have failed to get past the first round at recent tournaments (USA '94—almost 20 years ago—being as far as we go).

    Let us know what you think, either about the five teams selected or another who perhaps should have been, in the comments below.

    Until then, enjoy:

1994 Colombia

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    The Colombian side arrived at USA '94 riding on the crest of a wave. Brazilian legend Pele had tipped them as the team he believed would claim the Jules Rimet Trophy, and they certainly were forecast as one of the favourites.

    Los Cafeteros had been dominant in qualifying for the tournament, conceding just two goals in six qualifiers as they emerged unbeaten from Group 1 of South American qualifying. Their piece de resistance came on September 5, 1993, as they decimated Argentina in Buenos Aires, stunning the El Monumental stadium with a 5-0 win.

    This was a side that could adapt tactically and knew how to play. They liked to play a short passing game centered around playmaker Carlos Valderrama and looked to exploit the quick, tricky striker Faustino Asprilla and Adolfo Valencia, fresh from winning the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich.

    But they could also mix it up when necessary, with a number of powerful players such as Freddy Rincon, John Harold Lozano and Leonel Alvarez, while the tragic defender Andres Escobar was an intelligent reader of the game at the heart of the back line.

    Certainly, had the tournament rolled around a year earlier, they'd have been contenders. But, quite simply, USA '94 arrived at exactly the wrong time for Colombia.

    Valderrama was recovering from injury, Asprilla was exhausted after a long season at Parma, and Freddy Rincon, then of Palmeiras, was out of form. Additionally, right-back Chonto Herrera found out two days before the United States match that his brother had died, while keeper Rene Higuita was in prison.

    Additionally, as the tournament progressed, death threats were forthcoming for some players, as reported in the excellent ESPN documentary The Two Escobars.

    They opened with a 3-1 defeat to a Gheorghe Hagi-inspired Romania, goalkeeper Oscar Cordoba having endured a personal nightmare, before being shocked in their second game by the hosts, losing 2-1, with Escobar scoring an own goal.

    In their final group outing they beat Roy Hodgson's Switzerland 2-0 but it wasn't enough; in a group where three sides went through to the knockout stages, the South Americans finished bottom.

    One week after their exit, Escobar would be shot dead in Medellin, placing Colombia's on-field shortcomings into context.

2002 France

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    Perhaps the greatest and most shocking exit of all time saw reigning champions France binned at the group stage of the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.

    Les Bleus had been dominant on the international stage during the previous four years, claiming the World Cup on home soil in 1998 and winning the European Championship in 2000.

    And though they were expected to make a decent fist of defending their crown, they crashed out without really getting started.

    The starting XI was excellent. Fabien Barthez was a more than adequate goalkeeper, while Lilian Thuram, Marcel Desailly, Frank Leboueuf and Bixente Lizarazu were an experienced defensive unit well at ease in one another's company.

    In midfield, Patrick Vieira was in his Arsenal heyday, Emmanuel Petit his partner, and up front they had Thierry Henry to call upon.

    However, perhaps we should have seen France's demise coming when, on the eve of the tournament, their two most creative midfielders both suffered injuries.

    Robert Pires, in the form of his life at Arsenal, missed the entire tournament, whilst £47 million playmaker Zinedine Zidane would only take part, with his thigh heavily strapped, in the final group game.

    By then, much of the damage had been done.

    They were stunned by Senegal in the tournament's opening game before drawing 0-0 with Uruguay, during which Henry was sent off for a reckless challenge. In both matches they struggled for fluency and their numerous 30-somethings appeared to be struggling in the humidity.

    As such, Zidane was brought back against Denmark, and though he was named Man of the Match, the Danes claimed a 2-0 victory in Incheon and Roger Lemerre's side were on their way home having never got out of neutral.

2002 Argentina

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    As the World Cup headed to the Far East for the first time, it was the Albiceleste, under the stewardship of Marcelo Bielsa, who were tipped to emerge as champions, rather than eventual winners Brazil.

    Ranked at No. 2 by FIFA in their world rankings, they had breezed through qualification for the tournament, finishing 12 points clear of second-place Ecuador and losing just once in 18 matches.

    Heading into the tournament, Argentina were looking to do things in true Bielsa style. A 3-4-3 formation was being utilised, allowing for a spare man in defence, as well as a high pressing game and plenty of movement in attacking areas.

    And with a wealth of attacking options, including striker Gabriel Batistuta, playmaker Juan Sebastian Veron and wide forwards Ariel Ortega and Claudio Lopez, the Albiceleste possessed talent that others could only dream about (heck, their back-up attackers included Valencia duo Pablo Aimar and Kily Gonzalez as well as Hernan Crespo).

    However, despite being a golden generation, their last title had been at the 1993 Copa America and this was to be the tournament where a long period of underachievement would reach its nadir.

    Having been placed in an extremely tough group with Sweden, England and Nigeria, the South Americans started well, beating Nigeria in their opening game thanks to Batigol.

    However, a 1-0 defeat to England in the Sapporo Dome in their second match, added to Sweden's 2-1 win over the African side left them needing to beat the Swedes in their final game.

    But no matter how hard they tried, nor how close they came, they simply couldn't make a breakthrough and were evicted from the competition.

    Much has been made since of the tactical implications of Bielsa's high-tempo style after a long European season, in the humid Asian summer. Yet it is rather lazy to blame that and say his players were too tired to fully put into practice his methods.

    After all, Argentina had not played all that badly. They had 45 shots in their three games, and almost two-thirds of the possession against both England and Sweden.

    Thus, theirs is an exit that remains incredibly difficult to understand.

2010 Italy

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    Just four years after Marcello Lippi had led the Azzurri to World Cup glory in Germany, the experienced coach was back, but the result was gravely different.

    In a group alongside Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia, the Italians began as overwhelming favourites to qualify for the knockout stages. What transpired was so shocking, it was almost laughable.

    On paper, it was by no means a poor Italy side.

    It possessed Gianluigi Buffonthough he would exit the tournament at half-time of the opening game.

    The defence saw World Cup winners Gianluca Zambrotta and Fabio Cannavaroperhaps in their twilight but still decent performersalongside the excellent Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini and the intelligent left-back Domenico Criscito.

    In midfield, Claudio Marchisio, Daniele De Rossi and Riccardo Montolivo would all play a role in their run to the Euro 2012 final.

    Perhaps up front they were a little lacking with Alberto Gilardino, Vincenzo Iaquinta and Simone Pepe preferred to the more technical talents of Antonio Di Natale and Fabio Quagliarella, but still Lippi had options and still they should have been good enough for a quarter-final spot.

    However, what they badly missed, or rather who they badly missed, was the playmaker-in-chief who starred in 2006 and has done likewise since their 2010 horror show: Andrea Pirlo.

    Without his intelligence in front of the back four, without his passing, without his positional sense, they struggled to dictate matches and couldn't stretch opponents as they saw fit; Marchisio still hadn't found his feet on the international stage while Montolivo had yet to prove he had the personality to fill the Pirlo role in the great man's absence.

    As such, they were sent crashing out. Draws in their opening two matches against Paraguay and New Zealand were poor, but fixable in the final match against first-timers Slovakia.

    However, in a must-win game, Lippi selected Gennaro Gattuso despite injury troubles and turned to Pirlo in the 56th minute despite being nowhere near fit.

    They would fall 2-0 and 3-1 behind before eventually succumbing 3-2 at Ellis Park.

2010 Ivory Coast

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    Ivory Coast were unfortunate in being placed in the group of death with two of the pre-tournament favourites—Jose Pekerman's outstanding Argentina and an exciting Netherlandsas well as Serbia in their World Cup debut in 2006.

    Four years later, led by Sven-Goran Eriksson, Didier Drogba and company headed as arguably Africa's strongest nation to the finals in South Africa.

    Unfortunately, lightning struck again, as they were placed once more with two sides of outstanding quality: Pre-tournament favourites Brazil and Portugal.

    In 2010 Ivory Coast had a team that could have gone far. Drew the group of death. Ivory Coast, Portugal, Brazil, Korea.

    — Burnsy (@MinnesotaBurns) June 9, 2013

    They would tie with Portugal in their opening match, a somewhat dour 0-0 draw in Port Elizabeth as two evenly matched sides cancelled each other out. The Elephants talismanic striker Drogba was only fit enough for a place on the bench, and the team missed the big-game know-how and added punch which he brought to their attack.

    In their second game, they couldn't match Brazil, who claimed a 3-1 victory at Soccer City thanks to a Luis Fabiano double and an Elano strike. With Portugal beating North Korea 7-0, the Ivory Coast were all but out, having been crippled by their inability to beat Portugal and the order of the matches.

    As such, their 3-0 win over North Korea in their last match meant nothingPortugal couldn't be matched on goal difference, but they drew with Dunga's side anyway making that a moot pointbut make no mistake, despite their early exit, this was a very good Ivory Coast side, better than four years previous.

    The spine of the side: featuring Drogba, the Toure brothers Yaya and Ibrahim, Didier Zokora and Cheick Tiote; was strong, while Salomon Kalou, Gervinho and Kader Keita added pace and unpredictability to the flanks. Additionally, they had greater organisation under Eriksson, using ostensibly a 4-3-3 formation.

    What they did lack however, particularly in tight matches where midfield space was tightas it was in the 3v3 matchups against both Brazil and Portugalwas a creative No. 10, playing between the lines and occupying tight spaces in support of Drogba.

    In the end, that would be their downfall, given their inability to make a dent in the Portuguese defence.