Where Does Spain's World Cup 2014 Campaign Rank in Their All-Time Performances?

Tim CollinsFeatured ColumnistJune 30, 2014

Where Does Spain's World Cup 2014 Campaign Rank in Their All-Time Performances?

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    Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

    After dominating international football for more than half a decade, Spain endured a humiliating World Cup campaign in Brazil this year.

    Looking to defend their crown from 2010 and claim an incredible fourth consecutive international title, Vicente del Bosque's men were swept aside by the Netherlands and Chile in their opening two matches to be rapidly bundled out of the tournament.

    Now, La Roja are facing an exciting period of regeneration, as the team's long-standing stalwarts prepare to move aside for Spain's next wave of precocious talent.

    However, the challenge for that emerging group will be twofold, given that they'll be held to the standards of their illustrious predecessors while also trying to shrug aside Spain's rather disappointing history at the FIFA World Cup.

    Consequently, we've ranked Spain's dire 2014 campaign among the nation's most disappointing, heartbreaking and forgettable World Cup performances, highlighting the enormity of the task facing the next Spanish era. 

6. Final-Round Destruction (1950)

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    Associated Press

    The 1950 edition of the World Cup in Brazil was the only tournament not decided by a one-match final, as the top-ranked teams from the four groups progressed into a six-match final round. 

    After topping Group 2 in impressive fashion with consecutive wins over England, United States and Chile, the Spaniards entered the decisive final round with Brazil, Uruguay and Sweden. 

    A brace from Estanislao Basora helped La Roja to claim a 2-2 draw with a strong Uruguayan outfit in the opening match of the round, but it quickly fell apart from there.

    Up against the hosts four days later, Guillermo Eizaguirre's side was thrashed 6-1, an own-goal from Jose Parra kick-starting the destruction as Brazil mirrored their 7-1 annihilation of Sweden on the opening day of the round. 

    Unable to win the tournament, Spain then slumped to a 3-1 loss to the Swedes in the third-place match in Sao Paulo.

5. The Leaner Years (1962, 1966, 1978, 1998)

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    It has been 16 years since Spain were last eliminated from a World Cup in the group stage, but it has happened four times in the nation's history.

    In the leanest period for Spanish football, La Roja suffered early exits at the 1962 and 1966 World Cups after failing to qualify for the finals in 1954 and 1958. 

    The same thing occurred in 1978 when the Spaniards returned to the World Cup finals after missing the tournament in 1970 and 1974, finishing third in their group behind Austria and Brazil to continue the country's barren run. 

    However, it will be Sunday Oliseh's stunning strike in 1998 that will haunt Spanish fans most from the team's early exits.

    After grabbing a 2-1 lead over Nigeria in their first Group D match, Spain were forced to accept defeat when an own goal was followed by the Nigerian's thumping long-range strike in the 77th minute that saw the Super Eagles deliver the first genuine shock of that year's World Cup in France. 

    Despite being heavily favoured to emerge as winners of the group, La Roja finished third despite their 6-1 victory over Bulgaria, as the opening defeat—and subsequent draw with Paraguay—doomed the Spaniards.

4. Pain at Home (1982)

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    Associated Press

    When Spain hosted the World Cup in 1982, the tournament featured a different format than the one currently in existence. 

    The opening stage contained six groups of four teams, with the top two sides from each group progressing to the second round. From there, the 12 remaining sides were placed into four groups of three, with the winners of each group going on to contest the semi-finals. 

    From Group 5, La Roja narrowly advanced in second place on head-to-head record, defeating Yugoslavia 2-1 while recording a draw with Honduras and a loss to Northern Ireland. 

    Unfortunately, the host nation was drawn with a powerful West Germany in the second round (as well as England), who defeated Spain 2-1 in Madrid thanks goals from Pierre Littbarski and Klaus Fischer, claiming a decisive hold on the group. 

    Needing to defeat England by two goals or more in their last match at the Bernabeu, Jose Emilio Santamaria's men couldn't break the deadlock in a 0-0 stalemate, ending Spain's hopes of a fairytale run on home soil.

3. The Quarter-Final Curse (1934, 1986, 1994, 2002)

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    Although Spain's first quarter-final loss transpired way back in 1934, it would be almost 70 years before La Roja's difficulties in the tournament's last eight became something of a curse. 

    Regularly entering the World Cup finals as strong contenders, the Spaniards consistently wilted under the weight of expectation, their brilliantly talented squads unable to win the decisive moments. 

    In 1986 in Mexico, the Spanish lost to Belgium 5-4 on penalties after Juan Antonio Senor had grabbed a late equaliser for Miguel Munoz's side.

    Eight years later in the United States, an 88th minute Roberto Baggio goal broke a 1-1 deadlock between Spain and Italy, dumping La Roja out of the tournament in dramatic fashion. 

    But it was when the tournament went to Asia for the first time that the Spanish endured their most traumatic quarter-final defeat, losing 5-3 on penalties to South Korea. 

2. The Darkness Before the Dawn (2006)

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    Under Luis Aragones, Spain entered the 2006 World Cup in Germany as one of the heavyweights after a blistering run of form on the international stage stretching back to 2004. 

    Waltzing through Group H with victories over Ukraine, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, La Roja looked on target for their deepest World Cup run since 1950. 

    But what followed was one of the nation's most painful footballing nights. 

    In a their round-of-16 clash with an ageing French outfit, the Spaniards surrendered an early first-half lead to crash to a dramatic 3-1 defeat to the Zinedine Zidane-led side. 

    An equaliser just before half-time from Franck Ribery wrestled the initiative from the previously dominant Spain, before dramatic late goals from Patrick Vieira and Zidane gave the French a famous come-from-behind victory.

    For the Spanish, however, that match would come to represent the last moment of pain for quite some time.

1. The End of an Era (2014)

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    Spain's quick exit in 2014 certainly wasn't the first time they'd failed to progress from the tournament's group stage, but the manner of La Roja's campaign this summer was undoubtedly the most disastrous of all the nation's journeys to the World Cup finals. 

    Interestingly, the roots of the Spaniards' demise in Brazil can be traced back to club level.

    After dominating Europe with an iconic style, the fabled tiki-taka associated with Barcelona and the Spanish national team had shown signs of vulnerability from as early as 2012.

    Concurrently, the cornerstones of Spain's glittering era of success—players such Xavi, Iker Casillas and David Villa—had begun to slow down in the twilight years of their storied careers. 

    Yet, believing that his trusty stars could conjure one more stellar effort, Vicente del Bosque took a gradually declining side to South America, only to watch the country's icons be trampled over by opposing teams who had finally deciphered the Spanish riddle. 

    Lamentably, Spain became the first defending champions in World Cup history to be eliminated after just two matches.

     

    All match data courtesy of FIFA.com.