The 10 Most Surprising Exits in World Cup History
At the World Cup, there are many nations that we expect to make deep runs in the tournament.
From defending champions to dark horse candidates, many nations have captured or reinforced our imagination with their great football.
But it appears that in every World Cup, there is always a side that disappoints us greatly, as they underachieve and fail to advance from the Group Stage or don't make that deep run to the finals like everyone believed they would do.
With this all in mind, I have created a list of the ten most surprising exits in World Cup history.
10. Italy (1950)
Group: Three (Sweden, Paraguay, and India, which withdrew due to the fact that they did not wear shoes while playing football).
Finished: second (three points)
Even though they had a 12-year layoff from the World Cup due to World War II, Italy was the two-time defending World Cup champions, and this was their opportunity to become the first nation to win three.
But Italy suffered a 3-2 loss to Sweden in the opening match, and after Sweden drew with Paraguay 2-2, Italy's 2-0 victory over Paraguay meant nothing as the team went home without advancing.
9. Spain (1998)
Group: Group D (Nigeria, Paraguay, and Bulgaria)
Finished: third (four points)
The biggest underachieving nation in the history of the event, Spain went into the 1998 World Cup in the Group of Death, but still had high aspirations as they still had a squad containing the likes of Fernando Hierro and a young Raúl.
However, Spain got off to a bad start with a 3-2 come-from-behind loss to Nigeria before a scoreless draw with Paraguay, which forced Spain to beat Bulgaria and have Paraguay lose to Nigeria in order to advance.
But that obviously did not happen, as despite the fact that Spain won 6-1, Nigeria lost to Paraguay 3-1 to knock out Spain.
8. Italy (1966)
Group: Group 4 (Soviet Union, North Korea, and Chile)
Finished: third overall in Group 4 (two points)
Even though they had not achieved any World Cup success since before World War II, the Italians were a favorite in Group 4 to advance deep in the World Cup, but they suffered a shocking defeat to a semi-pro North Korea side, even though they had the likes of Gianni Rivera and Luigi Riva on their side.
After returning home to Rome from their stunning defeat, the Italians were pelted with tomatoes.
7. Soviet Union (1990)
Group: Group B (Argentina, Romania, and Cameroon)
Finished: fourth (2 points)
One of the best European nations going into the 1990 World Cup, the Soviet Union, which was competing in its final World Cup, just finished second in Euro 1988.
With Manager Valeriy Lobanovskiy, who implemented a total football philosophy, the Soviets expected to perform well in the World Cup.
But the Soviets got off to a bad start, losing 2-0 to both Romania and Argentina, which forced the Soviets to win their final match by four goals and have Argentina lose to advance.
Even though the Soviets beat Cameroon 4-0, Argentina beat Romania and the World Cup dream for the Soviet Union was officially over.
6. Colombia (1994)
Group: Group A (Romania, United States, and Switzerland)
Finished: fourth (three points)
The popular dark horse pick going into the 1994 World Cup, Colombia was not in a hard group to advance from, and had high hopes after crushing its South American opponents in COMMEBOL qualifying.
But, Colombia lost its first match 3-1 to Romania before facing the host United States.
Against the USA, Andrés Escobar committed the only own goal of the entire tournament off a pass from John Harkes—and after a goal by Earnie Stewart, the United States went ahead 2-0, which was enough for the only American victory in a 52-year stretch of the World Cup.
Even though Colombia won 2-0 in their final match, they were eliminated from the World Cup, and just 11 days later, Escobar was murdered in Colombia.
5. Portugal (2002)
Group: Group D (South Korea, United States, and Poland)
Finished: third (four points)
Considered to be the Golden Generation of Portuguese football, Portugal was a dark horse candidate in the 2002 World Cup with the likes of Luis Figo and Rui Costa on its side.
But Portugal got off to a terrible start against the United States and found itself behind 3-0 early before losing 3-2.
In its second match against Poland, Portugal won 4-0 as it entered a must-win match against South Korea in order to advance. But South Korea was able to win 1-0, ending Portugal's World Cup with three points, and spawning further disappointment with the Golden Generation.
4. Argentina (2002)
Group: Group F (Sweden, England, and Nigeria)
Placed: third (four points)
One of the major favorites in the 2002 Cup, Argentina was put into a difficult group with Sweden, England and Nigeria and was not able to advance.
Even though it started off with a 1-0 win over Nigeria, Argentina lost 1-0 in a replay of the 1998 World Cup quarterfinal, as David Beckham redeemed himself for a red card in that match in 1998 with the only goal, on a penalty.
And in the final match of the group stage, needing a win to advance, Argentina was able to earn only a 1-1 draw with Sweden, sending the Argentinians home without advancing onto the Round of 16.
3. England (1950)
Group: Group 2
Finished: Second overall with two points
Considered to be the best international football team in the World Cup, even though it had never competed in world football's marquee event, England expected to win the tournament with ease.
After winning the first match against Chile 2-0, the English faced a semi-pro United States squad that had 500-1 odds that it would win the World Cup.
But the United States got a goal from Joe Gaetjens and a great match in goal by Frank Borghi in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history, as the USA beat England 1-0.
England lost its final match to Spain 1-0 and was eliminated from the World Cup in the group stage.
2. Brazil (1966)
Group: Group 3 (Portugal, Hungary, and Bulgaria)
Finished: third (two points)
The two-time defending champions of the World Cup and the winners of the 1970 World Cup, Brazil was a heavy favorite in the 1966 World Cup.
But problems with the squad started in the preliminary stages heading into the World Cup in England, as Brazil was still not able to get a 22-man squad in order.
But Brazil got that squad together and beat Bulgaria 2-0 in its first game, but lost 3-1 to Hungary before facing the country that once ruled them: Portugal.
In that match, Pele left due to injury and Brazil found itself out of the World Cup.
1. France (2002)
Group: Group A (Senegal, Uruguay, and Denmark)
Finished: one point (fourth overall)
The defending World Cup champions and winners of Euro 2000, France had high hopes going into the 2002 World Cup.
But in the months leading up to South Korea, France lost both Robert Pires and Zinedine Zidane to injury, though that did not seem to be a problem in the first match against a Senegal side that had never played in a World Cup.
But the incredible happened: Senegal won 1-0, and in the next match against Uruguay, Thierry Henry was red-carded in a scoreless draw.
Needing a win against Denmark in order to advance, Les Blues brought in Zidane to help the French to victory, but even the great Zidane was unable to stop the inevitable, as France lost 2-0 to leave the World Cup in the most disappointing run by a defending champion.