World Cup Teams: Top 10 Spectacular Failures
We celebrate the winners and tend to forget the losers. All but one team will lose but there are some that stand out because their either habitually lose or because their loss exceeds the bounds of merely not winning. These losses go beyond the normals bounds of a loss to create an art form out of futility and frustration.
England - 1950
England ruled the football world prior to the 1950s. They played their first international in 1872 and it took 81 years, until 1953, before they first lost at home to a team outside the British Isles.
They thought they were so good they didn't bother joining FIFA and declined to play in the first three World Cups, believing it was merely a contest to determine the second best team, so why bother even showing up?
Then came Brazil in 1950 and their second game against the United States, played at a time when soccer barely had a pulse in America.
So confident were they, that they let their best player, Stanley Matthews, go on a tour to Canada with the intention of bringing him to Brazil for the later rounds.
The later rounds never happened as the U.S. beat them 1-0 in what is still the biggest upset in final history. When an unbelieving public in England saw the scoreline, everyone thought it was a misprint and the final score was actually 10-1.
Italy - 1966
Italy takes its soccer seriously. Failure is a national disaster, but humiliation wasn't something they could even comprehend. Then came 1966 in England.
They were drawn in a relatively easy group with the Soviet Union posing as the only possible challenge.
They lost to the Soviets. then beat Chile, and only had to face the unknown North Koreans playing in their first World Cup finals.
In another great upset, North Korea scored late in the first half and held on for a famous 1-0 victory.
North Korea went on to the quarterfinals against Portugal. They scored three goals in the first 25 minutes, only to have Portugal come back and score five goals, including four by the great Eusebio.
Italy were out in the first round and despite trying to sneak back home under the cover of darkness, their fans found out and greeted them with a fusillade of rotten tomatoes.
United States - 1998
The United States soccer team came of age when they hosted the cup in 1994. They made it through the first round and only lost 1-0 to Brazil, the eventual winners in the next round.
They qualified for the finals in France in 1998 and with the core of the team that was so successful four years earlier, and veteran coach Steve Sampson at the helm, they were optimistic.
That optimism didn't last very long. Their first game was against Germany and it was obvious in the first 10 minutes that their objective was not to lose.
The problem with that tactic is that it generally ends in the one result you are trying to avoid, much like the "prevent defense" in football. They lost 2-0.
Their next game was against, Iran not exactly America's best friend. They lost that one 2-1 and they completed the sweep by losing 1-0 to Yugoslavia.
They finished last, in 32nd place.
Spain - 12 World Cups
Spain has a lengthy and excellent tradition. They have produced great players and great teams and are also home to two of the most storied and successful clubs in soccer, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
They attract some of the best players in the world from the best international teams in the world. You would think some of this would rub off on the Spanish team.
This World Cup could be different as Spain are favored to win the cup along with Brazil. If their record is anything to go by, it won't happen.
They have played in 12 World Cups and their best performance is a fourth place finish in 1950.
In 2006, they peaked too soon in the first round and then came up against a French team that suddenly found its form and ran them out of the park in the round of 16. Something like that always happens to them.
Chances are it could happen again this tournament.
Zaire - 1974
Zaire became the first black African nation to qualify for the World Cup in 1974. Zaire had previously done well in the African Nations Cup, but 1974 turned out to be so traumatic, their football team has yet to recover fully.
They started out losing 2-0 to Scotland, which was expected and wasn't too bad for a debutant team. Their next game was a total disaster as the team totally fell apart and lost to Yugoslavia 9-0.
It didn't help that the team were told before the game that they were not going to be paid the bonuses they were promised. They refused to play but eventually were coaxed onto the field...but that was about all they did.
They lost their final game to Brazil 3-0. The Brazil game had one of the most bizarre incidents in any World Cup. Brazil were awarded a free kick outside the area and Zaire duly set up the wall.
When the ref blew the whistle to start play, one of the Zairians, in a rush of blood to the head, ran out and kicked the ball before the stunned Brazilians could even move.
That was their one and only appearance in the finals.
Bulgaria - 16 Games Without a Win
Bulgaria came to the 1994 finals with a long pedigree of futility in previous finals. They had qualified for five previous finals, but that is about all they managed.
In all, they had played 16 games without winning one. They had drawn six and lost 10 while scoring 16 goals and conceding 35.
The 1994 team of Hristo Stoichkov, Yourdan Lechkov, and Trifan Ivanov, known as the "Bulgarian Wolf" for his unshaven face and mullet hairstyle, started off true to form, losing 3-0 to Nigeria.
Then a miracle happened and they beat Greece 4-0 and Argentina 2-0. They beat Germany in the quarterfinals, only to lose to Italy in the semifinal.
They reverted to form in 1998 when they managed to get only a point. They have not been back to the finals since then.
England - They will Always Find a Way...to Lose
England have perfected the art of imploding at some point in the finals.
What else would one expect from a nation that cherishes the "Spirit of Dunkirk," where a flotilla of small boats had to cross the English Channel to rescue the army surrounded by Germans in World War II.
It mirrors their chaotic demise in World Cup finals. They go down fighting but they always go down, more often than not in a penalty shootout.
In 1990, it was in the semifinal against Germany.
In 1998, it was to Argentina after David Beckham petulantly kicked the player who fouled him while he was lying on the ground.
In 2006, it was Wayne Rooney who allowed himself to be wound up by his Manchester United teammate Cristiano Ronaldo for his marching orders. England subsequently lost to Portugal on penalties.
In both cases, they could have won had their players kept their heads. The only real question in 2010 is how creatively they will orchestrate their demise.
South Korea - 46 Years of Futility
South Korea first made it to the finals in 1954 when they were outscored 9-0 by Hungary and 7-0 by Turkey. It turned out to be good practice for the next 46 years.
They had to wait until 1986 for their next crack at the finals. They qualified for the next three finals as well and each time they came away without a win.
They weren't as bad as 1954, but all they could do was squeak out four draws while losing eight more.
In that stretch they drew four, lost ten, scoring a paltry 9 goals while giving up 42. They've improved since then and started out 2010 with a win in their first game.
Lucky for them, they were able to break the streak when they were selected as co-hosts in 2002. With home support they won a few games and even made it to the semifinals before falling to Germany.
Holland - One of the Greatest Teams Does Everything but Win
Holland burst onto the World Cup scene in 1974 with an impact that changed the way soccer is played.
"Total Football" devised by their genius coach, Rinus Michels, has become the blueprint for how to play in the faster modern game.
Sporting long hair and never bothering to tuck their shirts into their shorts, they provided a flowing soccer feast that is still talked about with awe.
With Johan Cruyff at the helm and a quality supporting cast, they swept through the earlier rounds, demolishing Argentina 4-0 in a game that could easily have been 8-0, and forcing Brazil to resort to rugby tackles and vicious kicking to stay in the game. Holland won 2-0 despite that.
They reached the final to the hosts, West Germany and despite the quality of the Germans, led by Franz Beckenbauer most thought that Holland would cruise to their first World Cup prize.
Holland kicked off and after 16 passes Cruyff was brought down in the area. They converted the penalty and the first time the Germans touched the ball was when they kicked off already down a goal.
Holland continued to play their beautiful flowing game but forgot that you have to score more goals than the other team. West Germany scored twice, once on a dubious penalty and carried the cup home.
Scotland - Always Close but No Cigar
Scotland played their first international against England in 1872 and for the next 20 years beat them regularly.
With only a couple of other countries playing international soccer, Scotland were the best in the world. Too bad their glory days were 120 years ago.
As did England, Scotland sat out the World Cup until the 1950s. For the next 30 years they were a good and sometimes great team, but when it came to the World Cup there was only one result. Total failure.
They beat a great Holland team in 1978 and drew with Brazil, but along the way they once lost 7-0 to Uruguay and have lost to both Costa Rica and Morocco in the finals.
The abject record has never seen them progress out of the first round in eight appearances, although they have come close a couple of times, losing out on goal difference.
They have suffered a precipitous decline in the last decade and haven't come close to qualifying again. Who knows when they will have the opportunity to fail in the finals again.
Brazil - 1950
Since the 1950's Brazil has more or less owned the title of the best team on earth. Brazil took to soccer with a passion like no other country.
The were awarded the first post World War II finals in 1950 and were determined to show the world that they were the best in their own backyard.
They sailed through the first round winning two with the only blemish a draw with Switzerland. In 1950 there was no 'one and out' formula and the four group winners went into a second group. The winner of the group would be crowned world champion.
Brazil started in style obliterating Sweden 7-1 and then beat Spain 6-1. Uruguay was the last hurdle. They beat Spain 3-2 and drew with Sweden so as luck would have it, the final game was in fact the final. All Brazil had to do was draw.
Brazil peppered the Uruguayan goal the entire first half but couldn't score. They finally broke through in the 47th minute and the crowd of over 200,000 started celebrating - a little too soon as it turned out. Uruguay equalized and then scored a second with 11 minutes to go. Those last 11 minutes were played in deathly silence as their neighbors to the south stole the cup from under their noses.