The World Cup is the biggest sporting competition in the world. Its audience and viewing figures exceed that of the next biggest, the Olympic Games. The first World Cup took place in 1930, and there have been 19 tournaments since then and a total of eight winners. Brazil have won the tournament five time, Italy and Germany four times, Argentina and Uruguay twice and England, France and Spain once.
With the biggest stage in the world comes quite incredible pressure. Some teams and characters thrive under such conditions, whilst others crumble. The Germans are renowned for their excellent mentality, yet they crop up on the receiving end of a choke three times on this list, the joint most, level with Italy.
Other chokers include France, Spain, Portugal and England, among others, whose defeats all shocked the world. These are the biggest upsets in World Cup history, involving results which were questioned even by national media, some which resulted in nations going into meltdown, suicide and the victory of teams who were 1000/1 to win the competition defeating world soccer superpowers.
Even though many players playing in the World Cup are paid millions while playing for their club, they are under the most pressure during the World Cup because they have an entire nation's hopes resting on their shoulders. It's when the whole world is watching and the strongest impressions on a player are left on the international stage. On this list are the impressions that left a really sour taste for these teams that collapsed before our very eyes on the grandest stage.
Here are the top 15 World Cup Chokejobs:
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15 France - 2002
Senegal's 1-0 defeat of France was one of the great shocks in World Cup history. France had steamrolled their way through the 1998 World Cup, beating South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Denmark, Paraguay, Italy and Croatia, before romping home with a 3-0 victory over Brazil in the final. By the time the 2002 World Cup came about, they had only lost six games since '98, adding a European Championships in 2000 and began their defense against Senegal.
The Senegal team were described as a French junior side by many, with nearly all their players based in France, but with El Hadj Diouf and Papa Bouba Diop playing out of their skin, they beat the French 1-0. Les Bleus never recovered and didn't make it past the group stage.
14 Germany - 1994
The Bulgaria team of 1994 was the strongest in the nation's history, but few considered it a match for the German side at the 1994 World Cup. The Bulgaria team was scattered with decent players and boasted one of the game's all-time greats, in the form of Hristo Stoichkov, who won the Ballon d'Or that year. Bulgaria narrowly got past Mexico on penalties in the previous round, and faced a Germany team boasting the likes of Lothar Matthaus, Rudi Voller and Jurgen Klinsmann. Once again, it was a defending champion falling. The Germans led 1-0 until two goals in three minutes by Stoichkov and Letchkov gave Bulgaria a famous victory in New Jersey.
13 Netherlands - Two Losses in Finals in a Row (1974, 1978)
While the Netherlands may have lost to quality teams in their two World Cup Final losses back in the 70s, losing in two consecutive finals has to get a place on the list. The generation of Dutch "Total Football" was wasted with no championships to show for it. In 1974, Oranje took an early 1-0 lead in the second minute, only for West Germany to score two in the first half. In 1978, Holland lost to the host of the tournament again in the final, this time to Argentina, 3-1 in extra time.
12 England on Penalties (Any one)
Death, taxes and England will lose on penalties. It's hard to explain why the Three Lions are always slain by the horror of a penalty shootout, but England has suffered defeats in the ordeal at the 1990, 1998 and 2006 World Cups (as well as four losses in the UEFA European Championship). It takes a lot of poise for someone to take a successful penalty and for some reason, England just hasn't been able to figure it out yet. Who knows how many more championships they could have had.
11 Spain - 2014
How did Spain's epic run of dominance come crashing down so quickly? While everyone knew Spain would be in tough in 2014 to match what they had done in 2010, no one could have expected them to get spanked by the Dutch the way they did in their opening game. After Alonso put Spain ahead in the 27th minute, van Persie equalized late in the first half. Six years of dominance was torn down in the next half, as the Dutch trounced the Spanish for a 5-1 win.
A 2-0 loss to Chile would then eliminate Spain from the tournament.
10 Italy - 2002
While the game was about as controversial as you've ever seen, plenty of blame falls on the Azzurri for their early exit in 2002. This was arguably a more talented team than the 2006 edition that won the World Cup, with Maldini, Nesta and Cannavaro anchoring the backline. Up front, you had Christian Vieri and Del Piero, but the Italians couldn't bury their chances when they had them. While a fairly officiated game might have changed things, it doesn't fully excuse Italy's failure to put South Korea away when they had the chance.
9 Portugal - 2002
Inspired by Senegal who had kicked off the 2002 World Cup with a shock victory over France, the U.S.A. followed suit with an equally impressive defeat of Portugal. America were the longest odds to win the competition, and many predicted that they would be roundly beaten by group B favorites Portugal. Despite having Luis Figo in his prime, Portugal were guilty of some dreadful defending and goals by John O'Brien, Brian McBride and a Costa OG. Portugal would recover in their second game, but a defeat to South Korea in the final group game would see them fall out of the tournament.
8 Spain - 1982
Northern Ireland's greatest export is of course George Best, but he had been retired from international soccer for five years when the club achieved their greatest ever World Cup win against Spain in 1982. In a far from star-studded squad, Northern Ireland did have some quality, in the form of Pat Jennings, Martin O'Neil and Norman Whiteside.
They beat Spain 1-0 in their final group game, which saw them top their group, but failed to win another game after that, as did the renowned chokers of their day of Spain. Spain would get stuck in second group stage with England and West Germany, where the hosts were bounced.
7 Scotland Blows Best Chance
Today, this result wouldn't surprise many. Costa Rica's impressive showing at the 2014 World Cup came as a surprise to most, and their wins over both Uruguay and Italy last year could quite easily have made this list too. However, their 1-0 win over Scotland in 1990 was an even greater shock than those recent wins. Every single Costa Rican player played in the domestic Costa Rican league, which was a reflection of their worldwide reputation, and a Scotland team featuring Alex McLeish, Paul McStay and Ally McCoist were expected to win comfortably. They didn't, and fell to a 49th minute strike. Scotland couldn't recover from this defeat and didn't get past the group stage.
6 Gyan's Miss - 2010
It's tough to single out a player, but he stage was just so big and the consequences so dire. After Luis Suarez was given a red card for a handball in the box, the stage was set for Ghana's Asamoah Gyan to send Ghana to the semifinals, which would have made them the first African team to do so. Alas, Gyan's shot rocketed off the crossbar, sending the game to penalties. Gyan would convert in the shootout, but Uruguay would go on to win, crushing the hearts of an entire continent. It's unlikely Gyan will ever get a chance like that again.
5 Italy - 1966
North Korea made their World Cup debut in 1966 and there was an air of surprise when they achieved a commendable draw against Chile, but few could have predicted their next a result, a legendary win over soccer powerhouses Italy. A first half goal by Pak Doo-ik was enough to secure victory for the North Koreans. Italy was seen as a tournament favorite, ready to make a triumphant return to the international stage, the country having finally recovered from a plane crash in 1949 that saw many of the national team members killed. This was about as disappointing as it got for the Azzurri.
Uruguay's defeat of Brazil and the subsequent events of that day which have become known as the 'Maracanazo' will forever be enshrined in soccer folk law. The possibility that the Brazilians could lose the game hadn't even entered the consciousness of the home crowd when their players choked and allowed the comparative minnows of Uruguay to reign victorious. The game began as expected, with waives of Brazilian attacks, and they eventually took a 1-0 lead.
Uruguay roared back though, with goals by Schiaffino and Ghiggia giving them a historic 2-1 victory. There were over 200,000 supporters in attendance, ready to see the host Brazil take home their first World Cup. The stadium fell into silence after the final whistle. Radio commentators retired and some fans committed suicide, such was the aftermath of the shock defeat.
3 Italy - 2010
Italy had the easiest group of the tournament, sharing a group with Paraguay, Slovakia and bankers from New Zealand. Italy's questionable roster decisions and flat play cost them dearly, as they first drew 1-1 with Paraguay. What was supposed to be an easy victory against New Zealand instead was another tight 1-1 draw, which meant they'd have to beat, or at least draw Slovakia to advance. They found themselves down 2-0 before they finally came to life, but would fall 3-2, ending perhaps the Azzurri's most embarrassing outing in their storied history.
2 England falls to U.S. Amateurs
The U.S.A.'s ragtag group of amateurs defeat of the famous England side of 1950 must surely go down as one of the greatest upsets in the competitions history. It was England's first World Cup and there was an air of arrogance about the country who invented the beautiful game. England may have been without arguably their two finest players, Neil Franklin and the great Sir Stanley Matthews, but they were still expected to record an emphatic victory against the unknowns of the U.S.A. American goalkeeper Frank Borghi played out of his skin and after defending for 90% of the game, Joe Gaetjens scored the only goal of the game.
1 Hungary's Golden Team Can't Finish
If the Germans were to defeat the Hungarians 3-2 today, it would go down as a routine win, and Hungary would most likely be praised for not losing by a bigger margin. However, in 1954, the Germans were considered no match for the Magical Magyars of Hungary. This was the Hungarian Golden Team, which was laced with greats of the game. They hadn't lost a game in over four years, annihilating the vast majority of their opponents. In their warm-up games, they beat England 6-3 and 7-1, Italy 3-0, Turkey 7-1 and Czechoslovakia 5-0. They were the biggest favorites to win a World Cup final in history.
West Germany and Hungary had already faced one and another in the Group Stages of the competition, with Hungary winning the game 8-3. In their other World Cup games they beat South Korea 9-0, Brazil 4-2 and Uruguay 4-2. A mediocre Germany team which had achieved almost nothing on the world stage at this time, were major underdogs. The game began as expected, with Hungary leading 2-0 after eight minutes. A valiant West German side hit back quickly though, and went on to record the biggest shock in World Cup history, winning the game 3-2. The Magical Magyars are possibly the greatest national team in history, and it is a great shame they choked when it mattered most and having nothing to show for their genius on the pitch.
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