Worst World Cup teams
Brazil 1970, Holland 1974, Hungary 1954, Spain 2010 and Brazil 1958 are all widely considered among the greatest sides to grace the World Cup, but what about those at the other end of the scale? In this slideshow, we pick out 10 of the worst teams ever…
10. Brazil (1974)
It wasn’t that the defending World Cup holders crashed out early in Germany. In fact, they reached the second group stage. It was more the fact that Brazil ditched the beautiful football they’d played four years earlier in Mexico and adopted a far more hard-edged, pragmatic approach to matches.
Brazil – minus Pele, Carlos Alberto and Tostao - drew their opening two games with Scotland and Yugoslavia 0-0, before squeaking into the latter rounds on goal difference following a 3-0 win over Zaire. Their clash with Holland was effectively a play-off for the final, and the Dutch, with Johans Cruyff and Neeskens at their brilliant best, simply outshone the surly Brazilians, clad in uncharacteristic dark blue shirts.
9. West Germany (1982)
Of course, the losing finalists weren’t the worst football team in Spain, but in terms of utter cynicism and a lack of sportsmanship, they are surely the most motley crew ever to play at the World Cup finals.
First, there was the notorious El Anschluss match against Austria. Following an early Horst Hrubesch goal, both countries were content to play out the 1-0, happy in the knowledge that the result progressed them to the second group stage at the expense of plucky Algeria.
Then there was Harald Schumacher’s horrific assault on Patrick Battiston in the semi-final, which left the Frenchman unconscious on the turf. Fortunately, the West Germans lost 3-1 in the final to Italy, but the stench of foul play lingered for years.
8. England (2010)
At least Fabio Capello’s men stumbled into the World Cup knockout stage, unlike Roy Hodgson’s rabble of 2014. But with the – ahem – ‘Golden Generation’ of Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole et al still present and correct, the mood was relatively optimistic pre-tournament.
That began to evaporate after goalkeeper Rob Green’s howler against the USA in a 1-1 draw, and disappeared altogether when Rooney criticised England fans as he stomped off the pitch following a dreadful 0-0 draw against Algeria. Jermain Defoe’s goal against Slovenia steered Capello’s side towards a last-16 clash with a resurgent Germany, where the Three Lions were thrashed 4-1.
7. Uruguay (1986)
In a group containing West Germany, Denmark and Scotland, Uruguay took cynicism to a new level. After forcing a 1-1 draw against the Germans, they lost 6-1 to the rampant Danes – but not before Miguel Bossio was sent off for a violent challenge on Frank Arnesen.
La Celeste were fined by FIFA and threatened with expulsion if the foul play continued. They failed to heed the warning; in a turgid 0-0 draw with Scotland, Jose Batista ploughed through Gordon Strachan after 39 seconds to earn a red card.
"It's not just a part of football, it's the whole bloody attitude of the nation,” fumed Scotland boss Alex Ferguson. “You can see that attitude there. The whole thing. They have no respect for other people's dignity.”
6. France (2010)
It wasn’t simply that a talented, albeit totally disparate collection of French stars departed South Africa after collecting just a single point in Group A – more the classless way that those players behaved which sullied the whole experience.
At half-time of France’s defeat to Mexico, striker Nicolas Anelka exchanged pleasantries with manager Raymond Domenech, where the former Arsenal striker allegedly told his coach to: “Go f**k yourself, you son of a w**re.” The resulting disagreement over Anelka's expulsion from the squad between players and authorities led to some stars threatening to boycott their final match.
Although this was averted, the French went through the motions as hosts South Africa defeated them, leaving one of the pre-tournament favourites rock bottom of their group.
5. Bolivia (1950)
When the South Americans qualified for the first post-war World Cup in Brazil, they hoped to fare rather better than their predecessors had in the inaugural 1930 tournament, when they were dispatched of 4-0 by both Brazil and Yugoslavia in the group stage.
Yet 20 years later in Belo Horizonte, Los Altiplanicos outdid themselves by shipping eight goals against tournament winners Uruguay – and because Pool Four only contained those two sides, Bolivia’s World Cup was abruptly ended after a single, dismal match. Perhaps that was no bad thing.
4. Sweden (1990)
With a potent mix of seasoned professionals like Johnny Ekstrom and Roland Nilsson, bright young star Tomas Brolin, plus new Arsenal signing Anders Limpar, Olle Nordin’s team was tipped to be a surprise package at Italia ’90. Yet as Brolin later admitted: “The pressure got to us, and we froze.”
A Careca double helped Brazil cruise to a 2-0 victory in the first group game, and after a determined Scotland beat the Swedes 2-1, Nordin admitted: “Our mindset is too fragile.” There was no consolation in the final match against Costa Rica either, with Hernan Medford scoring a winner in the 87th minute.
3. Greece (1994)
A national hero after steering Greece to their first ever World Cup finals, things quickly unravelled for head coach Alketas Panagoulias once the tournament actually kicked off.
The hapless Greeks failed to score at USA ’94, and the most memorable moments in their matches came courtesy of Diego Maradona (whose crazed celebration after his thunderous finish in Argentina’s 4-0 win remains one of the World Cup’s most infamous moments), and Daniel Amokachi, who thumped home a superb second in Nigeria’s 2-0 win. To cap it all, they were also walloped 4-0 by Bulgaria, and the majority of the squad never played international football again.
2. El Salvador (1982)
“The country was in deep suffering and we had the pressure of trying to reduce it,” midfielder Mauricio Alfaro told FourFourTwo – so war-torn El Salvador’s football heroes travelled to Spain in good heart.
That was until they fell to pieces against Hungary in their opening World Cup clash, losing 10-1 – which remains the most unwanted of finals records. After a tactical shake-up and a coup against the manager, El Salvador regained some pride by fighting to the last against both Belgium and a frustrated Argentina, losing 1-0 and 2-0 respectively.
The 10-1 scoreline against Hungary made the team an international laughing stock, although it was no joke for the players, many of whom were shunned after returning home.
1. Zaire (1974)
Chastened by a 2-0 loss to Scotland and, more significantly, a 9-0 shellacking by Yugoslavia, the Zaire squad was informed that their performance had so disgusted the country’s leader, the despotic President Mobutu, that if they conceded more than three goals to world champions Brazil, they might not be allowed home after the tournament.
The first Sub-Saharan side to play at the World Cup defended to the last man, and despite the embarrassment of Mwepu Ilunga dashing out of a defensive wall to hoof the ball away as Rivellino prepared to shoot, they kept the score down to a semi-respectable 3-0 loss.
Still, with 14 goals conceded and none scored in three games, an incensed Mobutu insisted the national team’s performances had “embarrassed the entire continent”.
Greg Lea is a freelance football journalist who's filled in wherever FourFourTwo needs him since 2014. He became a Crystal Palace fan after watching a 1-0 loss to Port Vale in 1998, and once got on the scoresheet in a primary school game against Wilfried Zaha's Whitehorse Manor (an own goal in an 8-0 defeat).
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