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The Worst World Cup Qualification Cock-ups

With the likes of Argentina, Italy & Holland facing a battle to qualify here’s some blasts from the past that prove no team is too big to fail…

England 1974

Seven years on from the 1966 World Cup triumph Sir Alf Ramsey was still in charge of England, but an embarrassing Wembley loss in the 1972 European Champioships to West Germany hinted at darker times to come. In 1966 Ramsey was a management genius, there again in 1966 Paul McCartney was the pop genius behind Revolver & Sgt Pepper in 1973 he was in Wings, but these warning signs were ignored.

England’s group looked easy enough- Wales & Poland but a 1-1 against the Welsh at Wembley had England in trouble. Then things got far worse in Poland when a regressing Bobby Moore deflected a free kick into his own net and England went down 2-0.

And so to Wembley, England would qualify with a win anything less and the visiting Poles would go to the World Cup. In the build up Polish goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski was trash talked by a typically understated Brian Clough. Confidence was high and England set a blistering pace and quickly set up camp in the Polish half, a side featuring Alan Clarke, Mick Channon, Colin Bell and Martin Peters laid siege to the box  surely it was just a matter of time…until Poland scored. They broke in the 57th minute Norman Hunter missed a tackle he’d make 99 times out of a hundred and Jan Domarski’s scuffed effort evaded Peter Shilton who’d have saved it 99 times out of 100.

But 6 minutes later England looked set for victory after Clarke despatched a penalty 1-1 and with Tomaszewski finally beaten England would surely pull it out of the bag. The shots kept raining in but Tomaszewski saved everything thrown at him including a Banks-esque saved from Clarke. England had 36 shots on goal to Poland’s 2 but it finished 1-1, In the post match analysis Clough continued calling Tomaszewski a clown with Brian Moore struggling not to tell him to just shut up and it would 9 years until England graced the World Cup finals again.

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France 1994

France don’t do average World Cups, they’re either in the final or squabbling before they disembark the plane. No tournament sums up France’s ability to cock it up better than USA ’94 or more specifically the qualifiers.

France had been the powerhouse of European football in the mid ’80s bookending the 1984 European Championship triumph with 2 World Cup semi finals. But by the late 80s Platini had retired and the team was in transition- footballspeak for ‘The new players are   pants.’ But by 1993 things were looking up again, under the management of Gerard Houllier they had 2 creative genius players in David Ginola & Eric Cantona, a prolific striker in Jean-Pierre Papin and a solid backbone based around Didier Deschamps & Laurent Blanc.

This was a side destined to make a major impact at the finals and with 2 qualifiers to go everything looked set, the team was purring, French officials were scouting US hotels to check on the quality of the cheese board, what could wrong? Well they could lose at home to unfancied Israel!

Still this was a minor set back the next game was against Bulgaria in Paris. A draw would be enough for France whilst Bulgaria needed to win. It was 1-1 deep into the second half and Houllier felt the need to send on a substitute to see the game out, someone sensible, dependable and unlikely to do anything stupid, naturally he chose Ginola. With the game heading into injury time Ginola had the ball at the corner flag needing to just hold onto the ball and see the game out, but Ginola went for glory and sent in a woefully overhit cross which the Bulgarians retrieved, sent up the other end and Emil Kostadinov smashed home 1-2 and the French were out.

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Houllier lambasted Ginola post match and the 2 entered a long running feud with the future Liverpool manager accusing Ginola of ‘murdering his team,’ the ever tactful Hristo Stoichkov said the French simply bottled.

The Bulgarians proved a handful at the finals, energised by Stoichkov they knocked out Germany on their way to an unlikely 4th place. Meanwhile in Paris Houllier was replaced by the tough Aimee Jacquet who wasted little time in identifying the players killing the team- Cantona & Ginola were booted back across the English Channel for good.

On arriving in England at Euro’96 a critical English press claimed the French Manager needed a ‘straight Jacquet’ get it! According to The Sun Jacquet was clueless because he omitted the 2 English based players (perhaps because they were the only 2 French players they’d heard of) and this new Zidane bloke wasn’t in the same class. Another winner from Fleet Street!

Holland 2002

Holland started out amongst the favourites to win the 2002 World Cup. The team of Bergkamp, Davids, Kluivert, Seedorf, Van Der Sar & the De Boer brothers had come agonisingly close to lifting the 1998 World Cup & 2000 Euros the later held in their own backyard.

But for all their individual brilliance the Dutch are often Europe’s most divided side. It’s  a mystery why these cool headed superstars from the low countries turn into the Gallagher brothers on international duty, whatever the reasons the Dutch national team often resemble a dog barking at its own reflection.

The Qualifying group would include the dangerous Portuguese but with 2 qualifying spots this wasn’t going to be a problem, given the third best team in the group were Mick McCarthy’s Ireland.

The Irish fired an early warning shot with a hard fought 2-2 draw in Amsterdam. Things got worse in Rotterdam a month later with the Dutch going down 2-0 to the Portuguese. But the Dutch got back on track in the return match in Porto. Holland raced into a 2-0 lead thanks to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink & Kluivert, with 7 minutes to go the Dutch were in control but managed to let one in. Then in injury time they gave away a daft penalty and Luis Figo dispatched 2-2 opportunity missed.

The top 3 continued to push past the lesser lights of the group aside although the Dutch almost messed it up in Talin needing a Van Nistelrooy a late double to overcome the mighty Estonia. The crunch clash would come in Dublin in September 2001, Holland needed the win and Roy Keane went his usual way about testing Dutch resolve. What followed was endless Dutch pressure, some resolute Irish defending before Jason ‘Trigger’ McAteer broke and scored the decisive goal 1-0 Ireland.

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Ireland negotiated the last few hurdles and qualified via a playoff win over Iran, although Roy through a strop and was sent home before a ball had been kicked in Japan. Meanwhile Holland stayed home, not that it stopped Pepsi using Davids for their World Cup commercials, did nobody tell them?

Russia 2010

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union it’s fair to say Russian teams hadn’t exactly lit up major tournaments, never escaping the group, until Euro 2008. Qualifying at the expense of Steve McClaren’s England the Russians confounded expectations in Austria. Andrei Arshavin was magical and the Russians knocked out tournament favourites Holland en-route to the semi finals- their best tournament showing since 1988.

Despite their high world ranking the Russians were in pot 2 of the draw and got a stinker- Germany.  Still this was the functional pre Ozil Germany and Russia’s dynamic little playmaker was good enough for Barcelona (in his head at least) but alas joined the equally good Arsenal.

They met in October 2008, the Germans wisely moved the game to intimidating Dortmund and got off to a flyer with early goals from Podolski & Ballack and despite a second half repost from Arshavin held on 2-1.

The Russians undeterred continued an impressive qualification run, comfortably despatching the likes of Wales & Finland until the rematch with the Germans. That came in October 2009 when the Germans entered the hostile Luzhniki stadium in Moscow. But the Germans didn’t wilt and a Miroslav Klose goal saw Germany through.

Confined to the playoffs Russia were still supremely confident, especially when the draw through up the World’s 49th best team- Slovenia. Surely tiny Slovenia would cower in the Luzhniki right? Well for an hour it worked with Dinyar Bilyaletdinov scoring twice. At 2-0 with an away leg to come most would shut up shop, however the Russians decided on a Kevin Keegan style approached and pushed for more, inevitably letting in a 88th minute goal, 2-1 and Slovenia had a lifeline.

So it came down to a came to the return leg in Maribor, where before a huge crowd of 12,000 a side lead by West Brom’s Robert Koren scored a goal on the stroke of half time and a side featuring Arshavin, Zhirkov & Pavlyuchenko couldn’t find a goal and went out on away goals. Slovenia went to South Africa where they became the only team England managed to beat whilst the Russians stayed home and Mrs Arshavin moaned about the shabbiness of London shopping.

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englandfootball11 View All

Football fan, follower of England, Leeds and will watch any game possible (between raising twins!)

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