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With France on the brink of a play-off exit against Ukraine, Goal examines the greatest sides who faltered in their bid to compete on the game's grandest stage

By Carlo Garganese

10. ENGLAND - 1974


The 1970s were a dark period for the England national team, as they failed to progress to a single major tournament between 1970 and 1980. The most notable let-down was missing out on the 1974 World Cup in West Germany. Requiring a win against Poland in their final qualifying match in London, England could only manage a 1-1 draw as goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewki – labelled as a "clown" before the game by a certain Brian Clough – performed miracles to deny Sir Alf Ramsey's men.

9. NETHERLANDS - 1986


After a spell of disappointment in the aftermath of the 1978 World Cup, where they had finished runners-up, an exciting new generation of Dutch youngsters burst onto the scene in the mid-1980s that included the brilliant Marco van Basten (pictured), Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit and Rob de Wit. However, the Oranje lost their World Cup play-off to neighbours Belgium on away goals after a late effort from Georges Grun in the second leg.

8. USSR - 1978


Despite possessing a large chunk of the great Dynamo Kiev team that conquered the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1975, including the legendary Oleg Blokhin (above), the USSR finished second in Group 9 behind Hungary, with a shock 1-0 defeat to Greece in Thessaloniki doing the damage.

7. ITALY - 1958


They may have been able to call upon players of the calibre of Juventurs legend Giampiero Boniperti (above), but the 1950s was a miserable decade for Italy, as the country suffered terribly from the 1949 Superga Air Disaster that wiped out almost the entire 'Grande Torino' squad. Despite this, the Azzurri would still have expected to qualify for Sweden '58 but a shock final-day defeat in Belfast to Northern Ireland saw the hosts take their place. Undoubtedly the worst period in Italy's history, it would be 1960 – more than two-and-a-half years – before la Nazionale won another game.

6. PORTUGAL - 1998


With the Golden Generation of Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Joao Pinto, Portugal had their best chance since Eusebio and Mario Coluna in 1966 to make a major impact on a World Cup but, just like in 1990 and 1994, the Seleccao didn't make it to the finals in France. Portugal finished third behind Germany and Ukraine, with their fate having been sealed by a controversial draw in Berlin in which Rui Costa was dubiously dismissed with the visitors a goal to the good.

5. ENGLAND - 1994


England boss Graham Taylor had somehow managed to hold onto his job following their disastrous Euro '92 campaign, but had no such luck after The Three Lions failed to make it to USA '94. England lost away to qualifiers Norway and Holland, and even humiliatingly conceded a goal after just seven seconds to San Marino.

4. YUGOSLAVIA - 1994


Yugoslavia didn't even take part in qualifying for the 1994 World Cup – they were suspended following the outbreak of war that led to the dissolution and division into Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and later Serbia and Montenegro. At the time of hostilities, it can be argued that Yugoslavia were the strongest team in the world – boasting the likes of Dragan Stojkovic, Zvonimir Boban, Dejan Savicevic, Davor Suker, Darko Pancev, Sinisa Mihajlovic, Robert Prosinecki and Srecko Katanec to name but a few of the star players available to them.

3. SCOTLAND - 1970


In the late 60s and early 70s, Scottish football was feared and respected all over Europe, with Celtic winning the European Cup in 1967 and Rangers the European Cup Winners' Cup five years later. Scotland took the cream from the Glasgow giants – the likes of Jimmy Johnstone and John Greig – as well England-based stars such as Denis Law and Billy Bremner, but finished behind the mighty West Germany in their qualifying group for the 1970 World Cup after a classic 3-2 defeat in Hamburg.

2. NETHERLANDS - 2002


Despite possessing a host of world class players, such as Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Marc Overmars and Jaap Stam, Louis van Gaal's Oranje finished third in their qualifying group behind Portugal and Republic of Ireland, surprisingly losing 1-0 to the latter in a decisive clash in Dublin.

1. FRANCE - 1994


France, who four years later would win the World Cup in their own country, were cruising to the United States after picking up 13 points out of a possible 16 in Uefa Group 6. Les Bleus, containing stars such as Jean-Pierre Papin, David Ginola, Eric Cantona, Didier Deschamps and Marcel Desailly, required just one point from their last two home games against whipping boys Israel, and Bulgaria, but flopped – conceding injury-time goals as they lost both games.

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