The 1986 champions entered the 2006 edition in Germany as one of the front-runners and began the tournament at a searing pace. They squeaked past the Elephants of Cote d'Ivoire before hitting Serbia & Montenegro for six in one of the most devastating displays of attacking football that the World Cup had ever seen. With the likes of Juan Roman Riquelme, Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi within their armoury, the Albicelestes were expected to go deep. Maxi Rodriguez's stunning volley carried them past Mexico in the round of 16 before the Argies stuttered.
The 1-1 draw against the hosts Germany was widely seen as avoidable, mostly due to the conservatism of the coach, Jose Pekerman. Hernan Crespo and Riquelme were withdrawn with only one goal separating the sides; a move that was punished by Miroslav Klose's 80th minute leveller. Argentina, with Messi on the bench throughout, were jettisoned on penalties, leading to an all-out brawl in the aftermath. Never had such a talented team imploded so badly.
9) Brazil 1950
“Everywhere has its irremediable national catastrophe, something like a Hiroshima. Our catastrophe, our Hiroshima, was the defeat by Uruguay in 1950,” wrote renowned Brazilian author Nelson Rodrigues. Playing in their own country, Brazil only required a draw in the final match of the final group stage of the 1950 World Cup. Entertaining Uruguay, who needed a win to steal the trophy from their rivals, the whole of Brazil were already in celebratory mood and the press even declared on the day of the final that Brazil were already winners. Who could blame them? Brazil had scored 21 goals in five games, and put seven and six past Sweden and Spain respectively in their previous two outings.
With legendary attackers Ademir and Zizinho to count upon, there was surely only one winner? All seemed to be going well when Friaca put Brazil ahead on 46 minutes. But midway through the second half future Milan star Juan Schiaffino equalised and then disaster struck on 79 minutes as Uruguay scored again through Alcides Ghiggia. Uruguay were World Cup winners, and the whole country of Brazil went into mourning over what became known as the Maracanazo (‘the Maracana blow’). Some fans committed suicide, while many of the Brazil team were abused by the public.
8) Portugal 1966
Benfica were the top club in Europe for a period at the beginning of the 1960s, winning successive European Cups. Much of this team formed the spine of the 1966 Portugal World Cup team, who defeated holders Brazil on the way to the semi-finals before they controversially lost to hosts England. The two star men were midfielder Mario Coluna and striker Eusebio, who finished the tournament top-scorer with nine goals and is considered by some as the greatest forward of all time.
Eusebio & Bobby Moore
Portugal won all three games in their group, scoring nine goals in total, and eliminating holders Brazil. They then launched a famous comeback from three goals down to beat North Korea 5-3 in the last eight – Eusebio scoring four – before a 2-1 loss to England. Victory over the Soviet Union in the third-and-fourth playoff was scant consolation and Portugal would not qualify for another World Cup for 20 years.
7) France 1982
After a slow start in which they were beaten 3-1 by England and had midfielder Jean-Francois Larios sent home after he had an affair with Michel Platini’s wife, Les Bleus slowly began to hit the stride. The splendour of this team was located in midfield through Platini, Alain Giresse and Jean Tigana – all world class players. But, veteran defender Marius Tresor and livewire attacker Dominique Rocheteau were also fine players.
After thumping surprise package Northern Ireland 4-1 in the second group stage, France met rivals West Germany in a classic semi final best remembered for Harald Schumacher’s vicious assault on Patrick Battiston. Taking a 3-1 lead in extra time, it seemed France were already in the final to play Italy but for the umpteenth time in their history the Germans fought back to force a penalty shootout they would then win. Two years later Platini would lead this superb French outfit to European Championships glory.
6) 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, Vladimir Jugovic and Robert Prosinecki to name just some. The final in the United States was contested by two pretty mediocre Brazil and Italy outfits that had been dragged to the final by the individual heroics of Romario and Roberto Baggio respectively. Yugoslavia would have beaten both countries.
5) Italy 1978
Believe it or not, Italy’s 1978 World Cup team was actually superior to the squad that won the World Cup in Spain four years later. Nine of the first team were members of the dominant Juventus team of the time, including the entire backline of Dino Zoff, Antonello Cuccureddu, Gaetano Scirea, Claudio Gentile and Antonio Cabrini, midfield hardmen Marco Tardelli and Romeo Benetti, star man and winger Franco Causio, and silver-haired striker Roberto Bettega who partnered future Juventino Paolo Rossi.
Italy were the best team of the tournament as they finished top of their group by beating hosts/eventual winners Argentina. In the second group stage the Azzurri drew with West Germany and defeated Austria, meaning that they had to win against Holland for a final re-match against Argentina. Italy crushed the Oranje in the first 45 minutes, taking the lead and missing at least four clear-cut chances to go 2-0 up. Then coach Enzo Bearzot inexplicably substituted the unplayable Causio at half time and instructed his men to defend. Holland, who still created nothing of note, would score with two 40-yard wondergoals to win 2-1.
4) Italy 1990
Italy went into their own World Cup in 1990 as red-hot favourites. The Azzurri contained a near-impenetrable defence of Walter Zenga, Ricardo Ferri, Franco Baresi, Giuseppe Bergomi and Paolo Maldini that had conceded just one goal in a year. With top class midfield and attacking talent such as Roberto Donadoni, Giuseppe Giannini, Roberto Baggio and the surprise top-scorer of the tournament Toto Schillaci, no one could see past Azeglio Vicini’s team.
They comfortably progressed into the semi-finals without conceding a goal where they would face arguably the most negative side ever to take to the pitch in Diego Maradona’s Argentina. A mixture of bad politics (the game was played in Maradona’s home ground of Napoli), bad coaching (Vicini shut up shop when Italy led 1-0) and a dreadful goalkeeping error by Walter Zenga saw Italy lose on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
3) Holland 1974
Who can ever forget Rinus Michels and his Total Football stars of 1974? The fact that the Netherlands failed to win this World Cup is still a source of great pain for many people in the country. Holland possessed a magical squad made up from many of the star-studded Ajax team that had won three European Cups in a row between 1971 and 1973.
Cruijff scores against Argentina
The star of the team was roaming centre forward Johan Cruijff, but the likes of Johan Neeskens, Johnny Rep, Rob Rensenbrink, Ruud Krol, Willem van Hanegem and the de Kerkhof brothers will all be remembered as legends. Holland looked unstoppable as they roared into the final having thrashed Argentina 4-0 and Brazil 2-0, but despite taking a second minute lead in the final before West Germany had touched the ball they would go on to lose 2-1 to their bitter rivals.
2) Hungary 1954
Gusztav Sebes’ Magical Magyars seemed unbeatable as they travelled to Berne to play West Germany in the 1954 final on the back of an incredible 31-match unbeaten run, which included a 6-3 win over England at Wembley. Hungary had revolutionised football tactically with an attacking system based around a brilliant quartet of forwards - Sándor Kocsis, József Bozsik, Nándor Hidegkuti, and of course the one and only Ferenc Puskas.
Hungary scored 17 goals in two games in their group, including an 8-3 thrashing of the Germans, before 4-2 knockout wins over 1950 finalists Brazil and Uruguay. Leading 2-0 in the final within eight minutes, it seemed as if Hungary would romp to victory but in the pouring rain they would be on the receiving end of a famous Fritz Walter-led German recovery. An 84th minute Uwe Rahn goal clinched a 3-2 triumph for Sepp Herberger’s men.
1) Brazil 1982
It was a close race between Hungary ’54 and Brazil ’82, but the latter sneak it in a photo finish. Many people believe that Tele Santana’s squad was even better than the legendary 1970 World Cup winners. Possessing the world’s best player of the early 1980s in Zico, as well other phenomenons such as Socrates, Falcao, Eder, Junior and Cerezo, Brazil swept everyone before them in their first four games in Spain playing a beautiful brand of footballing samba.
Zico and Socrates against Italy
The Selecao scored 13 goals in total against the USSR, Scotland, New Zealand and Argentina, and only needed a draw against Italy to make it to the semi finals. But a mixture of bad defending, bad finishing from the infamous Serginho Chulapa, and an inspirational hat-trick from Paolo Rossi saw eventual winners Italy triumph 3-2 in a classic.
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Carlo Garganese, Goal.com