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Including the mother of all defeats: These are the biggest favorite falls in World Cup history

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World Cup history goes back a long way. There were a number of favorite falls. Maybe again at the World Cup in Qatar? A look back at defeats that are particularly memorable.

USA 1-0 ENGLAND, 1950

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Still considered the mother of all defeats by football purists. The English took part in a World Cup for the first time and, along with Brazil, they were the top favorites to win the tournament. After all, they came from the motherland of football with a post-war record of 23 wins in 30 games and only four defeats. And the US? An absolute football developing country with part-time kickers.

But Joe Gaetjens headed in after 38 minutes to make it 1-0 for the Americans. The English suddenly got heavy legs, nothing worked anymore. The defeat came as a shock to the English, who had traveled to Brazil with the belief that they were the kings of football. In general, the game is representative of England’s appearance at World Cups, which, with the exception of the home World Cup in 1966, has so far been rather unfortunate.

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Superlatives should not be neglected here. The mother of all defeats was followed in 1966 by the mother of all sensations. Two-time world champions Italy met North Korea in Middlesbrough. The Asians, even more developing football countries than the USA in 1950, won 1-0 thanks to a goal from Pak Doo-Ik, a full-time dentist, just before half-time. The Italians, whose reporters had mocked the North Koreans’ soccer skills before the game, were shocked and outraged in equal measure.


Probably the mother of all ugly defeats. Brazil needed a win against Portugal in their last group match. Pelé went into the game battered. The perfidious tactics of the Portuguese: kick and maul the exceptional striker and hope for their exceptional striker – Eusebio – up front. The plan worked. Pelé had to be treated several times after a number of fouls, Eusebio scored twice. The magicians from South America had to leave, Portugal failed in the semi-finals against world champions England.

World of pain: Pelé had to experience it against Portugal.
© imago/ZUMA/Keystone


If ever there was a team with power, it was France at the 2002 World Cup. Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet and Sylvain Wiltord were among the world’s best forwards. Zinedine Zidane should stage them. France could hardly help but become world champions again. But Zidane missed the first two games injured. And so the French were eliminated after three games in which they failed to score once, including the dismal 2-0 loss to Denmark in the final group game.

Impossible playmaker: In 2002, Zidane could only play once.
Impossible playmaker: In 2002, Zidane could only play once.
© Imago


Tiki-Taka, the dreaded and (for the spectator) annoying short passing game is dead! That was the realization for the football experts after the disastrous performance of the reigning world and European champions Spain at the World Cup in Brazil. The 1:5 against the Netherlands cemented this supposed new tactical era in football. We now know that Tiki-Taka survived the 2014 World Cup. In the 7-0 win against Costa Rica a few days ago, the Spaniards played more than 1,000 passes, more than ever before at a World Cup.

Out with Tiki-Taka.  For Iniesta and Co. it was over after the preliminary round.
Out with Tiki-Taka. For Iniesta and Co. it was over after the preliminary round.
© imago/Richard Wareham


Loosely based on Lothar Matthäus: Would, would a bicycle chain be! If the German team had been just a little more concentrated in front of the opposing goal in the last group game against South Korea, the team’s luck would have been just a little bit on the side – then probably nobody would have thought of accusing national coach Joachim Löw of vanity and delusion.

Who knows, Germany would probably have gotten more and more going if they had remembered their own World Cup history, which says that the Germans, as they did in the 80s in particular, can bite their way into a tournament like this. As it was, it was the right conclusion for the DFB team to a tournament that had started with a terrifying performance in a 1-0 loss to Mexico.

In a mediocre group, Germany was the last to go, and yet Löw stayed in office, wanting to make amends two years later. That too went wrong. And if Germany were to drop out early this time too, some might get the idea that national team football is still choppy at the moment because Löw didn’t want to resign in 2018.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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