Just to prove even the great sides can come a cropper, we look at five famous hiccups for World Cup holders.


West Germany 1-3 France
16 October 1954, Hanover. Friendly

West Germany may have been the best side in the World Cup final in 1954 but few people actually considered them the best side in the world that same year, as their improbable victory over Ferenc Puskas’s brilliant Hungary side carried an element of fantasy about it. And so a burgeoning French side attempted to prove it as just three months after the \’Miracle of Berne’ came a hammering in Hanover. Hardly the way for the new world champions to greet their home crowd for the first time.

France had actually got knocked out of the first round in 1954 so, despite the fact they were developing the exciting team that would eventually reach the semi-finals of the 1958 World Cup – knocked out by Pele’s Brazil – they travelled to Hanover with many expecting West Germany to confirm their status as champions of the world.

The Germans had cause for caution though. In their first game after lifting the Jules Rimet trophy they lost 2-0 to Belgium in Brussels. Fittingly, it was a change in personnel that brought a change in perspective for West Germany. Only the year before, substitutions had been introduced to international football for the first time – coincidentally, the Germans’ Horst Eckel becoming the first player to come on as a sub.

And two ultimately important ones early in the game changed this one. The effects of the first would be long in coming as after 22 minutes a 17-year-old Uwe Seeler replaced Bernhard Termath for his international debut. He would go on to become one of West Germany’s greatest ever strikers with 43 goals in 72 games.

The effects of the second were almost instantaneous though. Five minutes after Seeler came on, Jacques Foix replaced the iconic Larbi Ben Barak for France… and within moments ensured Ben Barek’s presence wouldn’t be missed as he opportunistically intercepted a Werner Kohlmeyer pass and rolled the ball home.

That set the French on their way and two minutes later Jean Vincent – a hero of 1958 – effectively killed the game with a second. Foix scored his own second 10 minutes into the second half before Klaus Sturmer claimed a consolation for the Germans towards the end.

With hindsight, however, the result should not have inspired too much hysteria. Despite their status the Germans went on to lose six of their next eight home games. The only sides they beat: Norway and Ireland. We would return to German soil to take on one of their world champions again though.
West Germany: Turek, Erhardt, Kohlmeyer, Posipal, Liebrich, Mai, Klodt, Sturmer, Walter, Islacker, Termath (Seeler 22)
Scorer: Sturmer 75
France: Remetter, Kaelbel, Marche, Mahjoub, Jonquet, Louis, Grillet, Dereuddre, Kopa, Ben Barek (Foix 27), Vincent
Scorers: Foix 33, 55; Vincent 35
England 2-3 Scotland

15 May 1967, Wembley. Euro 68 qualifier/Home International Championship

Just a bit resting on this one: European Championship qualification, the Home International championship, England’s status as 1966 world champions, their unbeaten record going back to 1965 to the point they were called \’The Invincibles’, Scotland’s embarrassment at failing to qualify for 1966 – not to mention a 9-3 defeat to England a few years before – and, oh, the hundreds of years of national rivalry that usually gets swept with this fixture.

Little wonder then, that with so much weight on the game, Scotland crowned themselves “unofficial world champions” after winning it.

In truth though, despite the disparate recent histories of the two teams, Scotland were just as cheekily cocky beforehand. As captain John Grieg explained years later “on the surface at least, we had no reason to feel confident. But we had considered ourselves unfortunate not to qualify for the 1966 finals and we were desperate to make a point.”

It was quite a point considering the match was also Bobby Brown’s first in charge of Scotland. And as he gave his team-talk, his best player Jim Baxter couldn’t have been less bothered, his eyes on the Daily Telegraph instead of the manager.

Confused, Brown asked “anything to add, Jim?” “Aye,” Baxter replied. “See this English lot, they can play nane.” A further story has it that when someone wondered aloud to Baxter whether he might feel the need to warm up for one of his biggest games for his country, the Rangers icon momentarily stretched out his left leg, then his right and claimed “that’s me warmed up”.

There does appear truth to the story however as Baxter strolled through the 90 minutes despite an otherwise frenetic pace, his every touch nevertheless majestic. At one stage he (in)famously started doing a few solos near the by-line as he waited for his teammates to catch up with him. Alex Ferguson later stated Baxter’s performance could have been “set to music”.

Although extremely overstated, Scotland had reason to be confident as they then had what many consider to be their greatest side of the 20th century. Four of the side would win the European Cup with Celtic within a month and another – Denis Law – would add that trophy to his Ballon D’Or within a year. They still remained a step below the English however, but not – crucially – on this day.

The better side from the off and completely dominant, Law gave the Scots a richly deserved lead on 27 minutes. It was a particularly sweet moment for Law given the abuse he had endured at English grounds as a Manchester United player over Scotland’s failure to qualify for 1966 and England’s victory. Unable to watch the final, he went for a round of golf and on hearing the result as he attempted to putt, exclaimed “bastards”.

Celtic’s Bobby Lennox finally added a second after 78 minutes but that was not because it was tight after Law’s goal but because the Scots had been so concerned with humiliating the English by passing them off the park. A warning for that was served six minutes from the end when Jack Charlton scored before James McCalliog restored the two-goal lead and Geoff Hurst cut it again.

Despite the overwhelming nature of their performance, the Scots were criticised in some quarters for “childish tricks” instead of trying to professionally maximise the score. In the end however, it made little difference. England still qualified for Euro 68 and the Scots were left celebrating another ultimately glorious failure.
England: Banks, Cohen, Wilson, Stiles, J Charlton, Moore, Ball, Graves, Hurst, Peters
Scorers: J Charlton 84, Hurst 88
Scotland: Simpson, Gemmell, McCreadie, Greig, McKinnion, Baxter, Wallace, Lennox, Bremner, Law, McCalliog
Scorers: Law 27, Lennox 78, McCalliog 87

Italy 0-3 Sweden
15 October 1983, Rome. Euro 84 qualifier
A result for every Irish player to memorise. If just to prove it wouldn’t be unprecedented, it is possible. It just isn’t that frequent.

In truth, an element of Italy’s aura had already been stripped away by the time this game came around. Just three months after Dino Zoff lifted the World Cup in Spain and a year before this game, Italy lost 1-0 to Switzerland in a friendly – their first defeat at home in 11 years.

But whatever about first defeats in such time, nothing could have prepared them for their worst defeat at home in 28 years. And this was no inconsequential friendly. It was a do-or-die Euro 84 qualifier since Italy had drawn three and lost two of their first five games. They also had the matter of revenge since it was Sweden who inflicted the latest of those two defeats, a 2-0 win in Stockholm.

In Rome, however, it was the Swedes who played like they were 1982 victors as although the world mightn’t have been turned on its head, the world champions were. Despite the presence of such stalwarts in defence like Giuseppe Bergomi, Pietro Vierchowod and a young Franco Baresi, Italy really suffered without Gaetano Scirea and within 27 minutes Sweden’s Stromberg and pierced them twice.

Bruno Giordano appeared to pull Italy back into the game on 68 minutes only to see the linesman’s flag go up, and within three minutes Sunesson made it 3-0.

Astonishingly, despite one of their greatest ever performances, Sweden still didn’t qualify for Euro 84. Romania just edged ahead in a three-way race at the top of the group, finishing with 12 points with Sweden on 11 and Czechoslovakia on 10.

The world champions ended second bottom, with just five points from eight games, their only victory against lowly Cyprus.
Italy: Bordon, Bergomi, Cabrini, Bagni, Vierchowod, Baresi, Conti, Ancelotti, Rossi, Dossena, Giordano
Sweden: T Ravelli, Erlandsson, Fredriksson, Prytz, Dahlqvist, Hysen, Sunesson, Eriksson, Corneliusson (Jingbladh 84), Stromberg, Holmgren (A Ravelli 74)
Scorers: Stromberg 20, 27; Sunesson 71

Germany 0-2 Ireland

29 May 1994, Hanover. Friendly

World champions or not, Hanover didn’t always provide the Germans with their headiest days. It was in the city after all where they lost to France in 1954. Quite the opposite for Ireland, who enjoyed one of their greatest moments there – Ronnie Whelan’s volley against the USSR in Euro 88 – and then one of their greatest victories.

They were certainly lofty days in 1994. Ireland were ranked 12th in the world – about to rise to eighth on the back of this – had just beaten the side ranked first in Holland and now were about to beat the world champions as the Germans were setting up to defend their title.

And all that as Charlton attempted to blood a new side, Gary Kelly, Jason McAteer and Phil Babb all staking their claim in this game. It was one of the older heads that sent Ireland on their way though, Tony Cascarino heading home his 12th international goal after 31 minutes.

Ireland were well in charge of the champions and confirmed that on 68 minutes when Kelly – on as a half-time sub for Irwin – broke forward from right-back but relived his former life in youths football as a centre-forward by claiming the second. He was however fortunate with the deflection. The Germans could not say the same about Ireland and the result in general though.
Germany: Illgner, Matthaus, Buchwald (Berthold 36), Kohler (Hassler 47), Strunz, Basler, Sammer, Wagner, Moller (Effenberg 46), Klinsmann, Riedle (Voller 68)
Ireland: Alan Kelly, Denis Irwin (Gary Kelly 46), Terry Phelan, Phil Babb, Paul McGrath, Roy Keane, Jason McAteer (Ray Houghton 86), Andy Townsend, Steve Staunton, John Sheridan (Ronnie Whelan 46), Tony Cascarino (Tommy Coyne 67)
Scorers: Cascarino 31, G Kelly 68

Brazil 0-1 Paraguay
21 August 2002, Fortaleza. Friendly.    

This was supposed to a good-natured goodbye to Felipe Scolari as he took charge of one last Brazilian game after delivering the World Cup but before trying his luck in Europe. Instead it was goodbye to any notions Brazil had of building up any sort of unbeaten record or dynasty after their heroics in Japan and Korea.

Paraguay, who had always been something of a bogey-team for Brazil – and indeed caused them huge problems in the tumultuous qualifying campaign for 2002, beating them 2-1 in Asuncion – repeated the trick here as Nelson Cuevas scored after 28 minutes.

Scolari, whose Brazil career began with the same deficit to Uruguay, summed it up best himself. “I started losing and finished losing but these defeats will be forgotten thanks to the Penta (fifth World Cup). For Brazilian football, the image that remains is one of a strong group which chased its targets with discipline.”

Indeed, as Scolari suggested, in terms of the group for this game the Brazilians could have no complaints. An incredible 19 of their 23-man World Cup squad featured over the 90 minutes, a run-out for all three goalkeepers lending a somewhat farcical nature to the contest. Ultimately, however, it was Paraguay’s day more than even Scolari’s. As their manager Anibal Ruiz claimed “We’ve been invited to the party and we intend to eat most of the cake.”
Brazil: Marcos (Dida 33, Rogerio Ceni 51), Gilberto Silva, Edmilson, Anderson Polga, Cafu (Belletti 46), Roberto Carlos (Junior 46), Kleberson (Edilson 46), Ricardinho (Denilson 46), Ronaldinho (Kaka 46), Rivaldo (Vampeta 46), Ronaldo (Luizao 32)
Paraguay: Tavarelli, Isasi, Ayala, Caceres, Caniza, Acuna, Bonet (Morinigo 58), Paredes, Campos (Da Silva 90), Cardozo, Cuevas (Maximo 82)
Scorers: Cuevas 29

This article first appeared on SoccerRepublic.ie, the excellent new fan site for Irish football.

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