WORLD CUP ANGUISH: THE SEVEN BEST TEAMS NEVER TO BE CROWNED WORLD CHAMPIONS
In any competition the expectation is that the winner is automatically the best in the competition. However, that is not always the case, in this list I’ll be breaking down some of the best teams who have never won a World Cup.
7. Argentina (2014)
The World Cup is often seen as the pinnacle of any players career with many great footballers being overlooked due to the fact they never won it.
For many people Lionel Messi is not only the greatest currently active footballer but also the greatest footballer of all time, with statistics and his trophy cabinet reinforcing that point. But in 2014 he had the chance to top the lot when he more or less single-handedly helped Argentina reach the World Cup final.
Argentina’s World Cup was far from straight forward though, a hard-pressed match that went into extra time with Switzerland in the round of 16 and again a tightly fought penalty shootout with the Netherlands in the semi’s.
However, Messi and his team did make the final, but extra time wasn’t kind to them this time losing 1-0. Unlike some of the other teams on this list, this team wasn’t packed with superstars from back to front, instead relying on Messi’s magic and as many of the shooting opportunities to fall to anyone other than Gonzalo Higuain.
6. France (2006)
“Zidane's tournament” – would have been the headline of every newspaper had the French talisman marked the end of an illustrious career with the biggest title in world football.
The French team of ‘06 was packed with fantastic talent: Patrick Viera, Thierry Henry, Claude Makelele, Lilian Thuram and David Trezeguet just to name a few. All the players were at the top of their game with many looking to end their international careers on a high.
Like most teams in this list, France did make the final and Zidane did make history with one of the most iconic football moments of all time. In the 109th minute with the scores tied at 1-1 Zidane was sent off for headbutting Italy’s Marco Materazzi and the Italians went on to win the game 5-3 with Zidane leaving the game in disgrace.
5. Belgium (2018)
One of the only teams on this list who didn’t actually make the final in Belgium. They were and are a perfect example of how a team absolutely full of fantastic individuals doesn’t guarantees success.
Nearly every player in the squad in 2018 was at or near the top of their field and, using the lessons learned from a somewhat successful Euro’s campaign in 2016, looked to make progress and cement themselves as one of the greats.
Belgium cruised through the competition winning their group flawlessly beating off a promising England side, before nearly coming undone against Japan demonstrating why so many of their players are the best in the world.
They then undid a highly rated Brazil side before being shown how a good team functions losing to eventual winners France.
4. Brazil 1982
A controversial choice to place only in 4th but this is because of how many people regard this team as one of the greatest ever and rightly so.
Any team that boasts containing Socrates and Zico is one to be feared, the format of the old World Cups was slightly different to how it is now with teams going through two group stages before moving onto a knockout round.
Brazil, as expected, coasted through the first group scoring ten and conceding two in three games. Now the interesting thing about this team is how low they actually finished, for many fifth is a position not usually filled by great teams which is why they sit lower on this list.
Despite how comfortably they got through group one, two was not as simple and due to the reduced size of the groups (again different format), Brazil's second place was not good enough even though they beat an impressive Argentina team containing Daniel Passarella, Diego Maradona and 1978’s player of the competition Mario Kempes.
Unfortunately they lost to eventual winners Italy who had taken care of Argentina as well with Italian defender Claudio Gentile taking a less than gentle approach to Diego Maradona.
3. Hungary (1954)
In today’s generation Hungary are regarded as a small team, however in the 50’s Hungary were the team to beat, club side Honved were the one of the best in Europe and with Ferenc Puskas they dominated teams and were firm favourites to win the World Cup.
Hungary, like other teams in this list, scored barrels of goals in the group stages putting eight past eventual winners West Germany and nine past North Korea, with Honved striker Sandor Kocsis scoring seven alone.
They beat Brazil 4-2 and then Uruguay by the same score line demonstrating their inability to keep the goals out. They lost in the final to West Germany, a side they had already beaten, ending Hungary’s best chance to win a World Cup.
2. France (1982)
I very nearly put the France side of 1978 in this list, but a side that never made it out the groups has no chance of being on this list.
That, alongside with the fact that many of the players who featured in 1978 also featured four years later means the teams are very much similar with many of the players coming into their own and developing into top talents.
The fact that another team of 1982 also features on this list just shows how strong of a competition it was.
Patrick Battiston, Didier Six, Dominique Rocheteau, Marius Tresor and Michel Platini were the stars in a French team full of quality and capability.
France did struggle in the group losing to England and drawing with Czechoslovakia, but their win over Kuwait earned them a second-place finish and they came into their own in the following rounds dispatching Austria and Northern Ireland to earn them a place in the semi-final.
This is where it gets controversial with the game against West Germany. This game is heavily regarded as one of the finest performances of Michel Platini, whilst recent scandals have besmirched his name it’s easy to forget that Platini is arguably one of the greatest footballers of all time and France’s finest.
He completely controlled the game but the moment most talked about came in the 60th minute when Frenchman Patrick Battiston found himself in behind and through on goal.
He flicked the ball past the West German Goalkeeper Harald Schumacher to try and run on and score, but Schumacher had other ideas and instead of making any attempt to play the ball charged down Battiston throwing his hip at the French man flattening him and knocking him out cold with the ball harmlessly falling out for a goal kick.
Many of the French team thought Battiston was dead, he suffered a broken jaw and several missing teeth but the Dutch referee felt no foul had been committed allowing Schumacher to get away with what was clearly a red card offense.
Many have since claimed that had the foul been committed in today's game he would have been sent off and banned for several games.
Following this incident, the game was held at 1-1 with extra time also not providing a winner, the West German's went on to win the game 5-4 on penalties, before losing to Italy in the final.
Number one on my list is important for so many reasons, firstly the Netherland’s performance in 1974 is one if not the greatest performance in a World Cup.
This World Cup was the chance for total football to be introduced on the worlds stage with the team demonstrating the full power of their style and its effectiveness.
The Dutch terrorised teams and ran undefeated to the final with the only dropped points coming in a 0-0 draw with Sweden in the first group game.
The pressing style is world renowned and was an example of the fitness of the squad, endlessly looking for the ball and with the focus on attack it allowed the side to be a joy to watch for both Dutch fans and the neutrals with many captivated by the endless swapping of positions and attack focused football.
At the heart of the team was the squads captain Johan Cruyff, regarded by many as the greatest footballer of all time, and in this tournament, he only repeated the feats he’d been demonstrating on the European stage with Ajax.
Cruyff not only played consistently at the highest level but also carried the torch into management, taking the helm at both Ajax and Barcelona.
Many discredit Cruyff due to the fact he never lifted the World Cup with people placing him in a tier below the likes of Pele and Maradona due to this. But the Dutch captured the imagination of every football fan with their arrogance being their downfall.
In the final they met West Germany, not just a side the Dutch hated in a football sense, but also in a more personal sense.
World War two was still fresh in many people’s memories with many of the Dutch players families directly impacted by the Germans.
Instead of going out and obliterating the West German side by scoring endless amounts of goals, a feat they were easily capable of, the Netherlands instead looked to outplay them, keeping the ball off them and looking to complete extravagant passes and dribbling past players to make them look foolish.
This was their mistake, by the time the Netherlands decided to try and put the game to bed after scoring early it allowed the West Germans, with Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller leading the charge, to get back into the game and win the whole thing.
Ironically the Germans did demonstrate how to embarrass the home nation 40 years on, winning 7-1 against Brazil in 2014.