Three Amazing Teams That Came up Short in the FIFA World Cup
The FIFA World Cup is one of the toughest tournaments to win, as we all saw in the recent 2018 edition in Russia. The ultimate winner, France, had to go through a bunch of strong opponents and some scary moments before lifting the trophy.
The format of the tournament has always included at least a couple of knockout stages throughout the whole World Cup history. As a result, factors like luck and mistakes by the referees sometimes influenced the result.
Some exceptional teams that looked destined to win the World Cup came up short at the end. This is the nature of the tournament, as one bad game could be enough to fail.
Still, it’s not ONLY about being crowned world champions. Some countries have left a mark and won the hearts of the fans all over the globe without lifting the trophy.
Let’s take a look at them and see what prevented them from bringing the World Cup home.
The Netherlands 1974
- Coach: Rinus Michels
- Best Players: Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Johnny Rep, Ruud Krol, Rob Rensenbrink
I considered sharing this list in chronological order, but I simply can’t help but begin with the Netherlands from 1974. Many believe this is not only the best team to not win the World Cup, but also one of the greatest soccer sides in the history of the sport.
I have a personal example that shows how fascinating this Dutch side was. My father doesn’t like soccer, and as many other people, he only occasionally watches games from big tournaments like the World Cup and the Euros.
I have never heard him talk about the sport, with one exception. Up to this day, he remembers Cruyff and this Netherlands team from 1974.
The coach, Rinus Michels, adopted a completely new philosophy on the pitch. According to it, all players could play in all positions, thus switching their places constantly. Thanks to the genius of Johan Cruyff, the Dutch team was able to pull this off and dominate its opponents in the World Cup by pressing them all over the pitch.
The following video is a bright example of how Total Football worked.
As you could see, the name is certainly not exaggerated. The Netherlands were able to destroy teams in a way the world had never seen before.
In the first group stage of the 1974 World Cup, the team was in the same group with Sweden, Uruguay, and Bulgaria. The Netherlands beat Bulgaria 4-1 and Uruguay 2-0, while Sweden somehow managed to hold them to a 0-0 draw. Still, the Dutch easily won the group and went to the next stage.
In the 1974 World Cup, the next phase was another round of groups, once again with four teams in each. The winners of both groups would then meet in the final.
The Netherlands had to face the teams of Brazil, East Germany, and Argentina. Many expected the side to struggle against the two South American countries, especially since Brazil was the reigning world champion from 1970.
I think this was the moment people realized how strong this Dutch team really is. Argentina was demolished 4-0, while the other two games were won comfortably with 2-0 each. Cruyff, supported by the likes of Krol, Neeskens, Rensenbrink, and Rep, dominated the rest of the field.
The Netherlands won the group without conceding a single goal and had to face the hosts of West Germany, led by sublime Franz Beckenbauer, in the final. The world believed that nothing could stop the Dutch contenders on the road to the trophy.
And yet, we all know the Germans. You can’t ever underestimate them, and this is what the Netherlands did. The team started the game brightly, and a brilliant passing move resulted in a penalty against Cruyff, so the Dutch were ahead after only two minutes!
They kept playing better for the rest of the half, but they didn’t score again. For some reason, the side mostly passed the ball around, as if they wanted to humiliate their opponent. Instead, the Germans found the net after a penalty in the middle of the half.
The unthinkable happened in the 43rd minute when the ultimate fox in the box, Gerd Muller, put West Germany ahead. The Netherlands dominated possession for the rest of the game and missed a couple of golden chances, but they didn’t manage to score again.
It’s hard to understand what happened on that day. Probably the Dutch were a bit complacent, and the stubborn Germans took full advantage.
More than 40 years later, the team is the living proof that soccer is not only about winning. As Cruyff himself once said, maybe the Dutch team was the real winner. After all, it is remembered more after all this time.
The sad part is that that remained the only World Cup of Johan Cruyff. He decided to skip the finals in 1978 out of fear that his family might get kidnapped. In his absence, the Dutch hearts were once again broken in the final of the tournament.
The country went on to lose another title match in 2010 and remains the strongest that is yet to win a World Cup. The Netherlands didn’t qualify for Russia 2018, but maybe the long-awaited success is somewhere in the future?
- Coach: Gusztav Sebes
- Best Players: Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis, Zoltan Czibor
If there is a team in soccer history that can compete with the 1974 Netherlands side for the best that failed to win the World Cup, this is Hungary in 1954. The country’s squad from the 1950s was called the Golden Team because of its domination.
From 1950 to 1956 when the Hungarian revolution broke the team, Hungary had 42 wins, 7 draws, and only 1 loss that I will get back to later on. The side was able to absolutely demolish the superpowers in world soccer at this point.
The likes of England, Uruguay, and the Soviet Union were humiliated by Hungary during this period in time. It seemed like no one could stop the side led by Ferenc Puskas. He was the first complete soccer player and an inspiration to generations after that.
The legendary Johan Cruyff himself said that Puskas was one of his favorites. The Hungarian led Real Madrid to a number of trophies later in his career, but he didn’t win a trophy with his national team.
As you could expect, the Hungarians were the big favorite in the 1954 World Cup. They arrived in Switzerland without having lost a game for the past four years, and many expected this trend to continue.
In the first stage of the tournament, Hungary absolutely demolished South Korea, beating them 9-0, and they did the same with West Germany, this time winning by the “modest” scoreline of 8-3.
Imagine what the world was thinking after witnessing the Hungarians score 17 goals in just the first two games of the tournament! They had displayed an attacking power no one has ever seen up to this point, and they created chances for fun.
If someone doubted Hungary before the World Cup started, it was all gone after the group stage. The good performance of the country continued in the knockout stage.
The strong Brazilian team was beaten 4-2 in the quarterfinal, and the reigning world champion, Uruguay, met the same fate in the semis. The impressive part is that Ferenc Puskas watched from the stands, injured.
There was only one game left, and Hungary had to face none other than West Germany, the same team that was destroyed and humiliated in the group stage. The stage was set for a triumph, and it certainly looked that way at the beginning of the match.
Goals by the returned Puskas and Zoltan Czibor gave Hungary a 2-0 lead in the 8th minute of the match. Everyone thought that another crushing victory was on the cards. And yet, the Germans were level only 10 minutes later.
Hungary missed some chances and hit the post, and the German keeper Toni Turek made save after save. There were a total of 16 shots on target, but none of those after the 8th minute found the net. And when everyone expected that the game would go to extra time, Helmut Rahn scored his second goal in the 84th minute, and this was enough for West Germany to win.
How did West Germany succeed after losing 8-3 in the group stage and being clearly second-best? For a start, the weather was terrible. It was raining, and the pitch was in a bad condition, which helped West Germany, as the Hungarians couldn’t pass the ball as they were used to.
Furthermore, the Germans were using revolutionary sports equipment and football boots that helped them stay more balanced throughout the game. Of course, Lady Luck played a part, too. All of these factors contributed to the victory.
Decades later, there are some suspicions that West Germany used doping before the game, and this enhanced their performance. It’s hard to prove that for sure more than 50 years later, and history can’t be changed.
The Golden Team of Hungary didn’t win the World Cup of 1954, but it was one of the most dominant soccer sides the world has ever seen.
- Coach: Tele Santana
- Best Players: Zico, Socrates, Eder
Despite the rather lackluster performance in 2018, Brazil remains the most successful country in the history of the World Cup. The nation has won the trophy 5 times and produced some of the greatest sides in the competition.
It is hard to pick one that stands above all, and yet, there are people who believe that the most exceptional Brazilian World Cup team of all time is actually one that didn’t win the competition!
This alone should tell you something about the Brazilian squad of 1982. If you look at this random YouTube compilation, you will understand why.
Brazil had some absolute magicians with the ball, and their style in 1982 was a feast for any soccer fan. In the first group stage, the South Americans demolished Scotland, New Zealand, and the Soviet Union, scoring 10 goals and conceding only 2 in the process.
The format of the 1982 World Cup was such that the second phase also included groups. This time, the teams were drawn in 4 groups, and each consisted of 3 teams. Unfortunately for Brazil, they were in the “Group of Death” with the exceptional teams of Argentina and Italy. Only one was going to go through and play in the last 4.
The South American rival was first in line and had the legendary Diego Maradona on its side. Despite that, Brazil’s unstoppable attack managed to put 3 goals past Argentina, which was enough for the 3-1 victory. Zico, called the White Pele, scored the first one and was Brazil’s best player in this game and throughout the tournament.
Next in line was Italy, and the Europeans had beaten Argentina as well. And yet, a draw would have been enough for Brazil to go through because of the better goal difference.
Italy went ahead twice in the game, but the stubborn Brazilians came back both times and had their own chances to go ahead. But then came the 74th minute when a mistake in defense gave Paolo Rossi the opportunity to complete his hat-trick.
The Italian striker was simply touched by a higher power in 1982 and created his own legend in this World Cup, at the expense of one of the greatest attacking teams in the history of soccer. His 6 goals helped Italy to go on and win the tournament at the end.
To be fair, Brazil 1982 was probably as not as good as the other two teams on this list. Unlike the Netherlands in 1974 and Hungary in 1954, this side didn’t even reach the final, and the reason was obvious.
For all its sublime attacking talent, the Brazilian team was shaky at the back. This was evident against Argentina already, but Italy fully exposed the suspect defense.
And yet, the likes of Zico and Socrates remain in the hearts of many soccer fans up to this date. They provide proof of why Brazil is one of the most popular soccer teams around the globe. They always entertain, and the game is in their blood.
I feel that these are the three World Cup teams that never delivered the trophy but have a deserved spot in the history of the tournament. Of course, there are other teams that were great and fell short at the end.
Do you have a favorite one that you believe should’ve been included in this post? If that’s the case, I would love to see your opinion in the comments below.