Sometimes, the very best in the world aren’t always represented at the World Cup. Some of the greatest talents and teams of their generation were unable to qualify for the World Cup, while other failures involved high-profile sides whose absence from the tournament generated plenty of headlines. Here, Goal breaks down the 10 most high-profle teams who were unable to make it to the sport’s biggest showpiece.
ENGLAND 1974 | The Three Lions failed to progress to a single major tournament between 1970 and 1980, but their most notable failure was not qualifying for West Germany ’74. Requiring a win against Poland in their final match in London, England could only manage a 1-1 draw as goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewki – labelled as a “clown” before the game by a certain Brian Clough – performed miracles to deny Sir Alf Ramsey’s men.
NETHERLANDS 1986 | An exciting new generation of Dutch youngsters burst onto the scene in the mid-1980s including the brilliant Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit and Rob de Wit. However, Oranje lost their World Cup playoff to bitter rivals Belgium on away goals after a late goal by Georges Grun in the second leg.
USSR 1978 | Despite possessing many of the great Dynamo Kiev team that conquered the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1975, including the legendary Oleg Blokhin, the USSR finished second in Group 9 behind Hungary, with a shock 1-0 defeat to Greece in Thessaloniki doing the damage.
ITALY 1958 | The 1950s was a miserable decade for Italy internationally – the country had suffered terribly from the 1949 Superga Air Disaster that wiped out almost the entire Grande Torino squad. Despite this, the Azzurri would still have expected to qualify for Sweden ’58 but a final day defeat in Belfast to Northern Ireland saw the home nation upset them.
PORTUGAL 1998 | With the Golden Generation of Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Joao Pinto, Portugal had their best chance since the days of Eusebio and Mario Coluna in 1966 to make a major impact on a World Cup but, just like in 1990 and 1994, the Seleccao didn’t make it to the finals in France. Portugal finished third behind Germany and Ukraine, with a controversial draw in Berlin when Rui Costa was dubiously sent off while the visitors led 1-0 sealing their fate.
ENGLAND 1994 | England manager Graham Taylor had somehow managed to hold onto his job following the disastrous Euro ’92 finals in Sweden, but had no such luck after The Three Lions failed to make it to USA ’94. England lost away to qualifiers Norway and Holland, and even humiliatingly conceded a goal after just seven seconds to the not so mighty San Marino.
NETHERLANDS 2002 | Despite possessing a host of world class players in their ranks such as Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Marc Overmars and Jaap Stam – Louis Van Gaal’s Oranje finished third in their qualifying group behind Portugal and Ireland, losing to the latter 1-0 in a decisive clash in Dublin.
SCOTLAND 1970 | In the late 1960s and early 70s Scottish football was feared and respected all over Europe, with Celtic winning the European Cup in 1967 and Rangers the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1972. Scotland took the cream from the Glasgow giants – the likes of Jimmy Johnstone and John Greig – as well as England-based stars such as Denis Law and Billy Bremner, but finished behind the mighty West Germany in their qualifying group after a classic 3-2 defeat in Hamburg.
FRANCE 1994 | France, who four years later would win the World Cup in their own country, were cruising to the United States after picking up 13 points out of a possible 16 in UEFA Group 6. Les Bleus, containing stars such as Jean-Pierre Papin, David Ginola, Eric Cantona, Didier Deschamps and Marcel Desailly, required just one point from their last two home games but conceded injury time strikes to lose both games against Israel and Bulgaria – the latter poaching their place.
ITALY 2018 | Gian Piero Ventura did not have the most talented Italy side of all time at his disposal, but the Azzurri’s failure to reach Russia was still stunning. Italy missed out on the World Cup for the first time since 1958 after failing to score a single goal over two legs in a 1-0 aggregate play-off defeat to Sweden.
The Azzurri are one of the most successful teams in history at the World Cup, lifting the trophy in 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006, but they won’t even get the chance to participate in the tournament next summer.
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