What are the biggest - ever World Cup shocks?
And how many of them have featured Scotland? Have a
look at the World
Cup Archive website - far better than FIFAs official
site - and prepare to be surprised. For we dont feature
at all. USA v England, North Korea V Italy, Northern Ireland
V Spain, Cameroon V Argentina and Senegal V France
are all seismic in their impact. Scotlands upsets just
You might argue that in order to qualify for giant-killing
you have to be a Goliath in the first place but maybe its
time to put our World Cup efforts into perspective. For a
start Scotland have won only four out of 23 games
in eight World Cups. Yet we still manage to be astonished
each time we fail to progress beyond the group stages. Perhaps
we still have a lingering touch of arrogance . Two of these
wins were against weak opposition in Zaire and New
Zealand, one was against a Dutch team that could
afford to lose by two clear goals and still qualify and the
fourth was against a Swedish side that promptly mimicked
Scotland by losing their next match to Costa Rica.
So how bad have we been. Lets start with the first modern
World Cup - West Germany, 1974. We beat Zaire and drew
with Brazil and Yugoslavia, returning home as
the only undefeated side in the tournament. Yet failure to
hammer Zaire by more goals was widely perceived to be a letdown.
But was it? The only reason we didnt go through was
thanks to a freak goal ten minutes from time as Brazil struggled
against the African side just as much as we did. Take that
away and it would have been the Brazilians on the first flight
home - not the Scots.
Argentina 1978. How can a case for the defence be made
here? Well, we over-hyped ourselves, thats for sure
and the 3-1 loss to Peru was a sore one to take, particularly
as we led and also missed a penalty. But a major shock? Hardly.
Peru reached the last eight in Mexico in 1970 and were only
beaten 4-2 by Brazil. A lot of their players from that campaign
were still active in 1978, notably Hector Chumpitaz.
Conditions favoured them - not many European teams win against
South Americans in that continent. To me, it was the equivalent
of losing to a European team in the second rank of powers.
Imagine we had been beaten 3-1 by Yugoslavia four years previously
. Bad result? Yes. Disgrace? No.
Iran is a different matter entirely. There can be no excuses
for our failure to win this match. One of the genuine dark
moments in our history.
Move on to Spain, 1982, The general perception is that
we lost out on qualification on goal difference for the third
time in succession because we didnt do enough against
New Zealand. Nonsense. We beat them 5-2. The
same margin as the USSR (3-0). As goals scored take
precedence in event of a tie,we actually had the BETTER
result against the group minnows.
The real reason we lost out was simple. Brazil beat us 4-1
but the Soviets held them to 2-1. OK, the Miller/Hansen
debacle in the 2-2 draw against the Russians didnt help
but again, there was no disgrace here.
1986 speaks for itself. Losing by a single goal to
both Denmark and West Germany was no humiliation
and while a failure to beat ten-man Uruguay was frustrating,
again it was not an earth-shattering result.
Costa Rica in 1990 was though. Theres
no denying that. But, unlike Iran, the performance wasnt
poor. We peppered their goal with shots and none went in.
You could argue it was a fluke but for the fact that the Costa
Ricans then gave Brazil a hard time before going on
to beat Sweden. And no one accuses the Swedes of being
a soft touch for weaker sides.
1998 didnt bring disaster either . We made a
contest of our game with Brazil, and were unlucky to only
draw with Norway. Morocco outclassed us but
the days when African sides (and North African in particular)
could be regarded as cannon fodder were long over by then.
Only the most blinkered xenophobe could say the result was
However, lets travel back further. To Scotlands
first two World Cups. 1954 brought defeat against Austria
and humiliation at the hands of Uruguay. The then
reigning World Champions hammered us 7-0. Im
not saying Scotland should have beaten Uruguay - they had
never lost a World Cup match in their history at that point.
But I am adamant that no Scotland team should have lost by
Four years later, in Sweden, Scotland were beaten by a Paraguay
team, playing in their first overseas World Cup. In Northern
Europe, against such opposition, that result was a true disaster.
Yet we never seem to hear of it. And not just because it was
so long ago. My God, Argentina was nearly a quarter of a century
ago but it still scars the national psyche.
Perhaps we lacked the arrogance that we displayed later. I
dont know. What I do know is that by any rational standards
this was a far worse result than Zaire, Peru, Iran, New Zealand,
and - dare I say it - Costa Rica. At least the Costa Ricans
won another game and made the next round.
And in qualifying for major tournaments our record against
the lesser countries is actually rather good -
those draws against Estonia and the Faeroes
apart. We regularly take maximum home points in such fixtures
and seldom slip up away. Even when we drop points it is rarely
central to the outcome of the group.
Certainly, there is nothing in our record to compare with
Irelands draw in Liechtenstein. Yet, just
like the Swedes, no one accuses the Irish of being a soft
touch, do they? Time, I think tae see ourselves
as ithers see us and accept that we are a mid-ranking
European power which rarely under-performs or for that matter
What that means is that we should be able to be in the top
16 in Europe, the best 32 in the world and competing regularly
in major tournaments. Thats the standard we have to
get back to.
That same World Cup Archive site also lists
the top ten goals in the competition's history. Archie
Gemmills against Holland is at Number
Eight. Number One? Maradona V England in 1986
- no, not THAT one, his second goal, when he skipped
past the entire team to score. Diego is also numero uno on
the FIFA site where the second best is Michael Owen against
Argentina in 1998 and Archie isnt even rated. See,
I told you the unofficial site was better.
Ecuadorians go up....
Now heres a surprise. No fewer than
EIGHT of the countries competing in the World Cup
have less players from their domestic leagues taking part
than the SPL.
The Scottish-based players total six in all. Larrson and
Mjallby of Celtic are both with Sweden, Rangers
have Caniggia with Argentina and Lovenkrands
of Denmark. Also in the Danish camp is Aberdeen
keeper Kjaer and De La Cruz of Hibs is
Its a modest tally really, but its better than
all three of Englands opponents can claim. Nigeria
and Argentina have only two home-based players in their
squads, (though the Argentine League has five players at
the tournament) and the Swedes have three and one
Danish player also plies his trade in Sweden.
The leagues of Croatia, Senegal and South Africa
all have fewer than the SPL while there are no players
whatsoever at the World Cup who earn their corn in Cameroon
But dont get too carried away. SPL representation is
just ahead of fellow non-qualifiers Switzerland where
five World Cup players are based. And even minnows Slovenia
can boast six home players in their squad.
The best represented league from non-qualifiers is, unsurprisingly,
Holland. There are 22 players at this World
Cup who play their domestic football in the Dutch League.
And if you really needed proof of the pulling power of the
Big Five the World Cup provides it. An
amazing 100 players at this tournament will be on show
in England next season and nearly twenty of
these are outside the Premiership. Even if you deduct the
44 English-based players from the England and Ireland squads,
thats some figure.
There will be 80 players from Serie A and close
on 60 from both the Bundesliga and Spains
La Liga. The French Championnat is the worst
of the big boys with just under 50 players in the tournament,
including almost all the Senegal squad.
And what sort of computer programme has thrown up these figures?
None. This was all done by laboriously counting with pen and
paper. Its amazing what you can get up to on the worst
weekend of the year. By worst weekend I mean the one between
the last of the domestic action - the Junior Cup Final
- and the start of the World Cup.
But the hiatus is almost over. Let the action begin. Come
on you Swedes/Argentinians/Nigerians.
Last word for now on the World Cup. Soccernet
have a fine history section on their site which includes this
gem from the 1950 tournament After a loss to Spain,
England were out of the tournament, and the arrogance that
came with them removed forever in a matter of a week.
Must be a misprint. Im sure it should read arrogance
that forever came with them was removed for a week.