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The Worst World Cup Performances

June 29, 2018

Every four years, the greatest players from the greatest national teams across the globe come together to contest the FIFA World Cup of soccer. Some bask in the glory of victory forever…and then there are these guys.
Worst World Cup Performances

Least successful national team

Some teams have dominated world soccer for decades. Brazil, for example, has won the World Cup five times and has qualified for all 21 tournaments to date. More than 20 countries, however, have made it to the World Cup only once. The team that has only been there once—and waits the longest for a return trip—is Cuba. The island nation’s national squad advanced to the quarterfinals of the third World Cup in 1938…and hasn’t been back since.

Most shocking non-qualification

Just behind Brazil on the “most World Cup appearances” list: Argentina. The legendary squad has only missed the World Cup one time—in 1970. Amidst a run of uncharacteristic chaos for the team (there were some problems with the Argentinean soccer federation, and the team went through four coaches in three years), the otherwise highly-ranked team bombed the South American World Cup qualifying tournament. They lost in rapid succession to Peru and Bolivia, and then took a 2-2 draw against Peru, canceling an assumed trip to the World Cup in Mexico.

Most lopsided games

World Cup soccer games tend to be low-scoring—the defense on these high-level teams is so good that teams have to be happy eking out a 1-0 win a lot of the time. But some squads are better than others, which results in the odd, and embarrassing, blowout. In 1954, Hungary set the record for most one-sided shutout—at the expense of South Korea. In both teams’ first game of the whole tournament, Hungary (which could go on to play, but lose, in the final), scored nine goals to South Korea’s zero. That result was matched 20 years later, in Yugoslavia’s 9-0 rout of Zaire. The Hungarian national team racked up another record in this category later on, beating El Salvador by nine points; the final score was 10 to 1, so at least El Salvador didn’t walk away empty-handed. 

Biggest upset

It’s decidedly not a great moment for fans of Italy’s storied national team…but it’s one of incredible triumph for the North Korean team. In 1966, the isolated, dictator-run Asian nation reached the World Cup for the first time. Not as well-funded or established as some of the other teams in the tournament, North Korea was expected to make a quick exit after losing its initial, group stage matches. Indeed, the team lost its first game to the Soviet Union, but then surprisingly played to a draw with Chile, a championship contender. For game three, South Korea faced Italy, which needed only a draw to move on to the knockout round. Almost improbably, North Korea’s Pak Doo-ik scored just before the end of the first half. Final score: North Korea 1, Italy 0. The squad miraculously advanced to the next round…where Portugal dispatched them, 5 to 3.

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