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10 Teams that did not win the World Cup

Updated on January 24, 2015
Alex J Ulacio profile image

Venezuelan Writter. Journalism student passionate about sports: baseball, rugby, basketball, etc. Voracious reader and lover of life.

The FIFA world cup is one of the most important sporting events in the world, In fact it is the most widely viewed and followed sporting event in the world, exceeding even the Olympic Games; the cumulative audience of all matches of the 2006 FIFA World Cup was estimated to be 26.29 billion with an estimated 715.1 million people watching the final match, a ninth of the entire population of the planet.

Every four years, 32 countries battle in the soccer (football) field to win the FIFA trophy; but… sometimes what appears to be the best team in the competition fails to lift the trophy. Here is a compilation of the best ten teams that did not win the FIFA World Cup.

10. Yugoslavia (1994)

We know Yugoslavia did not participate in World Cup ’94, they didn’t even play the qualifiers due to civil war. However, the Yugoslavian team was perhaps the best in the world at the moment the world cup was held.

Not to have been divided in 1991, Yugoslavia could have participated in 1994 World Cup with players such as Dragan Stojkovic (second best Serbian player of all time according to Serbian Federation), Zvonimir Boban (Croatia’s captain in 1998), Dejan Savicevic (Macedonian forward, Golden Boot award winner in 1991), Sinisa Mihajlovic (considered one of the best free kick takers of all time), Vladimir Jugovic, Robert Prosinecki (the best player of the U20 World Cup 1987) and Davor Zucker (top scorer in France ’98).

Just imagine there was not civil war or political conflicts in the Balkans back in the early twenties. May be Brazil and Italy would have feared of that powerful but aborted Yugoslavia.

9. Croatia (1998)

The world cup of 1998 was held in France. There were nice surprises like Nigeria that won group D over Bulgaria and Spain; Norway that defeated Brazil in the group stage but of all surprises, the nicest and prettiest of all was the Croatian team.

Croatia debuted on june 14th against Jamaica and won the game 3-1. In the second game of group H they defeated the Japan side 1-0 and lost against Argentina 1-0.

Being second place of their group forced Croatia to face number 1 team on group G, Romania, the clear favorite for the game but Croatia won 1-0, advancing to semifinals against Germany. We though Croatia was over then.

Davor Suker, '98's WC top scorer
Davor Suker, '98's WC top scorer

Germany’s attack over Croatian area was incessant at first but they could not score; even worse, before the first half was over, Germany lost one player and Croatia scored at minute 45+2.

Germany would not let them beat so easily and second half was entirely about Germans playing on Croatian soil. Out of nowhere, a blazing counter attack by the Croatian team put the game 2-0. The comeback looked impossible for the Germans but they still tried and at minute 85 Davor Suker scored Croatia’s third goal. Croatia was in the semifinals!

All Croatia's goals during '98 World Cup

Croatia celebrating their 3rd place in 1998
Croatia celebrating their 3rd place in 1998

But bad luck knocked on Croatia’s door and they were matched up against the local France, undefeated to that point. Croatia opened the score at ’46 thanks to a Davor Suker’s (eventually top scorer) goal. But France tied shortly after at ’47.

Croatia then lost control of the situation and they allowed France’s second goal at ’69. Since then all of Croatia’s efforts were fruitless and instead of playing the final, Crotia played and won the third place match.

8. England (1990)

After tiresome wins over Belgium and Cameroon in the round of 16 and the quarter finals respectively, England lost dramatically before the eventual champion, Germany, 4-3. That is the nearest they have been to win a world cup since 1966.

English squad showed talented players like Chris Waddle, Paul Gascoigne, Peter Beardsley, John Barnes, the best Britain team in the last 40 years. Sir Bobby Robson, England’s coach said: “we had a good group of players that year, very talented, very tough and ambitious. We got better as the tournament progressed, more accomplished, and the fact we lost on penalties and not in open play tells its own story”.

English team’s style of play did considerably improved the historical recall of Italy World Cup, considered one of the worst in history. The semifinal match, England-Germany was considered by german captain, Andreas Brehme as “That semi-final was the best match of the World Cup, it was a fantastic match involving two great teams – it was the final before the final. For 120 minutes the game went one way and then the other”.

England cries its elimination
England cries its elimination

England was eliminated from competition through the most exciting and unfair aspect of the game of soccer: penalty kicks. After 120 minutes the game ended 1 goal per side, and germans prevailed in the penalty kicks 4-3.

England vs Germany Penalty Shot-outs

7. Bulgaria (1994)

Days after the United States world cup began, no one could imagine that this team from East Europe would climb to the podium of the greatest competition on the planet. In fact, Bulgarian hurricane did not start on June of ’94 but november of ’93 when two goals by Emil Kostadinov against France gave Bulgaria his ticket to America.

Bulgaria played in Group D and in their debut they lost to the also surprising Nigeria 3-0 but then they defeated Greece 4-0. In the last match of the group stage Bulgarian defeated Argentina 2-0, by then current champions.

In the 16 team round Bulgaria eliminnated Mexico on penalti kicks 3-1. Till then, many could say that it was just coincidence that the Bulgarians had gone too far, however they proved the opposite on quarter finals, where they defeated the always dangerous Germany, 2 goals to 1.

The Happy Bulgarians
The Happy Bulgarians

But in the semifinals, Italian Roberto Baggio ended with Bulgarian dream to lift the cup, he scored not one but twice, enough to eliminate the surprising team led by Hristo Stoichkov. A sad bulgarian team was humiliated in the third place match by Sweden 4-0. However, the players were received as heroes in Sofia.

Bulgaria defeats Germany

6. Austria (1934)

Probably many of the newest football fans would not recall Austria by their playing quality. However, back in 1934 Austria was the main candidate to lift the Jules Rimet Cup in Italy. That team was that good that they were nicknamed “Die Wunderteam” (the wonder team).

Austrians came to Italy with an impressive streak of 14 consecutive wins and the favoritism to win the cup. Their game style was flamboyant and aggressive. They were led by their captain Mathias Sindelar, known as "The Mozart of football" or 'Der Papierene' – 'the Paper-man' for his slight build, he was renowned for his fantastic dribbling ability and creativity.

The wonder team began with a win over France 3 goals to. In the quarter finals (the tournament was played with tennis grand slam system), they defeated Hungary 2-1 and advanced to semifinals, where they had to face the locals, Italy.

But for Austrians’ bad luck, it was the thirties and Italy was ruled by Benito Mussolini. Likewise Hitler with the Olympics two years later, Mussolini used the world cup as a political instrument and there was a clear order: Italy had to win no matter what.

Die Wunderteam
Die Wunderteam

In the semifinal match, on minute 19, Italians scored on what appears to be a foul over the Austrian goalie who held the ball when Meazza falls over him and lose the ball. The referee did not sentence the foul and that would be the only score of the game. No surprising, the same judge would referee the final match between Italy and Czechoslovakia

Sadly after that World Cup Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany and most of their players were force to play for the germans in the following tournament.

Austria vs Italy

5. Portugal (1966)

For recent generations Portugal is one of the football soccer powerhouse in the world, and may think that it was always like that. But when Portugal made it to the World Cup in 2002, it was just their third participation in the contest after a poor performance in Mexico ’86 and the brilliant one in England ’66.

Portuguess team was led by Eusebio. In the group stage they won over Hungary 3-1, then Bulgaria 3-0 and finally they eliminated the current champions Brasil 3-0, with two goals by the Black Panther. In the quarter finals Portugal team faced the surprising North Korean squad that had eliminated Italy in the previous stage. At minute 25, North Korea led 3-0, but Eusebio showed his geniality and Portugal prevailed 5-3.


The sonho lusitano ended on the semifinals when they lost to locals, England. Bobby Carlton scored two goals for the british but on minute ’82 Eusebio scored Portugal’s goal but it was not enough. Portugal was eliinated and the dream was over.

Portugal's come back against North Korea

4. Brasil (1982)

Brazil team on World Cup 1982 is considered to be the last Brazilian squad to play the jogo bonito. Despite that, the team did not make the semifinals. The team included players like Zico, Socrates, Falcao, Cerezo, Junior and Eder.

Brazil was in group F. In their debut they defeated USSR 2-1 in a comeback. In the second game their victim was Scotland, which they humiliated 4 goals to 1, same treatment they gave their third rival, New Zealand.

In the second round Brazil was in the death group with Italy and Argentina. They cariocas beat their neighbors 3 to 1. To decide which team would advance to semifinals, the Brazilians met Italy.

To this point, except for the game versus USSR, all of Brazil games were openly one sided, they accumulated 13 goals with only 3 allowed. Brazil was an attack machine. In comparission to Italy (1 win, ties, 4 goals scored, 3 goals allowed), Brazilians looked unstoppable.

But things start bad for the Brazilians as Paolo Rossi scored his first goal of the tournament at minute 5. Brazil replies back and ties the game at 12. In minute 25 Rossi is a headache again, he scores again. In minute 68 Falcao ties the game for Brazilians. To that point Brazil was in the semfinals thanks to goal average. But in ’74 Paolo Rossi completes the hat trick on a corner shot and Italy went up 3-2 against the powerful Brazil.

Brazil in 1982
Brazil in 1982

To this day Paolo Rossi is the only player to score a hat trick against Brazil. Italy defeated Poland in the semifinals and Germany in the final to win their third World Cup. Paolo Rossi was top scorer.

3. France (1982)

In 1982 French squad arrived Spain with a team built around Michel Platini, who would play the tournament with a foot injury. Les Bleus were put in group D with England, Czechoslovakia and Kuwait.

In their first game of the competition they fell against the Englishmen 3-1. After that they beat Kuwait 4 to 1 and drew at 1 goal per side against the Czechs. Enough to advance to the next stage. In the second round France defeated Austria 2 goals to 1 and humiliated North Ireland 4 to 1. They were in the semifinals.

In that stage took place one of the most memorable games in the history of the world cup: the powerful Germany and the brave France. The game started with a choking pressure of the Germans over the French goal, they eventually scored the first goal at minute 17.

France did not let this slow down their rate and far from go behind and defend, they replied with the best of defense: the attack. The blue march over the Teutonic area paid back, they tied the game at minute 26 thanks to Platini.

At minute 53 Patrick Battiston enters in the game for the French side, ten minutes later he got injured by german goalie Toni Schumacher in a rough play that led Battiston on the ground, with a brain concussion, injured vertebra and two broken teeth. While Battiston was being attended, Schumacher played with the ball alone in the area. His indifference caused him to be booed every time he touched the ball. Battiston was driven to the emergency room and no foul was sentenced.

Schumacher injured Battinston
Schumacher injured Battinston

The French attack was constant throught the game but they could not score. The game went overtime and two minutes later France broke the tie and at the minute 8 a goal by Alain Giresse put the game 3-1 in France’s favour. Germany looked defeated.

However, on minute 102 Germany scored and again at ‘108. The game had to be decided by the penalty shoot-out. On kick number 6, Schumacher stopped the ball and his teammate Horsch Hrubesch score the winning penalty. The injustice of penalty kicks deprived one of the best team in history to lift the world cup.

France vs Germany in 1982

2. Holland (1974)

The creators of total football rocked the world of the sport in 1974, but they did not win the FIFA Trophy. For many, the Dutch team of the seventies is the best of all time.

For Germany ’74 Holland was in group C and in their debut they beat Uruguay two goals to nothing and they played a nil-nil draw against Sweden and they crushed Bulgaria 4 to 1 to advance to the second round.

In the second round they massacrated Argentina 4 goals to nothing, in the next game they shotout East Germany 2-0. In the final game of the second round Holland would face the reigning champions Brazil, the first half finished without goals scored and Holland went ahead at ’50. Everyone had Brazil as favorite number 1 to keep the Cup and then to stop the Clockwork Orange but at ’65 Cruyff sentenced the game and Holland advanced to the final match.

The whole world sympathized with the Oranje for the final game except in the place where the game took place. Their rivals were the host, West Germany led by Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller.

At ‘2 Johan Neeskens scored the first goal for the Dutch, a penalty shot. The Netherlands were too confidents and Germans tied the game at minute 26. Since then Germany took control of the ball and at ’43 the top scorer Gerd Muller established a new record with 14 goals in a World Cup, and more importantly, the lead and the trophy.

the Clockwork Orange
the Clockwork Orange

The second half was characterized by German’s possession of the ball and the fruitless efforts of the Dutch to tie the game. Netherlands, Holland, the Oranje, as you prefer to call them, had perhaps the best football team in history but lost the world cup. The history repeated itself in 1978, 1998 and 2010: the clockwork oranje did not win despite having great teams.

Holland 1974 World Cup

1. Hungary (1954)

Hungary’s lost in FIFA World Cup in 1954 was not only the superlative surprise in the history of the tournament but also the begginining of a tragedy that has no tended: the hungarian football (soccer) changed forever and not for good. Since then, they’ve not been the same.

On July 4th, 1954, the final match of the tournament took place in Bern. By that moment Hungary national team had remained unbeaten for 32 games, which started in 1950 and included the Olympic win in 1952. Hungarians had a fun and beautiful style of play, they loved to attack and were led by Farenc Puskas. Before the world cup they faced Englad two times and beat them both: first, a 6-3 win in English soil, the first England’s defeat at home against a non-British nation in history, and one month before the tournament began they beat the English again this time in Budapest 7 goals to 1, the worst defeat in England’s history.

The Magical Magyars (as they were called) were in group B with Turkey, West Germany and South Korea. Their debut was against the Asians and they practically massacred them, scoring 9 goals while allowing none. The second match they played against West Germany and they kept on the crushing rate and they destroyed the germans 8-3. The game against Turkey was unnecessary.

In the quarter finals Hungarians faced Brazil and what it is remembered as the most violent game in history of World Cups, to the point it is called “The Battle of Bern”. Hungary defeated the verdeamarella 4 goals to two.

In semifinals the rival was the reigning champions, Uruguay. In contrast to the previous match, the game was clean. Hungary led 2-0 when Uruguayans tied the game with 15 minutes left, forcing the overtime, where Sandor Kocsis scored twice to give Hungary the ticket to the final match.

The Magical Magyar
The Magical Magyar

The final match would be against Germany, the same team they previously defeated by a margin of 5 goals. Everything looked easy for the Magyars. The game was played on heavy rain and poor weather conditions and Hungary’s star Feren Puskas was injured. In addition, the Germans were equipped with footwear supplied by adidas, which had produced a hitherto unheard of design of boot with exchangeable, screw-in studs that could be adapted to any weather. This enabled the German players to wear their regular boots despite the adverse weather.

Hungary inaugurated the score at ‘6 with a score by Puskas and two minutes later Zoltan Czibor scored the second one, making it look like another open victory for the Golden Team. But at ’10 the Germans shortened the score with a Max Morlock’s goal and 8 minutes later, Helmut Rahn tied the game.

From then on the game was a go and come, with Hungary mostly attacking and Germany defending. Around ’80 the Germans seemed to be looking for the overtime but at ’84 a blitzkrieg counter attack that ended with a Rahn’s score, German went ahead. Two minutes later Puskas tied the game for Hungary but the refereed annulated the goal for offside. The Miracle of Bern had been completed.

Hungary vs Germany, 1954

But Hungary disgrace did not end there. The impact of that loss has been a heavy charge since then, meanwhile Germany has consolidated as a powerhouse in international football, winning four World Cups in 8 final matches and two Euros, Hungary fell down gradually. They did not win any other international tournament, in 1958 they were eliminated in the group stage, In 1962 and 1966 in the quarter finals, and between World Cups 1978-1986 they only won 2 of 9 games and the most remembered game of those was a 10-1 win against El Salvador in 1982, the largest margin of victory ever recorded, the last positive thing achieved by the no-longer Magical Magyar, once the best team in the world.

© 2015 Alex J Ulacio


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    • Antonio Martinez1 profile image

      Antonio Martinez 

      4 years ago from Kearny, New Jersey

      I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article and I must be honest that this selection was rather intriguing, especially with the inclusions of the 1994 Bulgarian and 1998 Croatian squads.

      Good article.


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