When weaker teams lose a game, it’s nature taking its course, but when those big sides slip up, the moment goes down in history as a choke. One might go so far as to say the top five or six clubs in the Premier League choked during the 2015-16 season allowing Leicester City to pull off the ultimate underdog victory. The football world saw Liverpool choke in January 2017 as they crashed out of the FA and EFL Cup and lose considerably easy fixtures in the league.
The demand of fans, and sometimes the occasion itself, can prove to be too much for even the best sides as they falter and squander away an obvious victory. While choking is not at all uncommon in football (Arsenal have been doing it for years), there are some that have become a memorable part of the game.
Here's a look at 10 of the most historic chokes in football:
#10 Liverpool – Premier League 2013-14
The most dominant team in England before the Premier League era, Liverpool have hardly lived up to their esteemed history since 1992. With not a single title since the inception of the league, the Reds came closest to clinching it in 2013-14.
The spectacular strike partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge brought the side within touching distance of the title with just three games left to go but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
(Video Courtesy: Micheal O Thailtigh YouTube Channel)
With matches against Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Newcastle United, the Reds looked sure to win but choked in historical fashion. Their loss against Chelsea and draw with Crystal Palace was enough to dash their hopes and hand the title to Manchester City even though they won their final game against Newcastle.
Their choke is best symbolised by Steven Gerrard's slip in the game against Chelsea. Allowing Demba Ba through on goal, the Reds lost not only the game but their only chance in over two decades to win the league.
#9 Italy – 2010 FIFA World Cup
It’s unfair to expect defending World Cup champions to repeat their performance a second consecutive time after four years, but we do expect some level of quality from them. Not Italy though. The Azzurri defeated France in a controversial final to lift the World Cup in 2006 but when they returned to defend their victory four years later, the Italian national side was a shadow of their former selves.
With stalwarts like Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Fabio Cannavaro and Andrea Pirlo, no one expected them to choke in the way they did in 2010. Apart from the distinction of being defending champions, the Italian national squad could not have found themselves in an easier group.
(Video Courtesy: 2010WorldCupMoments YouTube Channel)
With Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia to keep them company in Group F, the Azzurri were expected to qualify to the next round. But, they couldn’t win a single game in the group stage, the Italians were at the bottom and on their way home after the first round.
#8 England national squad in every major tournament
The England national squad have achieved nothing since their World Cup victory in 1966. Home to some of the most talented football players in the world, no national squad has ever choked in quite the same fashion as the Three Lions. Going back all the way to 1990, English players have famously buckled under pressure, especially during penalty shootouts, much to the displeasure of their fans.
First, it was Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle who missed their spot kicks against West Germany in 1990, followed by Gareth Southgate’s miss against the Germans in 1996. David Beckham famously lost his cool against Argentina in 1998 and lost on penalties and the tradition continued.
(Video Courtesy: Kazmarazin YouTube Channel)
They lost to Portugal in the Euro 2004 quarterfinals and then again during the 2006 World Cup in a similar manner. The so-called 'golden generation' even failed to secure qualification to Euro 2008.
Capable of much greatness, as evident from some of their individual club careers, the English squad continue to remain on the fringes of the real action on football’s biggest stages.
#7 Newcastle United 1995-96
In the early years of the Premier League, Manchester United were the side to beat. However, Newcastle United gave them a run for their money in 1995-96 when they started the second half of the season with a 12-point lead at the top. Kevin Keegan had transformed the team from second division rabble to serious title contenders and the Magpies looked set to win their first league title since 1926-27.
However, Newcastle started buckling under pressure and their 12-point lead became eight by February. They met their closest competition, Manchester United, in March, and after their 1-0 defeat were only ahead by a single point. As the Red Devils continued to build momentum, Newcastle’s season fizzled out. The Old Trafford outfit had a three-point lead at the top by the end of March but it was the Magpies who had the advantage with a game in hand.
(Video Courtesy: gr8footy YouTube Channel)
In spite of their three-game winning streak in April, Keegan’s side drew both of their final games giving Manchester United the upper hand who wrapped up the season with a 3-0 victory over Middlesbrough. Coming a close second, the season was Newcastle’s best chance of lifting the league trophy and haven’t come as close since.
#6 Real Madrid in La Liga in the 2003-04 season
The Galacticos were better than ever after signing David Beckham in 2003-04 and looked on track to win their 30th La Liga title that year. With 12 games to go, the Los Blancos were eight points ahead of second-place Deportivo La Coruna in March but that’s when the spectacular collapse began. Their first two games of the month resulted in draws, reducing their lead to just three points at the top.
(Video Courtesy: AshStudio7 YouTube Channel)
Even though they won two consecutive games at the end of March and beginning of April, their resurgence was short-lived. Madrid went on to lose seven out of their eight games four of which included consecutive defeats at home. Not only did they lose out on the league title to eventual victors Valencia but finished the season fourth.
Their horrendous performance in the final weeks of the campaign allowed Barcelona and Deportivo to climb above them. With the likes of Raul, Ronaldo Lima, Figo, Roberto Carlos and Beckham, their league victory wasn’t the foregone conclusion everyone had expected it to be.
#5 John Terry – Champions League 2008
The last time English sides were dominant in the Champions League was 2008 when Chelsea and Manchester United progressed to the final in Moscow. As Cristiano Ronaldo and Frank Lampard kept their side in the game with a goal each, a stalemate at the end of 90 minutes paved the way for extra time which saw Didier Drogba sent off for slapping Nemanja Vidic, and Chelsea went into the penalty shoot out without their star striker.
(Video Courtesy: Gracie Storey YouTube Channel)
The Blues scored from all four of their spot-kicks while Ronaldo missed his when he came in at second. When Mr. Chelsea, John Terry, stepped up to take the final spot kick, the trophy seemed to be in the bag except the captain slipped and his shot bounced off the post. Ryan Giggs would go on to make it 6-5 and Nicholas Anelka saw his attempt saved by Edwin van der Sar giving United the victory.
Terry has never been able to downplay the impact of his miss since then. Instead of winning their first UCL trophy in 2012, it may have happened four years before and this list may have featured Ronaldo at no. 5 instead of Terry.
#4 Hungary – 1954 FIFA World Cup
Hungary no longer feature in discussions about modern football but there was a time, more specifically in the 50s and 60s, when the national team was one of the best sides in international competitions. Back in the 1950s, Hungary were an indomitable force who had been undefeated for five straight years. Beating some of the best sides in the game, they were the favourites going into the 1954 FIFA World Cup.
The Hungarians were dominant in the tournament and looked all set to win the coveted prize as they faced West Germany in the final. They had already met the side in the group stages and defeated them 8-3 so the outcome seemed a foregone conclusion.
But things did not go according to plan. The West Germans made an unexpected comeback drawing level with the opposition and scored the winning goal six short minutes before the final whistle. While many will tell you the rain put the Hungarians at a disadvantage, there will be others who will remind you about the rumours surrounding the German squad and their use of banned substances.
Whatever may have happened all those years ago, Hungary did not go down in history as winners but chokers of gigantic proportion.
#3 Lionel Messi – International competitions
The only thing holding Lionel Messi back from being declared the greatest of all time is the lack of a major international trophy. While the Argentine has won every honour imaginable with Barcelona, the same can’t be said for his efforts with Argentina. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t performed well – after all, three consecutive finals on the international stage is no laughing matter.
(Video Courtesy: CR7Studios YouTube Channel)
Captain of the national team, Messi led his side to the 2014 FIFA World Cup final, and the 2015 and 2016 Copa America finals as well. But in spite of coming so close to glory, the Albiceleste missed out thrice. However, it wasn’t just the side that choked but Lionel Messi himself. After failing to score in regulation time, Argentina lost out on the World Cup after Mario Gotze’s extra time goal.
2015 and 2016 were to hold more disappointments as they faced Chile in the finals but lost out both times. After failing to score at all in the game, Messi’s lone penalty in the shootouts saw them come second and then the skipper missed his spot kick entirely in 2016 causing him to even temporarily retire from international football. It’s hard to imagine the Argentine as a choker but the signs are all there to see.
#2 AC Milan – 2005 Champions League final
Present circumstances notwithstanding, AC Milan have a rich and glorious history and they may have added to that in 2005 had they not choked spectacularly in the Champions League final. With only Liverpool in the way of their seventh UCL victory, Milan looked like they had already run away with the game when the first half ended with a 3-0 scoreline in their favour.
(Video Courtesy: Filip Yakovencko YouTube Channel)
A backline that boasted of the likes of Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, Cafu and Japp Stam looked good enough to at least maintain their lead if not add to it but Liverpool really took the Italian side by surprise. Three goals in six minutes from the Reds turned the game on its head in the second half. The penalty shoot out was ultimately the Rossoneri's downfall as Andriy Shevchenko, Alessandro Pirlo and Serginho missed their spot kicks to allow the underdogs to lift the trophy.
Milan were clear favourites to win that year while Liverpool were the unlikeliest of contenders for the European title. However, these assumptions held no meaning as the Italian team crumbled after the whole side seemed to have stepped out.
#1 Brazil – 1950 FIFA World Cup
The 1950 FIFA World Cup was a strange one. Hosted by Brazil, this edition of the tournament was peculiar in many ways, not least of which was the unusual group format instead of the conventional knockout rounds. It was also a time when the hosts were riding high with their spectacular football and were the favourites to lift the trophy.
But their seemingly unparalleled popularity and ability came with its own drawbacks. Cocksure and arrogant, the Sambas needed just a draw against Uruguay to become champions.
As 175,000 people and more watched with bated breath expecting their heroes to claim their spot in the limelight, one of the biggest chokes to ever take place in the history of the World Cup took place. After taking the lead, Uruguay came back to beat the favourites 2-1 thereby winning the World Cup that year.
To put the upset in perspective, there were reports of numerous Brazilians who committed suicide, including a local journalist.