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10 most heartbreaking footballing moments this century

The 2014 World Cup produced some of the saddest footballing images of all time
The 2014 World Cup produced some of the saddest footballing images of all time
ANALYST
Modified 31 Mar 2021
Top 5 / Top 10

Football can provide ecstasy and heartbreak in equal measure. While one team rejoices, the other is often left to wonder what might have been, especially in the later rounds of tournaments when titles are on the line.

Be it a tactical mistake, a stroke of individual brilliance or plain good luck at times, the 21st century has had many such moments where one team rejoiced at the expense of the other.

On that note, let's have a look at ten heartbreaking footballing moments - in no particular order - since the turn of the century.


#1 Schalke's joy turns to despair on eventful Bundesliga final day (2001)

Bayern Munich won the 2001 Bundesliga in dramatic circumstances.
Bayern Munich won the 2001 Bundesliga in dramatic circumstances.

Going into the final day of the 2000-01 Bundesliga season, Schalke trailed Bayern Munich by three points.

They needed to beat Unterhaching and Bayern to lose at Hamburg to win their first Bundesliga title of the century.

Schalke recovered from 0-2 down to lead 3-2. One minute from time, Ebbe Sand scored his second of the night to seemingly make the game safe. Around the same time, Hamburg opened the scoring against Bayern, a sequence of results that would have crowned Schalke as champions.

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However, just as Schalke fans broke out into delirium, Hamburg goalkeeper Mathias Schober picked up a back pass deep in injury time. Off the ensuing indirect free-kick, Patrik Andersson scored the only Bayern goal of his career to break Schalke hearts.

From seconds away from celebrating the Bundesliga title, Schalke fans descended into stunned silence in Gelsenkirchen as the Bayern Munich bench celebrated wildly.


#2 South Korea stun Spain in controversial World Cup quarter-final (2002)

Spain protest one of several controversial refereeing decisions on the day
Spain protest one of several controversial refereeing decisions on the day

Spain were robbed of two legitimate goals in their 2002 FIFA World Cup quarter-final against South Korea.

First, they had a goal disallowed for a foul that never happened. The other was incorrectly ruled out, as the linesman thought Joaquin had crossed the ball after it crossed the line, contrary to television replays.

With both sides canceling each other out, the game went to a penalty shootout, in which South Korea won 5-3.

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An incensed Spain vented their frustration at the referee, as they felt they were robbed in broad daylight a few days after another European powerhouse - Italy - suffered a controversial exit against South Korea.

As luck would have it, South Korea's fairytale run came to an end against Germany, and Spain would go all the way at the tournament eight years later.


#3 Unheralded Greece shock hosts Portugal in European Championship final (2004)

Greece celebrate their unexpected Euro 2004 triumph
Greece celebrate their unexpected Euro 2004 triumph

It was the stuff dreams are made of. Greece were simply not supposed to be standing against Portugal in the Euro 2004 final in Lisbon. Yet they were there after flooring two giants - Denmark and Czech Republic - in the previous two rounds.

Facing a star-studded offense of Luis Figo, Deco and a teenager by the name Cristiano Ronaldo, Greece defended as if their lives depended on it as wave after wave of Portuguese attack was repelled.

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Surely lightning wouldn't strike thrice? Incredibly, it would, as the law of averages spared Greece on the night.

In the 57th minute, Angelos Charisteas broke Portuguese hearts by scoring the only goal of the game. Felipe Scolari's Portugal threw the kitchen sink at Greece but failed to breach the Greek citadel as the Hellenic nation celebrated the most unexpected of triumphs.

From 80-1 outsiders, Greece had gone from never winning a game at a major tournament to becoming European champions as a star-studded Portugal wondered what might have been.


#4 Fabio Grosso breaks Germany hearts (2006)

Fabio Grosso scored Italy
Fabio Grosso scored Italy's opener against Germany in the 2006 World Cup semi-final

Fabio Grosso etched his name into Italian folklore when he scored a stunner deep into extra time against Germany in the 2006 World Cup semi-final in Dortmund.

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Two evenly-matched teams had canceled each other out for 118 minutes. But just as a penalty shootout was looming, the left-back hit a sumptuous first-time volley past a despairing dive from Jens Lehmann.

Grosso embarked on a mad run across the Dortmund turf, crying "non ci credo" (I can't believe it) as his jubilant teammates engulfed him.

With Germany pouring forward in numbers, Italy struck again to end the hosts' hopes of winning the World Cup for the first time in 16 years.

In the final against France, Grosso scored the winning penalty to seal the Azzurri's first triumph in the competition in 24 years. Meanwhile, Germany will lay their hands on the trophy eight years later in Brazil.

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Published 31 Mar 2021, 08:32 IST
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