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5 legendary footballers who missed crucial penalties for their national teams

Argentina v Chile: Championship - Copa America Centenario
Argentina v Chile: Championship - Copa America Centenario
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Aditya Duse

England suffered another penalty heartbreak at a major tournament when they lost to Italy in the UEFA Euro 2020 final at the Wembley. Marcus Rashford hit the post, while Gianluigi Donnarumma saved Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka's spot-kicks to take the European Championship trophy to Rome.

The England players, along with manager Gareth Southgate, received a lot of criticism. Many people questioned Southgate for selecting Rashford, Sancho and the 19-year old Saka for penalties ahead of other experienced players, who were on the pitch.

While losing the final on penalties will definitely hurt, the criticism of the three players is totally unwarranted. The fact that these players are being racially abused for having the guts to step up and take penalties is not at all acceptable. Why blame Saka, Rashford and Sancho when some of the best players have missed key penalties over the years?

Here, we take a look at five legendary players who missed crucial penalties for their countries:


#5 David Beckham, England vs Portugal, 2004 Euro Quarter-final

Group B  England v Trinidad v Tobago - World Cup 2006
Group B England v Trinidad v Tobago - World Cup 2006

It was yet another heartbreaking exit for England from a major international tournament after they lost on penalties against Portugal in the quarter-finals of UEFA Euro 2004.

Both teams could not be separated after 120 minutes after they played out an enthralling 2-2 draw, resulting in another dreadful penalty shootout for England.

First up was captain David Beckham, who stepped up for the Three Lions. He had missed his previous two penalties for England (including one earlier in the tournament).

This must have surely played at the back of his mind, as he appeared to slip while taking the penalty, missing the goal by some distance.

The shot sent a clump of turf flying with it, and Beckham pointed to the rough penalty spot, but it meant little as it handed Portugal an advantage.

It was the worst possible start for a team whose confidence in penalty shootouts was already low. Portugal eventually went on to win the shootout 6-5 as an entire team and nation were devastated and denied in the cruellest possible way.


#4 Zico, Brazil vs France, 1986 FIFA World Cup Quarter-final

Zico is one of the greatest ever Brazilian footballers
Zico is one of the greatest ever Brazilian footballers

Zico is one of the few legendary footballers in the world who have never won the FIFA World Cup.

He is one of the greatest ever players to don a Brazil shirt and is their fifth-highest goalscorer of all time, scoring 48 goals in 71 games. But despite that, he was never able to get his hands on the coveted trophy.

In Brazil's quarter-final in the 1986 FIFA World Cup against France, the game was level going into the final 15 minutes. Careca opened the scoring for Brazil before Michael Platini equalised for France. Zico, who was on the bench due to injury, came off the bench and just minutes later, his side were awarded a penalty.

Careca and Socrates, who had already scored from the spot earlier in the tournament, were on the pitch, but it was Zico who stepped up to take the spot-kick. Unfortunately, his penalty was saved by the keeper, and the game went to a shootout.

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Zico scored in the shootout, but misses from Socrates and Julio Caesar meant Brazil were sent packing. It turned out to be Zico's final World Cup game for Brazil.


#3 David Trezeguet, France vs Italy, 2006 FIFA World Cup Final

Final Italy v France - World Cup 2006
Final Italy v France - World Cup 2006

The 2006 FIFA World Cup final between France and Italy is perhaps best remembered for Zidane's foolishness, as he headbutted Marco Materazzi in extra-time. He received a straight red, which somewhat tarnished his reputation in his final game.

With the scores 1-1 after 120 minutes, the game went to penalties. When the shootout was tied at 2-2 after four penalties, France's David Trezeguet stepped up for the next spot-kick.

The pressure of the shootout got the better of him, as his effort came off the crossbar, much to the dismay of his teammates. Trezeguet was the only player not to convert as Italy went on to lift the trophy after a tense and dramatic final.

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Luckily for Trezeguet, Zidane's shocking headbutt is often what the match is most remembered for, and many wondered what might have happened had the midfielder been on the pitch.


#2 Roberto Baggio, Italy vs Brazil, 1994 FIFA World Cup Final

Baggio was fondly known as 'The Divine Ponytail'
Baggio was fondly known as 'The Divine Ponytail'

It is one of the most heartbreaking misses in football history. Despite being one of the all-time greats, Roberto Baggio is often remembered for his missed penalty in the biggest stage in world football, the World Cup final.

Italy faced Brazil in the 1994 final, managing to reach this stage of the competition, thanks to Baggio, who scored five goals. He had a quiet tournament in the group stage but came to life in the knockout stage.

Baggio scored twice against Nigeria in the Round of 16, the winner against Spain in the quarter-final and a brace in the semi-final against Bulgaria to take Italy to the final.

The FIFA World Cup final went on to a shootout for the first time ever, with Baggio stepping up for Italy's fifth penalty, needing to score to keep his team alive. The immense pressure on Baggio probably played a part in his miss as he skied his effort over the bar, much to the dismay of his teammates and the delight of Brazil.

It was a harsh and cruel way to lose a World Cup final and one that would have given him numerous sleepless nights.

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#1 Lionel Messi, Argentina vs Chile, 2016 Copa America Final

Argentina v Uruguay: Group A - Copa America Brazil 2021
Argentina v Uruguay: Group A - Copa America Brazil 2021

This is probably the biggest penalty miss in recent history, considering the player and the magnitude of the fixture.

Lionel Messi came close twice to winning his maiden international trophy, first against Germany in the 2014 FIFA World Cup final and then against Chile in the 2015 Copa America final. But he fell short both times. He had another opportunity in the 2016 Copa America final, where Argentina faced Chile in a repeat of the 2015 title match.

After the two teams could not be separated after 120 minutes, the game went to penalties. Arturo Vidal missed the first spot-kick for Chile, giving Argentina the chance to take the lead.

Messi stepped up, but the weight of expectations proved too heavy as he blazed his effort over the crossbar.

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Eventually, Chile went on to retain their Copa America trophy, winning 4-2 on penalties. Messi was left heartbroken after losing three finals in a row and decided to retire from international football before returning a few months later.

Messi finally broke his international trophy at 2021 Copa America as Argentina beat hosts Brazil 1-0 in the final. He has now added another international trophy to his cabinet after winning the finalissima against Italy in June 2022.


Edited by Bhargav
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