After last night’s devastating 3-0 loss to Croatia, Argentina sit on the brink of a World Cup disaster – elimination at the group stage. To qualify now they’ll need a victory over Nigeria in their final game and other results to go their way as well.
If they do indeed crash out, they’ll likely be the highest profile casualties of the opening round in Russia.
However, they won’t be the first highly favoured team to see a World Cup campaign end at the first hurdle – previous tournaments have seen giants of the world game crash and burn during the group stage, and it hasn’t always been at the hands of fellow favourites either. Here are 5 of them.
#1 Spain – World Cup 1998
Coming into the 1998 World Cup, Spain were considered one of a handful of genuine contenders to win the tournament. They had hugely experienced campaigners in the form of Andoni Zubizarreta, Fernando Hierro and Miguel Nadal alongside some talented young stars like their new talisman, Raul. They had flown through qualifying unbeaten.
What’s more, they were drawn into what looked like a relatively soft group alongside Nigeria, Bulgaria and Paraguay.
Unfortunately, the reputation that Spain had at the time of being hugely talented but perennial chokers came back to bite them once again.
Their opening game against Nigeria was massively exciting – but saw them on the wrong end of a 3-2 result following a mistake from goalkeeper Zubizarreta and a thumping shot from Sunday Oliseh.
Despite the loss they were still expected to qualify, but somehow managed to draw a blank in their next game against Paraguay, the game finishing 0-0 despite Spain being able to call on the talents of Raul and Fernando Morientes. That left them needing to beat Bulgaria in their final match to have any chance of making it through.
Indeed, something finally clicked and Spain fired on all cylinders – putting 6 past the hapless Bulgarians – but despite the astonishing win, they were still sent home as Nigeria who had already qualified for the knockout stages, lost to Paraguay 3-1 after fielding a somewhat changed side. That gave Paraguay 5 points to Spain’s 4 and sent them through instead.
Despite scoring 8 goals in 3 games, more than any other side outside of hosts France – Spain became the highest profile casualties of World Cup 1998’s group stage.