FIFA World Cup: 5 most underwhelming teams in history  

2018 FIFA World Cup trophy delivered to Moscow
FIFA World Cup trophy

We take a look at 5 teams that were expected to perform well at the FIFA World Cup but ended up getting knocked out of the tournament at a very early stage. These teams consisted of star players and had everything required to go for glory but were unable to make a mark in the tournament due to several reasons such as injuries, off-field controversies, tactical failures etc.

The beautiful game never fails to surprise us as World Cup teams that looked potential contenders to lift the trophy were at times humbled by sides that had no big names in their squads. These 5 teams proved that anything is possible in football and when it comes to the greatest stage no team is to be considered an 'easy' opponent.

The FIFA World Cup provides each team with an equal opportunity and often teams that are considered weak on paper end up upsetting the football giants and make us all fall in love with this beautiful sport.

#5 France (2010 FIFA World Cup)

French players Djibril Cissé (center), Willliam Gallas (right) and Sebastien Squillaci (left) at the final whistle against South Africa

The French team reached the 2010 FIFA World Cup in the most controversial way possible. France played against the Republic of Ireland in the play-off round and after a 1-1 aggregate scoreline in the two-legged tie, the game went into extra time. In 103rd minute of the game, a free kick was delivered into the box by Florent Malouda which was handled by Thierry Henry twice before he passed it on his right to William Gallas who headed the ball into the net and ensured France a place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

France began their 2010 World Cup campaign with a disappointing 0-0 draw against Uruguay. After the game, former captain of Les Bleus Zinedine Zidane criticized then French manager Raymond Domenech and said there was no teamwork among players. The worst was yet to come for the French as in their next game against Mexico the team fell apart following an altercation between the coach and striker Nicolas Anelka at halftime. This clearly affected other players as the French went on to lose the game by 2-0 in the second half.

The off-field controversies looked never-ending as Anelka was dismissed from the squad which led to other squad members including captain Patrice Evra boycotting training for the final game against hosts South Africa. In the final game, the apathetic attitude of French players was clearly visible as they conceded 2 goals and were a man down by half-time. Malouda scored in the 70th minute of the game which was the only goal scored by France in the 2010 World Cup.

This was the worst performance by France at the World Cup as the players couldn't put their ego aside and the manager was unable to control the squad. Raymond Domenech was replaced by Laurent Blanc shortly after the World Cup.

#4 Brazil (1966 FIFA World Cup)

Brazilian players celebrating a goal against Bulgaria

Brazil entered the 1966 World Cup as two-time defending champions and were expected to give the opponents a run for their money. Since Brazil won the 1962 World Cup they didn't have to go through the qualifying campaign for the 1966 edition and this may have resulted in lack of preparation.

Brazil started their campaign with a promising 2-0 win over Bulgaria with Pele and Garrincha on the score sheet. Pele was injured in the match and didn't play in the next game against Hungary. The absence of Pele was evident as Brazil lost 3-1 to the Magyars and were left to fight for survival in the final group game against in-form Portugal.

In the final game against Portugal, Brazilian coach Feola Vicente changed the entire defensive line-up and included Pele in the starting eleven even after knowing he wasn't fully recovered. Portugal were unstoppable in the 1966 World Cup and it didn't come as a surprise when Brazil went down 3-1 against them with Eusebio bagging a brace in the process. Pele was again injured in the game and had to be carried off the field, unable to walk.

Brazil returned home after playing only 3 matches and it is till date considered one of Brazil's worst World Cup performance.

#3 Italy (2010 FIFA World Cup)

Enter cap
Italian skipper Fabio Cannavaro consoling teammate Fabio Quagliarella after the loss against Slovakia

The Azzurri entered the 2010 FIFA World Cup as defending champions. After the historic night in Berlin four years ago Italians started their title defense against Paraguay in Cape Town. Paraguay were leading at halftime however a second-half goal by De Rossi brought Italy right back into the game. The game ended as a 1-1 draw and it looked as if Italians needed to put in some extra effort if they wanted to make it to the knockout stage of the World Cup.

In the next game against an inexperienced New Zealand side Italians were expected to get their World Cup campaign back on track. However, the Italians were in for a surprise as New Zealand took an early lead through a goal by Shane Smeltz. Italy were awarded a penalty in the 29th minute of the game which was successfully scored by striker Vincenzo LaQuinta. The game once again ended as a draw and Italy's prospects of making into the knockout stage looked slim.

In the final group game against Slovakia, the Italian defense was exposed as they were 2 goals down with only 10 minutes remaining. A goal by Di Natale in the 81st minute gave Italians some hope, however, a third Slovak goal made it impossible for the Italians to make a comeback. The game ended 3-2 and even Fabio Quagliarella's goal in the dying moments of the game couldn't save the Italian dream.

With this, both the winners and runners-up of the 2006 FIFA World Cup were out of contention and it was confirmed that the world will witness a new champion.

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#2 France (2002 FIFA World Cup)

Zinedine Zidane and Marcel Desailly look dejected after the loss against Denmark

The 2002 edition of the FIFA World Cup was a historic one as it was the first time that the tournament was being held in Asia, however, it was a very forgettable tournament for Les Bleus. After winning the title 4 years ago in their own backyard for the very first time, the French were expected to carry their strong performance. France not only entered the tournament as World champions but also as European champions and Confederation Cup winners.

The French team was set to clinch Asia's maiden World Cup as they looked unstoppable ever since that evening in Stade de France 4 years ago. Zinedine Zidane was going into the tournament after winning the Champions League title with Real Madrid in Glasgow and it looked like the group stage matches will be a walk in the park for the French team.

France played a friendly against South Korea a week before the tournament and it was this match that proved costly for the French. French talisman Zidane was injured in the game and was set to miss the opening 2 matches of the World Cup.

The opening game against Senegal made Zidane's absence evident as the World champions went on to lose 1-0. In the second game against Uruguay, the French were yet again unable to find the net and the game ended up in a stalemate leaving France on the brink of elimination. The last game saw the return of Zidane but even he couldn't inspire France to a win as they went on to lose 2-0 against Denmark.

This was only the second time in the tournament's history that a defending champion was unable to get out of the group stage after Brazil failed to do so in 1966 and was the only time a defending champion failed to find the net even once in the tournament.

#1 Spain (2014 FIFA World Cup)

Spain v Chile - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil
Spain v Chile - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

La Roja were set to begin their 2014 World Cup campaign from where they left it 4 years ago in Johannesburg as they played the Dutch in the opening game. Everything was going according to the plan as Spain continued to play their traditional passing game and took the lead through a penalty awarded to them in the 27th minute.

It was in the 44th minute of the game that things started looking shaky for Spain as an inch-perfect cross into the edge of the box by Daley Blind was put in the back of the net by a flying Van Persie header. It marked the beginning of Spanish downfall as La Roja conceded 4 more goals in the second half and lost 5-1 which is the biggest margin of defeat for a defending champion. This loss was also Spain's second worst defeat in the World Cup after the 6-1 loss to Brazil in the 1950 World Cup.

In the second match against Chile Spanish players were still recovering from the shock defeat in Salvador and ended up losing yet again by 2-0 and this confirmed their elimination from the World Cup after playing only 2 matches. In the final group game against Australia, they managed to win by 3-0 but it was all too late.

This marked the end of Spain's dominant era that began with the Euro 2008 triumph and saw world class players such as Xavi, Iniesta, and Busquets dominating the midfield with tiki-taka style of play.

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Edited by Zeeshan Ali
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