There are those who go to the World Cup to win, those to keep their country’s flag flying, and also those… not to make a bad impression. Yes, because qualifying for the final phase of the World Cup is always an honor, but for the less competitive national teams, there is also the fear of going home covered in criticism.
It is uncommon because most fans are well aware that they have already purchased a ticket to the competition. But despite this, you always try to come out of the tournament with your head held high.
In Qatar 2022, however, there is a particular case: that of the hosts. A nation with a football pedigree that until recently was non-existent and that, thanks to important investments, has made important steps forward (as evidenced by the victory in the Asian Cup in 2019), but which does not seem absolutely able to compete at certain levels.
For Qatar, being a fool in front of the world was unacceptable because twelve years of preparation for the event were also aimed at making a good impression on the pitch as well as in the organization.
However, the Qatari national team joined a list that was not entirely positive: that of the worst selections seen in previous World Cups.
In the 2018 edition, the worst team was certainly Panama. The Central Americans qualified for their first World Cup following a very successful period that saw them finish third in the 2015 Gold Cup and also participate and impress at the Copa America Centenario.
The arrival in Russia of the Panamanians, who excluded from the demonstration more prominent opponents such as the United States, was of interest. The draw placed Panama in a difficult group with Belgium and England, but also against Tunisia, with whom the Canaleros hoped to make a good impression. It won’t be like that.
In the opening match, Panama held on to Belgium, finishing the first half 0-0 before collapsing in the second half and conceding three goals. It goes much worse against England, who score five goals in 45 minutes and eventually win 6-1.
The last match, the one to avoid the crash, started well with a Tunisian own goal, but in the end the North Africans came from behind to win 2-1. Total for Panama: three defeats, two goals scored, and eleven conceded. It could have been done much better…
If we only talk about numbers, the worst performance of the last few decades in a world championship certainly remains that of Saudi Arabia in the 2002 edition.
The team from the Persian Gulf is one of the Asian teams that makes it to the tournament the most often. Unfortunately, they lost all three of their games in Korea and Japan, scoring no goals and giving up as many as 12.
But with a little context, we understand that, although it was a disastrous World Cup, it is not the worst ever. In fact, eight of the twelve goals came in a single match, the first of the group against Germany. The Teutons, as always, did not stop in the face of a clearly inferior opponent and buried the Saudis with goals.
In the second match, the one against Cameroon, a goal from Eto’o was needed for the Africans to bring home the victory. Then, once eliminated, the Saudis also collapsed against Ireland, losing 3-0.
The fool at the World Cup is certainly worse if we talk about a slightly more popular selection than the usual ”weak” teams. This is the case of Greece, which, as a European national team, leaves for USA ’94 with less consideration than the other “small,” despite being the Greeks’ first qualification for the World Cup’s final phase.
The draw, however, is not at all positive. The Blue-and-Whites get Argentina and two of the surprises of that World Cup: neighbors Bulgaria and Nigeria. The first match is against Albiceleste, who won 4-0 with a famous Maradona goal and celebration in front of the cameras.
The same thing happened in the derby against the Bulgarians, with Stoichkov and his teammates barely struggling.
There is an opportunity to save face against Nigeria, but with morale down, Greece closes by losing 2-0, thus reaching the non-exciting balance of three defeats in three games with 0 goals scored and 10 conceded. And to think that they also arrived in the United States undefeated, winning the qualifying group ahead of Russia…
But if we look at the quality of play during the event and how well it was prepared for, as well as the results, there are still a few selections that aren’t ready for the world stage.
This is the case of North Korea, which sensationally qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The Asian selection has sparked a lot of interest, both for football reasons and for obvious… geopolitical reasons.
It starts with a bang, because there is the case of Kim Myong-won: the attacker is included in the list as a goalkeeper, to try to get around the rules and bring in an extra outfield player. Consequently, FIFA explains that the player can play, of course, but only in goal.
Even on the pitch, the North Koreans’ rare habit of playing football that matters is noticeable. The desire to do well allows them to even keep up with Brazil for a time, but then the green-and-gold pass and control easily, winning 2-1.
The humiliation comes instead from Portugal, who easily defeated the Asians 7-0, with the goal of CR7 expected by online bettors arriving only in the 87th minute. And also, the last match of the group, the one against the Ivory Coast, ends in a heavy 3-0 defeat.
Can it be done worse? Of course, just ask China, which represented itself at the World Cup in South Korea and Japan in 2002. It is not yet the season of the Chinese Super League. The national team, led by a football guru like Bora Milutinovic, arrived at the event almost completely without experience in international football at a certain level.
Of the 23 players called up, only two play away from China, and the star is Ma Mingyu, famous because in 2000 he was brought to Europe by Perugia for one billion liras but played only a few minutes in the Italian Cup.
It’s clear that China wasn’t used to playing on a certain type of stage because in the first game, they lost 2-0 to Costa Rica, which was unstoppable and never gave them any trouble.
The second match, the one against Brazil, turns into a training session for the Selecao, who end the first half 3-0 and don’t attack in the second half, stopping with four goals.
And even the last match, the one with Turkey, didn’t show any jolts from the Chinese, who lost 3-0 and sadly closed their first and so far only experience at the World Cup with three defeats, no goals scored, nine conceded, and very few headaches created for opponents.