The 10 Biggest Shock Group Stage Exits In World Cup History
Every four years there are some very early exits for some very well fancied teams. Throughout the history of the World Cup there have been upsets from the very beginning of the tournaments, and favourites have fallen at the first hurdle.
Here are the 10 biggest shock exits from the World Cup at the group stage…
1998 – Spain
Spain were nowhere near the level that they would reach 10 years on, but they were still a decent side in 1998 and were thoroughly expected to escape from a group which featured Nigeria, Paraguay and Bulgaria. They were good enough to qualify for the World Cup with eight wins, two draws and no defeats from a group which featured Yugoslavia and Euro 96 runners-up, Czech Republic.
However, they twice threw away the lead against Nigeria in their first match to lose 3-2, and when they could only manage a goalless draw with Paraguay in their second match they were in big trouble.
Even a 6-1 battering of Bulgaria was not enough in their final contest as Paraguay beat Nigeria to send the Spaniards home.
2010 – France
The signs were not good for France going into the 2010 World Cup, as they needed the infamous handball from Thierry Henry to squeeze past Ireland in a play-off to reach the tournament. However, they still had a team which featured Henry, Franck Riebry, Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka, whilst a group with Uruguay, Mexico and South Africa didn’t look overly daunting.
When they opened with a draw against Uruguay, the task looked all the more simple as one win from the remaining two games would probably be enough to progress. Unfortunately for the French, they couldn’t manage it. A 2-0 defeat to Mexico and a 2-1 loss to South Africa left them bottom of the group and heading home.
1958 – Hungary
Hungary narrowly lost the 1954 World Cup final in a whopping upset to Germany when they were unanimously expected to lift the trophy. Four years on they may have been without Ferenc Puskas and Sandor Kocsis, but they were still expected to challenge in Sweden.
They were certainly expected to get out of their group which featured the host nation, Wales and Mexico. Sweden and Wales had not qualified four years previously, whilst Mexico had lost both games in the ’54 tournament.
However, the Hungarians could only beat Mexico, draw with Wales and lose to Sweden, going into a play-off with Wales to make it into the next round. They took the lead and tossed it away, with the Welsh progressing thanks to a 2-1 win.
1974 – Italy
Things did not start well for Italy in ’74 as they went behind to Haiti in their first match of the tournament. They went on to win that match, but a draw with Argentina and a defeat to Poland was not enough for them to make it through the tough group.
Having finished as runners-up in 1970, plenty was expected of the Italian side but it was Poland that proved something of a surprise package, winning all three of their group matches to send the Italians home.
2010 – Italy
If France’s downfall in this tournament was surprising, Italy’s was a genuinely seismic shock. They came into the tournament as the reigning champions and still had much of that team which triumphed in 2006.
They were also handed an incredibly straight forward-looking group of Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand which put them comfortably odds-on to reach the knockout stages.
From the off they looked poor, but even after draws with Paraguay and the Kiwis, their fate was still in their own hands. A win over Slovakia (who had not won in their opening two contests) would have been enough, but they couldn’t manage it, losing 3-2 and were leaving South Africa embarrassed.
2002 – France
Having won the 1998 World Cup on home soil, France were still thought to be one of the best teams on the planet four years later when they travelled to Japan and South Korea. However, they didn’t show it and left the competition with the new record for worst performance by the defending champions.
Their opening game saw them lose to Senegal in one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history, and they followed that with a goalless draw with Uruguay, which featured an early red card for Henry, and left them in a perilous position.
Zinedine Zidane returned from injury for the final game with Denmark with hope of sneaking out of the group still alive, but the French went down 2-0 and exited the event without even scoring a goal.
1950 – England
It may have been England’s debut in the World Cup after choosing not to compete in the first three, but they were one of the favourites to triumph nevertheless. This was still relatively early days in the history of football and the founding fathers of the game were still a serious powerhouse.
However, their performance was nowhere near what people were expecting of them. It started pretty nicely by beating Chile 2-0, but it went downhill very quickly and very steeply. Next they faced USA, who were a team of part-timers who had only ever trained together once – England lost 1-0.
Despite this total embarrassment, their tournament was not over. But it was when they lost to Spain in the final group stage game and officially fell at the first hurdle.
2002 – Argentina
Argentina were thrown into the ‘Group of Death’ in 2002 alongside England, Sweden and Nigeria, who all had very capable squads in the tournament. However, the Argentinians boasted Batistuta, Ortega, Veron, Zanetti, Ayala, Simeone, Caniggia and many more whopping names.
They started well with a win over Nigeria, but defeat to England (and a David Beckham penalty) followed by a draw with Sweden saw them finish a point behind the English and third in the group.
Four points has seen teams make it into the knockout stages in the past and will do in the future, but it wasn’t to be or Argentina in Japan and South Korea.
2014 - Spain
Having won the European Championship in 2008 and 2012 and the World Cup in 2010, Spain had dominated world football for years and were going into the 2014 event as one of the favourites. They may not have been the force they were, but they were still a serious force.
Things could not have started in a worse fashion, taking the lead against Netherlands in the opener, but ending up on the wrong end of a 5-1 battering. They needed a performance against Chile and they did not get it, losing 2-0 which meant hammering Australia in the final game meant nothing and the defending champions were on the way home.
1966 – Brazil
Brazil were quite a side as they headed to England in 1966. They had won their first World Cup in 1958 and defended it successfully in 1962, they were expected to do well in ’66 with Pele, Garrincha, Jairzinho and Tostao all amongst their ranks.
They did have a tough group, with a decent Hungary side, a Eusebio-inspired Portugal and Bulgaria, and it proved too much for the champions. They beat Bulgaria in their first outing, but back-to-back 3-1 defeats to Hungary and Portugal saw them crash out very early. That pesky Eusebio scored twice in their final game, en route to winning the tournament’s Golden Boot.
Brazil were back in 1970 to win the competition again, further proving how surprising their failure in England was.