Tuesday’s Top Twelve: Most Disappoiting World Cup Eliminations

(It’s not Tuesday and it’s not going to be twelve, so whatever.)

Now, that the World Cup has gotten through group play and into the knockout round, half of the field has been sent packing.  Some of the teams eliminated really were just kind of happy to be there and their elimination doesn’t come as a big surprise and isn’t that big of a disappointment.  But, others had monumental failures on the world’s biggest stage, bringing embarrasment and shame to the countries.  So, we are going to try and rank the disappoinment level of the 16 World Cup teams that did not qualify for the knockout round.

16). New Zealand.  The All-Whites are absolutely the least disappointed team that didn’t make it through to the knockout round, for several reasons.  One, they had absolutely no expectations.  This team is a bunch of semi-pros and amateurs.  There is not even a professional league in all of New Zealand.  They were said to be the equivalent of a 16-seed in the NCAA tournament.  But, I think it might be more like a D-III team playing the D-I tournament.  So, they had the longest odds to win this thing, and yet they will be leaving this tournament undefeated.  They drew with mighty Italy and actually finished ahead of them in the group standings.  Yes, it would probably be pretty disheartening for most teams to leave the tournament without losing a single game, but for this team, they are leaving with their heads held high and no regrets.

15). Slovenia.  The Slovenians, playing in their first ever World Cup as an independent nation, put on a nice show for the home fans.  They won their first ever World Cup game, beating Algeria 1-0, then they drew with the US and played England awfully tough, before bowing out and going home.  Yes, there is probably some disappoinment that they had a slew of chances to actually win Group A, but for a country with a population the size of Houston to be a play or two away from winning the group is nothing to hang their heads about.  Very nice performance by the Slovenians.

14). Honduras.  After the first two rounds of play, it looked like Honduras would be leaving somewhat disappointed, having not scored a goal in two losses.  But, though they still have not scored, they did play Switzerland to a scoreless draw (in a game in which they probably outplayed the team that beat Spain), thus eliminating the Swiss.  It was a nice performance for a team that just did not have the talent to compete with the big boys of soccer.  However, they are leaving with only 1 point and 0 goals, so it was exactly a success, but I would say that for a team with really no knockout stage expectations, they had a decent tournament.

13). North Korea.  It’s hard to say that the North Koreans are disappointed by their 0-3 performance in the World Cup.  In fact, I would venture a guess that, given the group in which they were placed, no one in their right mind predicted that they would even sniff a single point in group play.  They were the 104th-ranked team in a group with #1, #3, and the best African side.  And, to boot, they played a really tough game against Brazil and only lost 2-1.  However, they were embarrassingly outscored 10-0 in their final two matches, as they were just the whipping boys for Portugal and Cote d’Ivoire, as both teams tried to qualify on goal differential by beating up on the Koreans.  Because of those embarrassing performances, the North Koreans are probably more disappointed than the three already mentioned, but as a result of their group placement and their lack of expectations, they are probably not nearly as disappointed as the 12 teams not yet mentioned.

12). Algeria.  The expectations for the Algerians were probably not all that high.  They were the least likely team to get through Group A, and they almost definitely fall into the category of “happy to be there.”  In fact, they may have taken their place in that category too seriously.  If not for their second half against the USA, I would say that Algeria had a pretty successful tournament, highlighted by the draw against England and the near draws against the USA and Slovenia.  The North Africans only gave up two goals in three games, and they were able to show the world a couple of their stars.  However, there was that second half against the USA.  Algeria was still very much alive in the qualification scenarios.  If they had beaten the US by 2, they would have gone through to the knockout stage.  But, they didn’t seem to care.  They played defense, seemingly content with a 0-0 draw that would have eliminated them.  And, to make matters worse, they didn’t even get that draw, as Donovan scored in stoppage time.  That second half is why I think that the Algerians were more disappointing than the other four “happy to be there” teams.  Their team didn’t even really try to get through.

11). Denmark.  The Danes did not have enormous expectations coming into the tournament, so their elimination in this stage was not a devastating one, but the way they went out was pretty discouraging.  They weren’t supposed to beat Holland, and they didn’t.  They probably weren’t supposed to beat Cameroon down here in South Africa either, and they did.  And, that Cameroon win set up a de facto playoff game against Japan for the right to move on, and Denmark just didn’t show up.  They got beat handily by a good, but not great, Japan team, and they packed their bags.  All in all, you have to be relatively happy with Denmark’s performance, but you probably can’t stop thinking about the fact that they lost a playoff game to Japan.

10). South Africa.  It is very disappointing to become the first host nation not to get out of group play, but other than that (which is big), it’s hard to find disappoinment in Bafana Bafana this tournament, beating France and drawing with Mexico.  They even gave the world some drama in the final game of group play, as they had a real shot to surpass Mexico for that final qualification spot, they just fell two goals short.  Considering how lowly they were ranked in the world, this was a pretty nice showing for the gracious hosts. 

9). Cote d’Ivoire.  It’s really tough to pick through these middle teams and their levels of disappoinment, but I think the Ivoirian are probably more disappointed than the hosts because of expectations.  Before the draw came out, if you had said that Cote d’Ivoire would not make it out of group play on African soil, they would be strong contenders for most disappointed.  But, then the draw came out, then Drogba got hurt, then Portugal abused North Korea to the tune of 7 goals, then Brazil conspired with their former colonial masters to a 0-0 draw, and then Cote d’Ivoire was sent home.  It’s hard to say that they “should have” gotten through a group that included two of the top three teams in the world, so it’s hard to say that they are very disappointed, but the fact remains that this was probably the most talented African team (when healthy), playing on African soil, and they failed to qualify for the knockout round. 

8). Switzerland.  All in all, in looking back at their performance at the 2010 World Cup, the Swiss will probably take a lot of pride in their team’s performace in knocking off the pre-tournament favorites (and, who knows, maybe the eventual champs), Spain.  They will also take a lot of pride in breaking the all-time record for consecutive scoreless World Cup minutes, dating back to 2002.  So, all of that is good.  But, the bad part is that they beat Spain and still couldn’t get through the group.  Even with a loss to Chile, they still had a very good chance to get through on the final day of group play.  All they needed was a 2-goal win over lowly Honduras to ensure themselves a place in the final 16.  But, they came out and stunk against Honduras.  They actually should have lost the game, but it ended in a 0-0 draw that ended the World Cup for Swiss.  They were almost definitely the third-best team in the group, so it’s hard to be upset that they finished third, but after a win against Spain, they really should have qualified.  

7). Australia.  If you told the Aussie faithful before the tournament that Australia wouldn’t get out of Group D, I think that they would say that it must have been absolutely devastating, despite knowing how good Group D was.  And, honestly, it is pretty devastating, if you think about it.  This is the best group of Australian soccer players that the country has ever seen, and they are all on the wrong side of 30.  Plus, there is not a great group of youngsters coming up the pipeline, so this might have been their last chance to make any noise in international soccer for a while.  But, the way they went out was just unfortunate.  They got red cards in both of their first two matches, which just destroyed their chances.  Their 4-1 loss to Germany turned out to be the killer, even though they got an inspired draw with Ghana (short-handed) and then a really nice win over Serbia.  The Soccerroos lost on goal differential, but were probably the second-best team in the group, so that is some solace.

6). Greece.  This is not surprising, as the Greeks always seem to disappoint in the World Cup–much to the delight of international soccer fans, who seem to hate the Greeks because of their boring style of play that revolves around conservative defense and goals on set plays.  This style has proven rather ineffective in the World Cup because of the lack of team practice time to perfect the set plays and the immense talent levels of some of the best teams, giving them the creative abilities to break down any defense and score.  So, surprising?  Not exactly.  But, disappointing?  Definitely. (Especially for loyal BSB follower, Alexi.)  The biggest factor of this disappoinment for the Greeks is that they lost out to South Korea, a team that they should have been a lot better than, but clearly were not.  They still have Euro 2004 to hang their hats on, but that is getting smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror for this proud nation.

5). Nigeria.  The big reason the Greeks are disappointed is that they were outplayed by the Asian nation of South Korea.  Well, Nigeria has that same reason and then some.  They also failed to qualify out of Group B, but they did so on their home continent and did so by allowing some soft goals and failing to score on gimmes (one, in particular).  They could have beaten out South Korea, but they blew it, and they have only themselves to blame.  Along with the other African failures, Nigeria has left the torch burning only for Ghana in what was supposed to be the coming-out party for African soccer.  That, in itself, is disappointing.

4). Serbia.  Group D proved to be a very tough group, as both Australia and Serbia–two of the better teams in the world–were eliminated.  But, Serbia’s elimination was pretty tough to swallow regardless of the difficulty of the group.  They started the World Cup with a very disappointing loss to Ghana, where the only goal of the game was gifted to the Ghanaians on a strange handball by a Serbian defender on a relatively harmless ball.  Then, they recovered and beat the group champions, Germany.  But, on the final day, knowing that they just needed a win to qualify, they lost to Australia, 2-1.  And, to make it even tougher for the Serbs to get past this loss, they would have been placed in the D2 spot (where Ghana is now), which is a wide open portion of the knockout draw.  They would have only been wins over the USA and either Uruguay or South Korea away from the semifinals.  This must be real tough for the Serbs.

3). Cameroon.  All of the African teams that failed to get through group play under African skies must be devastated, but I would say none more so than the Indomitable Lions because they had a very winnable group, and played so terribly, finishing as the only team other than North Korea with ZERO points.  And, this was a top-20 team in the world, playing in a group with only the Netherlands to fear.  They opened the tournament with a loss to Japan and followed that up with a loss to Denmark, before bowing out to the Dutch.  It was a nightmare all tournament for Cameroon, and this was one of the African sides that really had a shot to make some noise here.  The Cameroonian debacle is devastating.

2). Italy.  Speaking of debacles, what happened to the defending champs?  They had a very soft group that they probably should have won in their sleep and not only do they fail to win it or even qualify, but they finish DEAD LAST–behind even New Zealand.  This was a total abomination for the Azzurri, who were accused of selecting a team that was too old to win it.  Well, they were too old to win a single game.  All I can say is wow.  The ONLY reason that they are not the most disappointing team in this World Cup is because all their embarrassment was confined to their performance on the pitch.  The most disappointing, embarrassing, humiliating performance was…

1). France.  This one was pretty easy, even though Italy was terrible as well.  Not only did the French finish with one point–last in a weak Group A that included losses to both Mexico and South Africa–but they were utterly humiliated off the pitch, as well.  They had internal strife; they had walkouts at practice; they had mutinies and scandals and everything else.  They were embarrassing.  It turns out that that handball gift to Thierry Henry that got them here in the first place might have actually been a terrible thing for French football.  Their performance in this World Cup was more embarrassing than if they had failed to qualify at the hands of Ireland.  And, honestly, who better to face this humiliation than the French?  I can’t think of anyone…

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