When Big Teams Miss Out on the World Cup

    Bulgarian players celebrating their win over France in the 1994 World Cup qualifiers
    Bulgarian players celebrating their win over France in the 1994 World Cup qualifiers

    It’s rare to see on of the traditional powers of world football not making it into the World Cup, but there’s a chance that England, France and even Mexico, who are usually one of the first teams to qualify, won’t make it into the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, or go through a playoff in order to make it in.

    In the case of Mexico, who haven’t missed a World Cup since 1990 (banned), the playoffs seem like a certainty. They’re three points behind Honduras, who have an easy match against Jamaica left to play. Mexico can still finish out of the playoffs, if they lose to Costa Rica and Panama beats the United States.

    France will make the playoffs, as their chances of finishing ahead of Spain are far less than slim. For England, a win over Poland and they’re in, but anything but a win and the Ukraine take over the first spot, giving England the feared playoff scenario.

    France, 1994

    After their fantastic 1980’s generation that peaked in the 1984 European champion, winning the nation’s only international title up to that point. After failing to make it into the 1990 World Cup, finishing behind Scotland and Yugoslavia, things should have been different, even if Euro 1992 wasn’t a great success as well. The new generation was slowly coming together, and France, drawn into a group with Sweden, Bulgaria, Israel, Austria and Finland were favorites to win the group.

    France led the group with two matches left to play, having won 13 out of a possible 16 points (2 point system back then). They had two home matches left against Israel and Bulgaria, needing only one point in order to qualify. They already led 2-1 over Israel with less than 10 minutes left in the match, but conceded a goal from Eyal Berkovic (83rd minute) and another from Reuven Atar in injury time in one of the more shocking results of that qualifying tournament, as Israel were playing in the European qualifiers after years of being part of the Oceania qualifying zone.

    Then came Bulgaria, who were a very good team, only slightly unknown until that World Cup. In any case, France scored first through Eric Cantona, but Emil Kostadinov scored an equalizer. France played for the draw and wasted time, mostly through David Ginola, always heading towards the corner flag. The end result? Kostandinov scored a 90th minute goal, resulting in a huge upset, and France being left out of the World Cup once again.

    England, 1994

    England players in the 1994 World Cup qualifiers, letting a 2-0 home lead against the Netherlands slip away
    England players in the 1994 World Cup qualifiers, letting a 2-0 home lead against the Netherlands slip away

    The English team after the 1990 World Cup was an awful mess, looking rather embarrassing in Euro 1992 and finishing third in a group that included Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, Poland and San Marino. England finished with 13 points, two less than the Dutch and three less than Norway, failing to beat both teams at home and losing to both of them on the away matches, and dropping one more point when playing against Poland away. England were hoping for a final day surprise in Poland (hosting the Netherlands), but the Dutch won 3-1 (Dennis Bergkamp and Ronald De Boer) while England’s 7-1 win over San Marino wasn’t enough. They needed a bigger win (by three more goals) even if the Dutch would have lost to Poland.

    Netherlands, 2002

    Louis van Gaal found it very hard to succeed after being fired from Barcelona, and that sorta curse stuck to him for quite some time until he reinvented himself at Alkmaar. He failed to make the World Cup with a Dutch team that made it to the semifinal in 1998 the Euro semifinal in 2000. They finished four points behind Ireland and Portugal, not having a chance to qualify even before the last day. They failed to beat both of the teams above them, losing to Portugal at home and losing to Ireland in Dublin.

    Mexico, 1982

    Two time hosts, Mexico have been a part of almost every World Cup since 1950, missing out in 1974, 1990 (banned) and 1982, which was a year featuring a collapse of epic proportions in the CONCACAF championship, which was the tournament that determined the North American qualifiers. The 1981 version was held in Honduras, and after beating Cuba 4-0 in the opening match, they failed to win another match against El Salvador, Haiti, Canada and Honduras, finishing behind the hosts and El Salvador, needing only one more point to make it into the top two.