The 10 Best Teams That Never Reached The World Cup Final


As we noted before, the World Cup can be a fickle tournament. The margin between hero and goat can be a single kick of the ball. It’s not always the best team that wins. In some tournaments, the best team may even miss the final. As we approach the World Cup’s next chapter in Brazil, here are 10 great teams that missed out on the final match.

West Germany 1970: This was the precursor to the Beckenbauer/Muller West Germany teams that would win Euro 1972, the 1974 World Cup, and reach the 1976 Euro Final before losing on a cheeky Panenka penalty kick. They rolled through the group stages, winning all three games. They came back from 2-0 down in the second half to beat one of England’s best teams in the quarterfinals. They lost 4-3 to Italy in the semifinals, in a crazed finished that saw five goals scored in extra time. Gerd Muller led the tournament with 10 goals.

Brazil 1982: This Brazil outfit won no silverware, but, led by stars such as Zico and Socrates, the 1982 team remains among its most memorable. They scored 15 goals over six matches, perhaps hitting the pinnacle of Brazil’s “joga bonito” style. But their run ended prematurely, in a “round-robin of death.” The 1982 format featured a second, three-team group stage. Brazil beat Maradona-led Argentina 3-1. But, needing a draw with Italy (eventual champion) to advance to the semifinals, they lost 3-2, with Paolo Rossi, fresh off a two-year ban for match-fixing, scoring a hat-trick.

France 1982: This was the first of France’s Carré Magique teams led by Michel Platini. For a three-tournament run, they would have arguably the best midfield of all-time. France survived both group stages to meet West Germany in the semifinals. They took a 3-1 lead in extra-time before collapsing and, ultimately, losing 5-4 on penalties. That team would peak at Euro 1984, thrashing opponents 14-2 en route to the trophy. Michel Platini scored nine goals, delivering one of the defining performances in soccer history.

Portugal 1966: This was the tournament that cemented Eusébio’s place on almost every “best player of all time” list. Portugal outscored its three group opponents 9-2, most notably eliminating Pele-led Brazil with a crushing 3-1 defeat. They outlasted a surprising North Korea 5-3, with Eusébio scoring four of his nine goals. They went down to hosts and eventual champion England 2-1 in the semifinals.

France 1986: The 1982 French team had not quite hit its peak. The 1986 team was just past it. France finished second in its group, but roared back through a tough draw in the knockout rounds. They eliminated defending champion Italy and evaded a very good Brazil team on penalties. They fell 2-0 to West Germany, again, in the semifinals.

Italy 1978: A precocious precursor to Italy’s 1982 winners. The Italians rolled through the first group stage, beating France and hosts (and eventual champion) Argentina. Their attack shorted out in the second group stage, with play-making midfielder Giancarlo Antogn0ni injured in the first match against Germany. They took a 1-0 lead against Holland in the de facto semifinal, but fell 2-1 on two long-range goals.

Netherlands 1998: This team was fueled by the prolific Ajax academy in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which produced Dennis Bergkamp, Clarence Seedorf, Patrick Kluivert, Marc Overmars, Frank and Ronald de Boer, Edgar Davids and Edwin Van Der Saar to name a few. Eight team members appeared in the 1995 Champions League Final for Ajax. The Dutch beat talented Yugoslavia and Argentina teams before being eliminated on penalties by Brazil in the semifinals.

Italy 1990: The 1990 World Cup was cynical and defensive, the lowest scoring tournament in history. Hosts Italy were perhaps the most cynical, defensive team in the tournament. The Italians held opponents scoreless in five wins to reach the semifinals. There, they lost a heart-breaker on penalties to a repugnant Argentina team, despite having an opportunity with a man up in extra-time.

Argentina 2006: A number of Argentina teams have come close. We chose the least nefarious one. Argentina’s 2006 squad built a veteran, attacking squad around the Riquelme and Mascherano pairing in central midfield. They were talented enough that young Carlos Tevez and Leo Messi only had to play bit roles. Argentina cruised through the group stage, notably assassinating Serbia 6-0. They won a hard-fought match with Mexico to reach the quarterfinals. There, they met host Germany who beat them on penalties, with goalkeeper Jens Lehman consulting a crib sheet hidden in his sock.

England 1970: Man for man, this may have been better than the 1966 winning team. They just ran into a couple of the greatest teams of all-time. They lost a tough 1-0 group match to the 1970 Brazil team (deemed by many the best national side of all-time), with captain Bobby Moore putting in a memorable defensive performance. This set them up with West Germany in the quarterfinals. They took a 2-0 lead over the West Germans, before shipping two goals in regulation and going down on Gerd Muller’s 108th minute goal in extra time.

[Photo via Getty]