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Archive for the ‘World Cup’ Category

World Cup Teams That Never Were: East Germany 1990

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The 1990 World Cup was a particularly symbolic triumph for West Germany. Lothar Matthaus lifted the trophy just nine months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, in what was recognised at the time as the last World Cup for a divided Germany. Reunification was completed less than three months later, and the team competed simply as Germany in Euro 1992 and the 1994 World Cup, continuing the record, colours and traditions of one of the world’s dominant teams. Just as capitalism had triumphed over communism in the Cold War, so in football it was West Germany that emerged with the silverware at the end of the years of division. All’s well that ends well.

Except that there was another side to this. The last World Cup where two German teams entered nearly saw both qualify for the finals, as East Germany took their competitive qualifying group down to the last game, just days after the fall of the wall. Instead, the East Germans, who only ever qualified for one major tournament, narrowly missed out on creating one of the most bizarre spectacles in the history of the World Cup – that of a doomed country in its final months competing for the biggest prize in the sport.

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Written by James Bennett

March 3, 2018 at 13:22

World Cup Teams That Never Were: Netherlands 2002

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Soccer - European Championship 2004 Play-Off - Second Leg - Holland v Scotland
If there’s one generation of players that deserved to win an international trophy, it’s the generation of Dutch players that emerged in the mid-1990s. Some teams are feted never to win the World Cup, but they still manage to win something else along the way, or at least get to a final. But the enormously talented Netherlands team that came to prominence via Ajax’s 1995 Champions League win, and went on to become leading contenders at most of the major tournaments over the next decade, somehow always contrived to fall short.

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Written by James Bennett

February 22, 2018 at 22:47

World Cup Teams That Never Were: Czech Republic 1998-2002

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Despite a patchy qualifying record, Czechoslovakia were always one of the leading teams in the second tier of European international football, behind the traditional elite of Germany, Italy, France, Spain and England. But the 1980s and early 1990s had been a fallow period. While they qualified for the World Cup in 1982 under Dr Jozef Venglos, they failed to progress from the group stage, and then failed to make it to Mexico in 1986; it was their third absence in four World Cups, or fourth in six. They also failed to qualify for Euro 1984 and 1988, before finally qualifying for the 1990 World Cup.

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Written by James Bennett

February 21, 2018 at 21:25

World Cup Teams That Never Were: Portugal 1998

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There is a certain misconception about the Portuguese “Golden Generation”. The term has been used and abused so often that today there is a certain amount of crossed wires, as people confuse the generation of players that got to the final of Euro 2004 on home soil and the World Cup semi-final two years later with the original Golden Generation, the one that brought the term into common use in international football.

These were the players that formed the backbone of the team between 1994 and 2002, many of whom had come through the junior ranks as part of the U-21 side that won the FIFA World Youth Championship in 1989 and 1991. While we all know that this is not a guarantee of success as “adults” in the full national team, huge expectation at home was placed on these players as they developed through the 1990s.

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Written by James Bennett

February 15, 2018 at 23:21

World Cup Teams That Never Were: Australia and Peru 1998

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1998 was the first World Cup with 32 teams, which in theory provided fewer opportunities for the big teams to slip through the net. However, the trend has continued ever since, and there were scalps a plenty in qualification, including the European finalists, 1994 semi-finalists, and several other notable teams. Among the teams that made it to the 1994 tournament but failed to qualify for 1998 include the Republic of Ireland, Bolivia, Switzerland, Russia and Greece, though there were welcome returns for England, Scotland, Yugoslavia, Paraguay, Chile, Denmark, Austria, Iran and Tunisia, and debuts for Japan, Jamaica, Croatia and South Africa.

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Written by James Bennett

February 12, 2018 at 22:05

World Cup Teams That Never Were: 1994

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It’s a World Cup year! Another 32 teams have made it to the main tournament in Russia. But for all of the celebrations, there’s also sadness for all the teams that fail to qualify. Many of these don’t expect to be there anyway, but for some, like the Italians, the Dutch, the Cameroonians, and the Americans, there will always be the question of “what if…?”

As someone who has always been interested in international football ahead of major club football, I’ve often thought about that question for my own country and others – as seen on this very blog in the past. So to mark this World Cup year, this is a series of articles on the teams that should have been at a tournament. These don’t have to be the best teams to not qualify. They don’t have to be the teams that got closest to qualifying without making it. But they are amongst the most significant absentees from that year, be it for being a major nation surprisingly not qualifying, or because for their country it was a landmark near-miss.

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Written by James Bennett

February 1, 2018 at 22:33

The 2006 FIFA World Cup revisited, part 1

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We’re approaching 10 years since the 2006 FIFA World Cup, a tournament remembered for entertaining matches, absurd goals, and Wayne Rooney stamping on a man’s bollocks. Given that the anniversary itself is being overshadowed both by anniversary nostalgia for another great tournament (Euro 96) and by an actual tournament happening, I thought I’d do a retrospective team-by-team guide to the World Cup, to see how much/little has changed in the decade since:

Group A

1. Germany – 9 (+6)
2. Ecuador – 6 (+2)
3. Poland – 3 (-2)
4. Costa Rica – 0 (-6)




1. Jens Lehmann (Arsenal)
12. Oliver Kahn (Bayern Munich)
23. Timo Hildebrand (Stuttgart)

2. Marcell Jansen (Borussia Monchengladbach)
3. Arne Friedrich (Hertha BSC)
4. Robert Huth (Chelsea)
6. Jens Nowotny (Bayer Leverkusen)
16. Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich)
17. Per Mertesacker (Hannover 96)
21. Christoph Metzelder (Borussia Dortmund)

5. Sebastian Kehl (Borussia Dortmund)
7. Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich)
8. Torsten Frings (Werder Bremen)
13. Michael Ballack (Bayern Munich)
15. Thomas Hitzlsperger (Stuttgart)
18. Tim Borowski (Werder Bremen)
19. Bernd Schneider (Bayer Leverkusen)
22. David Odonkor (Borussia Dortmund)

9. Mike Hanke (Wolfsburg)
10. Oliver Neuville (Borussia Monchengladbach)
11. Miroslav Klose (Werder Bremen)
14. Gerald Asamoah (Schalke 04)
20. Lukas Podolski (Cologne)

Captain: Michael Ballack
Head Coach: Jurgen Klinsmann

Never count out the Germans, etc. Germany entered their World Cup as many major tournaments hosts often do – in poor form, under enormous pressure and with expectations dropping. This reached the point where Jurgen Klinsmann, who had taken over as head coach following a disastrous showing at Euro 2004 under Rudi Voller, had seemingly already decided he was off at the end of the tournament regardless – maybe he realised that he would be found out as the massive fraud he is had he stayed on for another two years.

And yet you look at this side and think “not much was expected of THIS team?” I suppose hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it’s true that numerous players here had been underestimated – probably due to the typical lack of knowledge English pundits have for players who don’t play in England. But even so, surely it was obvious there was some ability in this team.

The team was fairly stable throughout the tournament. The goalkeeping situation that provoked the most controversy. Lehmann and Kahn’s relationship had reportedly reached Dutch levels of animosity when the former was given the starting job and the latter was left to bench-warm with Timo Hildebrand, although it cooled as the tournament progressed and Lehmann had an outstanding tournament. Kahn got a farewell appearance in the third place play-off; Hildebrand didn’t. See what being a miserable bastard gets you?

As with numerous German teams past and present, the weakness is at full-back, since Philipp Lahm was and still is yet to be cloned. Lahm played on the left in 2006 (hence cutting inside onto his right foot for his wonder goal against Costa Rica), with Friedrich (typically a centre-back) filling in on the right. Metzelder was the stand-out centre-back, while the 21-year-old Mertesacker blossomed enough alongside him to earn a move to Werder Bremen after the tournament.

The experienced Schneider and inexperienced Schweinsteiger operated on the flanks, with Ballack and Frings inside. Odonkor, a surprise call-up whose career would be ruined by injuries, was a regular off the bench. Klose finished as the tournament’s top scorer doing what Klose did best: score lots of scrappy goals from close range. Strike partner Podolski was as inconsistent as ever.

The truth is, though Germany did actually play very well, they were a bit fortunate with their draw. They weren’t given a particularly tough group, and were lucky Sweden capitulated in the second round without offering much of a threat. Argentina should have beaten them; Italy eventually did. At no point did they ever look like the best team in the tournament, but they were the hosts which did count for something. And this was at least a fun team to watch.




1. Edwin Villafuerte (Deportivo Quito)
12. Cristian Mora (LDU Quito)
22. Damian Lanza (Aucas)

2. Jorge Guagua (El Nacional)
3. Ivan Hurtado (Al-Arabi)
4. Ulises de la Cruz (Aston Villa)
5. Jose Luis Perlaza (Olmedo)
13. Paul Ambrosi (LDU Quito)
16. Giovanny Espinoza (LDU Quito)
18. Neicer Reasco (LDU Quito)

6. Patricio Urrutia (LDU Quito)
7. Christian Lara (El Nacional)
8. Edison Mendez (LDU Quito)
14. Segundo Castillo (El Nacional)
15. Marlon Ayovi (Deportivo Quito)
16. Luis Antonio Valencia (Villarreal, on loan to Recreativo Huelva)
19. Luis Saritama (Deportivo Quito)
20. Edwin Tenorio (Barcelona SC)

9. Felix Borja (El Nacional)
10. Ivan Kaviedes (Argentinos Juniors)
11. Agustin Delgado (LDU Quito)
21. Carlos Tenorio (Al-Sadd)
23. Christian Benitez (El Nacional)

Captain: Ivan Hurtado
Head Coach: Luis Fernando Suarez

Ecuador were kind of a surprise, except they shouldn’t have been, given that this was such a weak group. Their progression was essentially sealed when they beat Poland, the only team likely to challenge them for second place in the group, in their first game. Suarez, later manager of Honduras in the 2014 World Cup, got them well-organised enough to concede few goals (2 clean sheets out of 4 is reasonable), and they were good enough going forward to score some goals.

At the heart of the defence was Hurtado, who by the start of the tournament had accumulated 130 of his eventual 168 caps and was playing in Qatar (only another seven transfers to come, Ivan). He is now a left-wing politician. Alongside him at right-back was English-based De la Cruz, who is also now a left-wing politician. He is one of six of this squad to have played in England, the others being Kaviedes, Delgado, Castillo, Valencia and the late Chucho Benitez. As you can see, there were varying degrees of success.

The wingers Valencia and Mendez were perhaps the most talented attackers in the team, the latter being one of the most underrated South American players of the decade and the only player to feature in all three of Ecuador’s World Cup squads (thanks to Walter Ayovi’s omission here). Carlos Tenorio and former Southampton striker Delgado grabbed two goals apiece, while former Crystal Palace striker Kaviedes celebrated his late goal against Costa Rica with a Spiderman mask, a tribute to his late team mate Otilino Tenorio who had died in a car crash a year before.

Their eventual exit was rather predictable; they were taken apart by Germany in the final group game which set them against England in the second round, and not even Sven could fuck that one up. They probably weren’t in the top 16 best teams in the tournament, but the record books show they were. A feel-good story, which Germany and England killed.




1. Artur Boruc (Celtic)
12. Tomasz Kuszczak (West Bromwich Albion)
22. Lukasz Fabianski (Legia Warszawa)

2. Mariusz Jop (FC Moscow)
3. Seweryn Gancarczyk (Metalist Kharkiv)
4. Marcin Baszczynski (Wisla Krakow)
6. Jacek Bak (Al-Rayyan)
14. Michal Zewlakow (Anderlecht)
18. Mariusz Lewandowski (Shakhtar Donetsk)
19. Bartosz Bosacki (Lech Poznan)

5. Kamil Kosowski (Kaiserslautern, on loan to Southampton)
7. Radoslaw Sobolewski (Wisla Krakow)
8. Jacek Krzynowek (Bayer Leverkusen)
10. Miroslaw Szymkowiak (Trabzonspor)
13. Sebastian Mila (Austria Vienna)
16. Arkadiusz Radomski (Austria Vienna)
17. Dariusz Dudka (Wisla Krakow)
20. Piotr Giza (Cracovia)

9. Maciej Zurawski (Celtic)
11. Grzegorz Rasiak (Tottenham Hotspur, on loan to Southampton)
15. Euzebiusz Smolarek (Borussia Dortmund)
21. Ireneusz Jelen (Wisla Plock)
23. Pawel Brozek (Wisla Krakow)

Captain: Jacek Bak
Head Coach: Pawel Janas

Well, it was nice of Poland to turn up eventually – 2 games, 0 goals, 2 defeats, eliminated already, 1-0 down to Costa Rica, and then they suddenly realise they are a half-decent World Cup team and find 2 goals from a centre-back to win a game, to avoid the humiliation of finishing bottom of a group they were expected to qualify from. It wasn’t quite rescuing a bad situation but it was at least damage limitation – an upgrade from being pelted with rotten vegetables to just having a few bad headlines.

Poland had qualified as the best runners-up in UEFA, finishing only a point behind England after the English had decided to somehow lose to Northern Ireland and make it look closer than it actually was. It’s a strange one because the other teams in the group shouldn’t have been terrible – a Wales team that nearly qualified for Euro 2004, a Northern Ireland team that would nearly qualify for Euro 2008, and a solid Austria team that did OK at Euro 2008. The squad is theoretically alright too.

But there’s no magic there – aside from Magic Zurawski, anyway. It’s not at all inspiring. The only Lewandowski there is a defender. The only good performance was a defensive one: the stand against Germany, eventually with 10 men, that was cracked in stoppage time by Oliver Neuville.

I’d have hated to have been Polish watching this team, with memories of 1974 and 1982, of Deyna, Lato and Boniek. Why didn’t they beat Ecuador? Because Ecuador presumably interesting-ed them to death. Good on them. Shame Costa Rica didn’t hang on too.

Costa Rica



1. Alvaro Mesen (Herediano)
18. Jose Porras (Saprissa)
23. Wardy Alfaro (Alajuelense)

2. Jervis Drummond (Saprissa)
3. Luis Marin (Alajuelense)
4. Michael Umana (Brujas)
5. Gilberto Martinez (Brescia)
12. Leonardo Gonzalez (Herediano)
15. Harold Wallace (Alajuelense)
22. Michael Rodriguez (Alajuelense)

6. Danny Fonseca (Cartagines)
7. Christian Bolanos (Saprissa)
8. Mauricio Solis (CSD Comunicaciones)
10. Walter Centeno (Saprissa)
14. Randall Azofeifa (Saprissa)
17. Carlos Hernandez (Alajuelense)
20. Douglas Sequeira (Real Salt Lake)

9. Paulo Wanchope (Herediano)
11. Ronald Gomez (Saprissa)
13. Kurt Bernard (Puntarenas)
19. Alvaro Saborio (Saprissa)
21. Victor Nunez (Cartagines)

Captain: Luis Marin
Head Coach: Alexandre Guimaraes

The first game was a false dawn: in scoring two against Germany, they had given them and the rest of us false hope that this Costa Rica team, spearheaded by a Premier League hero of the past back for one final flourish, could win one or two thrillers and somehow progress by sheer will power.

Unfortunately they just weren’t very good. It probably says more about Germany (and their hilariously bad defending that day) that they were able to score 2 in that first match. Granted, a couple of these guys were a part of the true giant-killers of 2006, and Wanchope and Solis had been good enough to work their way into the Premier League in the 1990s, but this wasn’t a particularly talented team. The three players who played outside Costa Rica in 2006 played in Italian Serie B, Guatemala, and MLS. Only Saborio made a name for himself after this.

Maybe it’s just me being judgemental towards Central American teams that aren’t Mexico, which I know little about and never really do much at World Cups, but this was a pretty shit team by World Cup standards. They had at least won a game in 2002, when they beat China, then held Turkey to a draw, and even put 2 past Brazil (albeit conceding 5). But four years on, they had regressed somewhat – their best players were the wrong side of 30 and it probably made the difference. It was a real shame after that first game.

Group B

1. England – 7 (+3)
2. Sweden – 5 (+1)
3. Paraguay – 3 (0)
4. Trinidad and Tobago – 1 (-4)




1. Paul Robinson (Tottenham Hotspur)
13. David James (Manchester City)
22. Scott Carson (Liverpool, on loan to Sheffield Wednesday)

2. Gary Neville (Manchester United)
3. Ashley Cole (Arsenal)
5. Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United)
6. John Terry (Chelsea)
12. Sol Campbell (Arsenal)
14. Wayne Bridge (Chelsea, on loan to Fulham)
15. Jamie Carragher (Liverpool)

4. Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
7. David Beckham (Real Madrid)
8. Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
11. Joe Cole (Chelsea)
16. Owen Hargreaves (Bayern Munich)
17. Jermaine Jenas (Tottenham Hotspur)
18. Michael Carrick (Tottenham Hotspur)
19. Aaron Lennon (Tottenham Hotspur)
20. Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough)

9. Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
10. Michael Owen (Newcastle United)
21. Peter Crouch (Liverpool)
23. Theo Walcott (Arsenal)

Captain: David Beckham
Head Coach: Sven-Goran Eriksson

Ah England. Specialists in failure, as Jose might say. This was supposed to be the Big One. “Our Moment”. In the last World Cup, England had scraped out of the groups primarily because of a smash-and-grab win over a vastly superior Argentina side, before getting dumped out by Brazil. That being said, this was an England team which had lost two key players (Gary Neville and Steven Gerrard) to injury, so we’ll let them off; it was an overachievement to get as far as they did. By Euro 2004, things were looking a bit brighter: they should have beaten France, they did beat Switzerland and Croatia, and were unfortunate to lose to Portugal on penalties.

However, in hindsight, it’s at this point that things start to unravel. This was already an unbalanced team, stacked in some positions, but with a reluctance to compromise: yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am of course referring to Lampard and Gerrard. It’s impossible to avoid this when talking about mid-2000s England. At this point, we’re talking Beckham and Scholes too, and then Joe Cole as well after Scholes decided he wanted no further part of this rabble, allowing him to retreat with his reputation in tact. It was utterly daft to play them all together. But of course it made sense too: they were high profile players with large personal/club followings and large sponsorship deals. There would have been massive uproar if either Gerrard or Lampard had been dropped for Owen Hargreaves, who should have been key, but he was laughed off until the end of the tournament, when everyone collectively realised he was actually good. Of course, after that his knee, sensing it was a part of the England setup, realised that it needed to give in, and England lost perhaps its most vital midfield cog of that generation of players.

The line-up for 2006 that always springs to mind is Robinson; Neville, Terry, Ferdinand, Ashley Cole; Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard, Joe Cole; Rooney, Owen. But actually that XI never played in the tournament. Rooney of course started the tournament on the sidelines injured, so Crouch got the nod for the first two games; Wayne came on after an hour for Owen against Trinidad and Tobago. Then Neville got injured and missed the next three games, with Carragher starting the next two and Hargreaves against Ecuador. Hargreaves also started the Sweden game in place of Gerrard, which was the only game where Owen and Rooney started together; as we all know, Owen then busted his knee after four minutes, being replaced by Crouch. After this, England played 4-5-1 in the remaining games with Rooney as the lone striker, Carrick as the holding midfielder against Ecuador, and Hargreaves in that role against Portugal.

Herein lies the problem: even with this supposedly more progressive formation, while they kept two clean sheets, England scored only one goal, from a Beckham free kick; in fact, Beckham also supplied the only goal against Paraguay, and the crucial first goal against Trinidad and Tobago too, while the rest came from moments of magic from Gerrard and Joe Cole. For all the attacking talent, Sven had somehow managed to neuter all the creativity. While playing Rooney and Owen together didn’t work (which often gets overlooked), Rooney was young and unfit, so it was stupid to play him up front alone. Even if England had won the shootout, he’d have been suspended for the semi-final, meaning it would have been Crouch up front alone, given that Sven had seemingly decided he wasn’t going to risk Walcott. It was never going to work out. This one is all on the manager.

Hindsight is 20/20. What England should have done is play 4-2-3-1, with Gerrard in behind Rooney, and Hargreaves and AN Other (Carrick maybe, or even Jenas; Scholes in an ideal world) sitting deep. This would have accommodated Gerrard and Beckham (who was always under-utilised by Eriksson) far better and given the side a stronger core. But that would have meant dropping Owen (fans’ favourite) and Lampard (in form for Chelsea, even if he never showed it for his country), which demonstrates that you couldn’t have pleased everyone. And obviously Defoe should have been taken ahead of Walcott. Obviously.

Also a reminder at this point that Aaron Lennon was frequently used off the bench and impressed with his pacy running and those other things he does/did. Stewart Downing also appeared in the first two games, then disappeared, which seems like an apt summary of his career. Jenas, Bridge and Walcott were the only outfield players who didn’t play.




1. Justo Villar (Newell’s Old Boys)
12. Derlis Gomez (Sportivo Luqueno)
22. Aldo Bobadilla (Libertad)

2. Jorge Nunez (Estudiantes LP)
3. Delio Toledo (Real Zaragoza)
4. Carlos Gamarra (Palmeiras)
5. Julio Cesar Caceres (River Plate)
14. Paulo da Silva (Toluca)
15. Julio Cesar Manzur (Santos)
21. Denis Caniza (Cruz Azul)

6. Carlos Bonet (Libertad)
8. Edgar Barreto (NEC)
10. Roberto Acuna (Deportivo La Coruna)
11. Diego Gavilan (Newell’s Old Boys)
13. Carlos Paredes (Reggina)
16. Cristian Riveros (Libertad)
17. Jose Montiel (Olimpia)
19. Julio dos Santos (Bayern Munich)

7. Salvador Cabanas (Jaguares)
9. Roque Santa Cruz (Bayern Munich)
18. Nelson Haedo Valdez (Werder Bremen)
20. Dante Lopez (Genoa)
23. Nelson Cuevas (Pachuca)

Captain: Carlos Gamarra
Head Coach: Anibal Ruiz

After second-round berths in the previous two World Cups, Paraguay were perhaps a bit unfortunate to get such a tough draw, and certainly unlucky in the manner of their departure. But this was perhaps a balancing out of the luck they had had in the previous two tournaments. It was also representative of a midfield that was devoid of top-level creativity, but it wouldn’t be a Paraguay side if it was solid, unspectacular and pretty dull.

Either way, they were still unlucky. They went behind after just three minutes of their opener against England after captain Gamarra accidentally diverted a Beckham free kick into his own net. They then lost first-choice goalkeeper Villar (later responsible for Copa America penalty shootout heroics) five minutes later with an injury that would keep him out of the rest of the tournament, though Bobadilla hardly disgraced himself in the remaining games, conceding only one goal. And then in the next game, they succumbed to an 89th minute Ljungberg winner that knocked them out of the competition, albeit after being totally dominated by the Swedes. They were out having done little wrong at the back, but little right going forward. They did at least get a consolation victory over Trinidad and Tobago, but even then one of their two goals was a Brent Sancho own goal. Nelson Cuevas, also a scorer in 2002, was the only Paraguayan to score at the right end.

Paraguay had finished 4th in South American qualification, three points above Uruguay who went into, and lost, a play-off against Australia. It’s not hard to think that a Uruguay team with Recoba, Forlan, Montero, Zalayeta et al might have been a more interesting participant in the main tournament than this Paraguay team, even if not a more effective one. However, we should also bear in mind that it was missing Jose Cardozo, the team’s top scorer in qualifying with seven goals, who was forced out with a late injury. It’s a shame a very good collection of strikers and a solid defence was playing with such an average midfield.




1. Andreas Isaksson (Stade Rennais)
12. John Alvbage (Viborg)
23. Rami Shaaban (Fredrikstad)

2. Mikael Nilsson (Panathinaikos)
3. Olof Mellberg (Aston Villa)
4. Teddy Lucic (Hacken)
5. Erik Edman (Stade Rennais)
13. Petter Hansson (Heerenveen)
14. Frerik Stenman (Bayer Leverkusen)
15. Karl Svensson (Goteborg)

6. Tobias Linderoth (Copenhagen)
7. Niclas Alexandersson (Goteborg)
8. Anders Svensson (Elfsborg)
9. Fredrik Ljungberg (Arsenal)
16. Kim Kallstrom (Stade Rennais)
18. Mattias Jonsson (Djurgardens)
19. Daniel Andersson (Malmo)
21. Christian Wilhelmsson (Anderlecht)

10. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Juventus)
11. Henrik Larsson (Barcelona)
17. Johan Elmander (Brondby)
20. Marcus Allback (Copenhagen)
22. Markus Rosenberg (Ajax)

Captain: Olof Mellberg
Head Coach: Lars Lagerback

Sweden continued their run of good-but-not-quite-good-enough tournaments here, a run which would eventually stretch from 2000 to 2008. As in 2002, they had enough quality progress, but rolled over far too easily when the going got tough in the second round; while losing to the Germans in Germany probably isn’t the most humiliating result, this one would have to go down as a disappointment.

The balance of the squad is quite nice: a good goalkeeper in Isaksson (though former Arsenal backup Shaaban played in the first game), a solid defence, a midfield with a mix of defensive and attacking individuals, two absolute stars in Ljungberg and Zlatan, and the vastly experienced Larsson in his final major tournament. And yet after the first round of games, they were perhaps the most embarrassed team in Germany, after failing to break down Trinidad and Tobago and slumping to a 0-0 draw. They struggled against Paraguay too, being rescued by a late goal from Ljungberg. With the under-performing Ibrahimovic dropped for the England game, they actually scored two, with Aston Villa flop Marcus Allback, who had been lively throughout the tournament, and Larsson getting the goals.

Then, in their final game, they left themselves with too much to do by going 2-0 down after 12 minutes, and this was compounded by Lucic’s harsh sending off (famed for referee Carlos Simon’s…unprofessional reaction) and Larsson blazing a second-half penalty into the crowd. For the third tournament in a row, this talented Sweden side had made it through the group stage, but no further. On the face of it, a shame. But I’m not sure they really deserved to go any further. It’s not overachievement or underachievement.

Trinidad and Tobago

Dwight Yorke,  Steve Gerrard


1. Shaka Hislop (West Ham United)
21. Kelvin Jack (Dundee)
22. Clayton Ince (Coventry City)

2. Ian Cox (Gillingham)
3. Avery John (New England Revolution)
4. Marvin Andrews (Dundee)
5. Brent Sancho (Gillingham)
6. Dennis Lawrence (Wrexham)
8. Cyd Gray (San Juan Jabloteh)
17. David Atiba Charles (W Connection)

7. Chris Birchall (Port Vale)
9. Aurtis Whitley (San Juan Jabloteh)
10. Russell Latapy (Falkirk)
11. Carlos Edwards (Luton Town)
16. Evans Wise (Waldhof Mannheim)
18. Densill Theobald (Falkirk)
23. Anthony Wolfe (San Juan Jabloteh)

12. Collin Samuel (Dundee United)
13. Cornell Glen (Los Angeles Galaxy)
14. Stern John (Coventry City)
15. Kenwyne Jones (Southampton)
19. Dwight Yorke (Sydney FC)
20. Jason Scotland (St Johnstone)

Head Coach: Leo Beenhakker
Captain: Dwight Yorke

The Soca Warriors were the Caribbean’s encore after 1998’s Reggae Boyz. They were everyone’s second favourite team in this competition. They even came with their own fun song. It may be slightly disrespectful to compare them first and foremost to that great Jamaica team, but the parallels are there, particularly the many players from the English lower leagues. However, we should discuss the squad on its own merits. They, like Jamaica eight years before, were more than “the fun team”.

In goal, the squad had three goalkeepers who were well-known to fans of the English lower leagues. Kelvin Jack was initially meant to start the first game against Sweden, but was injured in the warm-up. Shaka Hislop, who had been called up by England for their friendly against Chile in 1998, was drafted in and produced a wonderful performance. He kept the starting spot for the game against the land of his birth, where he was again beaten from distance by Steven Gerrard, as he had been in the legendary FA Cup Final between Liverpool and West Ham a few weeks before. Jack started the third game against Paraguay.

Hislop, who had retired from international duty in 2004 but returned on hint of success, was one of several notable faces to come out of retirement for this time, which was largely welcomed. The other major additions were former Rangers midfielder Russell Latapy and his good friend Dwight Yorke, who had both quit in 2001 but returned in qualifying at the behest of Jack Warner (yes, that one). Yorke, who was quickly made captain of the team, was 34 and fresh from winning the very first A-League; to prepare for the World Cup, he had been training with his former club Manchester United. However, as is evident from the squad list, Trinidad and Tobago weren’t short of striking talent, and in the event, Yorke was moved back into central midfield, where he partnered Aurtis Whitley. He was so effective that Sunderland manager (and Yorke’s former team mate) Roy Keane hired him to perform this role for another three seasons. Both Yorke and Latapy, whose careers with the national side had begun in the late 1980s, played on for their country for another three years.

There were plenty of other English and Scottish Football League regulars. Dennis Lawrence, scorer of the winning goal in the play-off against Bahrain that qualified the Soca Warriors for the World Cup, had made over 200 appearances for Wrexham and soon moved to South Wales to join Swansea. Carlos Edwards had also made his name at Wrexham from 2000, and today plays for Millwall, his sixth English/Welsh club. Stern John had stints at nine English clubs in the Premier League or Championship. Ian Cox was born in Croydon and began his career at local club Crystal Palace, before long stints at Bournemouth, Burnley and Gillingham. Marvin Andrews, like Latapy, was a mainstay of the Scottish leagues including a stint at Rangers. Jason Scotland followed Lawrence to Swansea for a successful stint, later moving to Ipswich and Barnsley; today he plays for Stenhousemuir back in the country of his name. Kenwyne Jones would go on to be a well-known figure in the Premier League and Championship in the years to come, and is now Trinidad and Tobago captain, the only survivor of this team.

And then there’s Chris Birchall. In one of the most fascinating little stories of the 2006 World Cup, the Port Vale midfielder, born in Stafford, was eligible due to his mother’s birth in Port of Spain, and was asked to play for the team by Lawrence in the middle of a match. Birchall became the first white player to play for Trinidad and Tobago for sixty years; indeed, a BBC behind-the-scenes video suggested his nickname in the team was “Whitey”. Impressive performances led to a move to Coventry City, and eventually to MLS with Los Angeles Galaxy, playing with one of his more prestigious opponents from the World Cup. After a brief stint at Columbus Crew, he returned to Port Vale in 2013, the same year he retired from international duty.

The Soca Warriors acquitted themselves very well in their three matches, with a draw and two narrow defeats, albeit with no goals scored. As you might expect, they were defensively solid but limited. But they remain one of the more remarkable teams of recent major tournaments. With the retirements of their best players and their Central American rivals having improved in the years since, it’s unlikely we will see them in a World Cup again any time soon.

Written by James Bennett

June 7, 2016 at 12:00