All teams go to World Cup’s with hope in their hearts, many return disappointed but some campaigns start with such belief and unravel so shockingly they become truly painful- here are the 5 worst ever World Cup campaigns as conducted by 5 nations that set out expecting glory and quickly returned home with tails firmly between their legs…
2. France (2002)
“France are super-super favourites” Arsene Wenger May 2002
Given Wenger had just won his second league and cup double when he made that prediction many agreed with the Arsenal manager. And Wenger’s confidence in his home nation was justified- France had won the World Cup 4 years earlier with Aime Jacquet’s a tough defensive side and a big performance in the final from main man Zinedine Zidane.
At Euro 2000 Jacquet’s successor Roger Lemerre added the pace and flair of frontmen David Trezeguet & Thierry Henry and with Zidane now firmly established as the world’s best player France lifted the title and France were World & European Champions. In 2001 they headed for the Far East to test out the conditions and win the Confederations Cup, remarkably France now held every international title on offer.
But France’s World Cup defence suffered a blow 2 months before the tournament when star winger Robert Pires (footballer of the year in England) was ruled out with a cruciate ligament injury. And things got worse when Zidane- fresh from his wonder goal in the Champions League Final suffered a thigh injury in the training camp. It was confirmed Zidane would miss the first 2 group games and suddenly the French public became nervous.
Still France’s lineup for the opener against Senegal was filled with world-class players plus Frank Leboeuf. Senegal forward El Hadji Diouf targeted Leboeuf but Senegal’s pacey attack made the French back four look everyone one of their combined 129 years. On 30 minutes Diouf left Leboeuf for dead the ever eccentric Fabian Barthez made a mess of the cross leaving Papa Boupa Diop to slot home. Trezeguet almost came up with a swift response when he hit the post. In the second half France piled forward and Henry blew a routine header but Senegal held on for a shock 1-0 win.
Lemerre tried rallying the troops but surprisingly made only 1 change to the side to face Uruguay. France did receive an unexpected boost when Leboeuf went off injured after just 16 minutes but then a frustrated Henry made a bad challenge and saw a straight red card. Down to 10 France held out but with Trezeguet again off target they couldn’t find a goal and it finished 0-0.
France would now need to beat Denmark by 2 clear goals in the final group game to avoid a first round exit. But Lemerre had an ace up his sleeve- a fit again Zidane (sort of). Zidane lined up for France’s do or die match with Denmark, but sporting a huge bandage on his thigh. But the French got off to a bad start when yet more calamitous defending saw Dennis Rommedahl sneak in to give Denmark an early lead.
France looked to Zidane for inspiration but looking about as mobile and agile as an oil tanker he just couldn’t get going although his set pieces looked to be France’s best bet. But up the other end Denmark had pace and incision and on 67 minutes they broke down the right, Lilliam Thuram fell flat on his face and Jon Dahl Tomasson slotted home for 2-0 and with Trezeguet hitting the woodwork yet again France were out. Fans who’d crammed onto the Champs Elysées screamed in disbelief, the World Champions were out without even scoring a goal! It remains the worst World Cup defence in history.
Lemerre offered no excuses for his team’s failure, aside from injuries, bad luck and the climate and was swiftly out of a job. The French simply looked like a team past their sell-by date with their woefully creaky defence and dependant on their superstars to dig them out of trouble. Many of the French stars including Zidane, Trezeguet & Henry would go for glory again in 2006 and made it all the way back to the final. But the disaster of 2002 ended the period of French domination and now the man who lifted the trophy in 1998: Didier Deschamps is charged with steering the French back to the title this summer.
And for the final part: Ally’s Army go for glory in Argentina!