7 of the Most Underwhelming Performances in International Tournament History

England were victims of an embarrassing upset, being thrown out of Euro 2016 at the hands of minnows Iceland. And whilst all England fans still aren’t sure whether to laugh or cry, they can at least take some solace in the fact that other teams, have underperformed when the pressure got too much. 

So just forget about Roy Hodgson and his band of clueless loonies, and check out the stars who also couldn’t hack it on the international stage.

1. England, 1950 World Cup

Fans Arrive In Lens Ahead Of England's Next Euro Match Against Wales

​Although Uruguay were crowned champions in 1950, the tournament itself is widely remembered for the United States’ shock win over England. The Three Lions were making their World Cup debut, after settling a dispute with FIFA regarding payments to amateur players, and were expected to beat a hurriedly assembled USA team filled with part-timers. 

So when US forward Joe Gaetjens headed his country into the lead in the 38th minute, the news inevitably sent shockwaves through the world, and throughout the host nation Brazil. The US held on to beat England, with increased support from the Brazilian natives after news had spread through Belo Horizonte of Gaetjens’ goal.

England couldn’t put the defeat behind them in their next match, suffering a 1-0 loss to group winners Spain. The tournament was the first major competition failure in what seems like an almost endless list for England.

2. France, 2002 World Cup

French team supporters react 11 June 200

​Having won the 1998 World Cup and the Euro 2000, France were rightly among the favourites to win football’s most prestigious prize again in 2002. With Patrick Viera, Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry all in the squad, France were expected to progress through their group with ease, showing themselves as the team to beat. 

However, that didn’t happen. After an embarrassing opening 1-0 defeat to Senegal, France couldn’t beat Uruguay and crashed out with a 2-0 defeat to Denmark, failing to score a singe goal in the whole group stage process. Recent failures could be all forgotten should Dimitri Payet, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann lead France to Euro glory on Sunday night.

3. England, 2006 World Cup

England v Iceland - Round of 16: UEFA Euro 2016

Remember when we had our ‘Golden Generation’ of English talent? When the likes of Beckham, Gerrard, Rooney and Lampard were celebrated as some of the finest footballers in the world? It still doesn’t compute that they were unable to achieve any kind of meaningful success during that purple patch. 

England slugged their way through the group stage with narrow wins over Paraguay and Trinidad & Tobago​, followed by a 2-2 draw with Sweden. And after England fans sat through 120 minutes just to the suffer the agony of another penalty shootout exit from a major tournament, we all started to realise that the long wait for the second international honour may not come too soon.

4. Italy, 2010 World Cup

(Top row, L to R) Italy's defender Gianl

​Defending World Cup champions Italy weren’t tipped as favourites for the 2010 tournament held in South Africa, but their ignominious exit from the competition was still a major shock. 

Despite having the likes of Fabio Cannavaro, Georgio Chiellini, Danielle De Rossi, Andrea Pirlo (albeit a slightly injured Pirlo) and Gianluigi Buffon all in the squad, they failed to progress past their group rivals Slovakia, Paraguay and New Zealand.

The Italians finished bottom of the group with two points after two draws and a 3-2 loss in a crucial final game against Slovakia, exiting their World Cup defence in embarrassing fashion.

5. Argentina, 2011 Copa America

Argentine forward Lionel Messi (C) is ma

Argentina boasted a handful of players all well and truly in their prime and gunning for Copa America glory in their continental trophy back in 2011. While other nations like Brazil and eventual winners Uruguay both had strong squads, the tournament was billed as one of the first chances for Lionel Messi and company to write themselves into history with a first major tournament triumph since the 1993 Copa America.

It wasn’t to be, however. Argentina never really got themselves into top gear during the group stage, drawing two of their games and finishing runners up to Colombia, eventually being knocked out on penalties 1-1 (5-4) by Uruguay in the quarter-finals. 

Messi still has just a gold medal from the 2008 summer Olympics as a major international honour, and is unlikely to change that any time soon after he announced his retirement from international football following Argentina’s 2016 Copa America final defeat against Chile, in which he missed a decisive spot-kick during the penalty shootout. 

Surely we’ll see him in the blue and white strip of Argentina, right?

6. Spain, 2014 World Cup

Italy v Spain - Round of 16: UEFA Euro 2016

​This one just made no sense whatsoever. Spain were still considered the most fearsome and creative side on the planet, having won their last three major international tournaments. Things got off to a flyer in their first game against the Netherlands when Xabi Alonso slotted home a 27th minute penalty. And after watching Manchester United bore Old Trafford to death over the past two seasons, we’re still unsure as to how Louis van Gaal masterminded a sensational Dutch comeback to thrash the Spaniards 5-1.

It all started with ‘that’ Robin van Persie header, continuing into an Arjen Robben masterclass. All confidence from Vicente Del Bosque’s side seemed to dissipate, being beaten by Chile in their next game and being eliminated from the tournament. They did manage to defeat Australia, though by then their chances of progressing from the group had already been lost.

7. Brazil, 2016 Copa America


​Another high profile exit at a recent major tournament. A Neymar-less Brazil were left red faced and embarrassed after exiting the most recent edition of the Copa America this summer, and Dunga left his role as head coach of the Brazilian national team.

While there was no doubt a heavy sense of injustice in the manner of the exit, the growing disillusionment with the national team ever since ‘that’ defeat against Germany two years ago at the World Cup seems untenable, and the fact that Peru delivered the final blow to eliminate Brazil from the competition shows just how far behind the rest of the footballing world Brazil have fallen.

The original version of this story which was published by 90min.com Serie A can be viewed here.

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