Every four years when the World Cup rolls around, there’s always a few underdog nations that catch us off guard by qualifying. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing the likes of Brazil and Germany consistently progress to the latter stages but I want to cast light on some nations that have been forgotten along the way. Those teams that only appeared once and failed to leave a trace, but were there nonetheless.
The 1982 World Cup in Spain has lived long in the memory for Northern Ireland fans because of Gerry Armstrong’s winner against Spain. I imagine that it also holds a lot of significance for Kuwaiti football fans because it saw Kuwait make their only World Cup appearance. It was always going to be tough for Kuwait as they were minnows in that year’s group of death. Being placed in a group with England, France and the former state of Czechoslovakia meant that success was always going to be unlikely. The gulf state started their campaign positively with a 1-1 draw against Czechoslovakia, but their joy would be short lived. Kuwait were unable to contain eventual semi finalists France and they fell to a 4-1 defeat. If Kuwait were able to win their final group game against England it would be enough to advance to the next round. The star studded England line up of Hoddle, Wilkins and Francis were eventually victorious but only by a solitary goal. Kuwait never returned to the World Cup and perhaps never will, considering that they are banned by FIFA. They did once hold the record for the biggest win in an international match, 20-0 against Bhutan. Unfortunately for Kuwait, Australia broke the record a year later with a 31-0 triumph over American Samoa.
China may be an economic powerhouse that has come to dominate manufacturing and technology, but despite their best efforts, they cannot dominate football. They are able to pay faded stars ludicrous sums of money a week but they are still unable to produce a strong national team. China’s only World Cup appearance came in 2002, in Japan and South Korea, the only World Cup ever staged in Asia. Like Kuwait, China found themselves in a tough group with Brazil, Turkey and Costa Rica. (Brazil and Turkey would later play each other in the semi finals.) The Chinese failed to find the net throughout the group stages, conceding 9 goals in the process. One was a trademark free kick from the left peg of Roberto Carlos. Unless China start developing some homegrown talent and stop buying the likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi, then I don’t think we’ll be seeing them soon.
Wales are the only constituent part of the United Kingdom that have only played in one World Cup. Throughout the years there have been a host of Welsh talents like Craig Bellamy, Ryan Giggs and Gareth Bale who have missed out on the chance to play at the World Cup. The only players who didn’t miss out were the Wales squad of 1958 who travelled to Sweden for the World Cup. In 1958 there were only 16 teams in the tournament which makes Wales’ qualification all the more impressive. Unlike the other two teams I’ve discussed, Wales managed to progress out of their group. They did this by drawing all of their games against Hungary, Mexico and the hosts, Sweden. Wales had to face a play off to reach the quarter final, and it was against Hungary who were one of the world’s best teams at the time. Their success against Hungary was rewarded with a clash against Brazil and a certain 17 year old by the name of Pele. That quarter final will go down in Brazil folklore as Pele scored his first international goal in it. Brazil went on to win the tournament by defeating the Swedish hosts and the legend of Pele was cemented forever.
Canada are a strong footballing nation in the women’s game having hosted the 2015 World Cup, but they are less known for their men’s football. There have been Canadians in the Premier League like Tomasz Radzinski and Junior Hoilett but its not a country known for tournament success. Their only World Cup appearance came in Mexico 1986, where like China, they failed to score a goal. Canada found themselves in a difficult group with the Soviet Union, France and Hungary. It’s a bit of a surprise that they only shipped five goals. One things for sure, we will be seeing Canada again at the World Cup again because they are hosting it as part of a North American alliance with the USA and Mexico.
We’re going back in time for this one, to the last World Cup before the Second World War. Cuba made their only appearance at the World Cup in 1938, 21 years before Fidel Castro came to power in a revolution against Fulgencio Batista. (Yes I’m filling the article with historical content as there’s little info on Cuba’s campaign.) There were no knockout stages back in 1938, rather a two legged first round. Cuba played their first round against Romania, the first leg was 3-3 and Cuba won the second leg 2-1. For some curious reason they had extra time in the first leg. This win sent Cuba through to the quarter finals against Sweden and it was there that their journey would end. Sweden annihilated the Central American side with an 8-0 victory. It truly was the 1938 version of Germany v Brazil in 2014.