With the group stage reaching its conclusion, the 2022 World Cup delivered yet another sizeable shock Thursday as four-time champions Germany were dumped out of the tournament after failing to make it through to the knockout phase.
While they were actually set to qualify for the round of 16 at one stage of the night, Hansi Flick's side were effectively eliminated by Japan's controversial winning goal against Spain, despite coming from behind to beat Costa Rica 4-2 in their own Group E finale.
Come the final whistle it was Japan who went through as group winners while Spain pipped Germany to the second spot thanks to their superior goal difference. Die Mannschaft have now failed to make it into the knockout phase at two consecutive World Cups after suffering the same fate back in 2018.
But how does their underwhelming effort at 2022 rank among the worst performances endured by major nations on the grandest stage? Here we look at the men's World Cup nadir for some of the world's major footballing nations -- all of the eight countries who have won the men's tournament, as well as those who have topped the FIFA world ranking since it was established 30 years ago.
Four years earlier, he'd been the villain and scapegoat 🟥— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) August 6, 2020
But when 🏴@England came up against 🇦🇷@Argentina again in 2002, David Beckham ensured that a very different story unfolded 🤩#TBT | #WorldCup
📽️👉 https://t.co/yql46vuDuI pic.twitter.com/W4AjR1G0HP
Argentina have won two World Cups (1978 and 1986) and finished as runners-up three times (1930, 1990 and 2014) while being present at all but four finals since the tournament was inaugurated in 1930. Arguably the Albiceleste's worst performance came under Marcelo Bielsa in 2002. In Japan and South Korea they exited at the group stage for the first time since 1962 after finishing third behind Sweden and England in their group, with David Beckham's penalty sealing a defeat to their big rivals.
Belgium had all of this talent over the years and never won a trophy 😢— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 1, 2022
Kevin De Bruyne
Marouane Fellaini pic.twitter.com/iOfurqPEfr
This World Cup was the 14th to feature Belgium, who recorded their best-ever showing four years ago in Russia by finishing third. The Red Devils have been knocked out at the group stage six times and -- although they failed to win a match in 1930, 1934, 1954 and 1998's early exits -- 2022's malaise arguably represents the worst of them all, given the supposed strength of their squad this time round.
Despite the presence of seasoned stars such as Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, Belgium laboured to a 1-0 win over Canada in their opening game before suffering a shock 2-0 defeat against eventual group winners Morocco. The "Golden Generation" once again failed to live up to their billing with a drab 0-0 draw against Croatia in their final game, ensuring elimination amid reports of infighting sparked by De Bruyne's comments that this set of players were too old to win a tournament.
🔙 #OnThisDay in 1966 Albert, Bene & Farkas dazzled as 🇭🇺 @MLSZhivatalos ended 🇧🇷 @CBF_Futebol's #WorldCup record unbeaten run at 13 matches 🔚— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) July 15, 2020
🤔 The last team to beat Brazil in the competition? Hungary themselves in a 1954 quarter-final known as 'The Battle of Bern' 👊 pic.twitter.com/RcFVFT7hkG
The most successful nation in the history of the World Cup, having won the tournament on five occasions from 1958 to 2002. The Selecao have only exited the World Cup at the first group stage twice, the first instance being the inaugural tournament in 1930 (where they finished second in a three-team group behind Yugoslavia.)
Brazil were two-time defending champions when the World Cup was staged in England in 1966 and with a team still chock-full of incredibly gifted players -- Pele, Garrincha, Jairzinho et al. -- many predicted an unprecedented hat trick. However, an opening 2-0 victory over Bulgaria had the shine taken off it by a painful injury sustained by Pele, who was then forced to sit out the remainder of the tournament as Brazil slumped to successive 3-1 defeats against Hungary and Poland before exiting early.
England failed to qualify for the World Cup on two occasions in the 1970s, while their most recent failure to qualify came in 1994. The Three Lions have also been eliminated in the group stage three times: twice in the 1950s and once again under Roy Hodgson in 2014, where they found themselves pitted against Uruguay, Italy and Costa Rica -- the first time three former champions had faced each other in the same World Cup group.
It didn't go well for England, who lost 2-1 against both Italy and Uruguay to be eliminated after just two games. With spirits low, Hodgson's dejected side could only hammer out a 0-0 draw with Costa Rica in their inconsequential third game to claim the country's lowest-ever points total in the group stage of a FIFA World Cup.
They may have won the World Cup twice but France's tournament history still makes for checkered reading, having failed to qualify altogether in 1970, 1974, 1990 and 1994. However, failing to qualify might have been preferable to Les Bleus' self-sabotaging capitulation at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which saw several players conduct a mutiny against unpopular coach Raymond Domenech, culminating in an infamous "sit-in" protest on the team bus, led by sullen striker Nicolas Anelka.
Sure enough, with the squad in utter turmoil, France went home after finishing bottom of Group A beneath hosts South Africa, Mexico and Uruguay after washing up with just one point from three matches. That dismal campaign eclipsed even their disastrous 2002 showing, when as defending champions they lost the opening match to Senegal and also went home with just a point to show for their efforts.
3⃣6⃣ today! 🎉🎂#HBD to Fabio Quagliarella, who's on FIRE in Italy at the moment - he's scored in a record-equalling 11 consecutive #SerieA games 🔥🔥🔥#TBT to the 2010 #WorldCup, when he scored this delightful chip against 🇸🇰Slovakia 👌 pic.twitter.com/BdUs0iKwt9— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) January 31, 2019
Italy claimed their fourth World Cup title in 2006 and have been fairly poor ever since, failing to qualify in both 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar) while barely turning up in both 2010 (South Africa) and 2014 (Brazil).
The Azzurri were slightly more impressive in 2014, as they managed to beat an even more hopeless England to ensure they finished second-bottom of the group, though in 2010 they were ejected after just three fixtures -- as defending champions, we might add -- after failing to win a game in a group that contained Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand. Fabio Quagliarella's chipped goal in the 3-2 loss to Slovakia was so beautiful but, ultimately, so meaningless.
#KOR #KOR #KOR— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) June 27, 2018
When Son Heungmin capped off a famous win for Korea Republic against reigning #WorldCup champions Germany!
👀 TV listings 👉 https://t.co/xliHcye6wm
📺 Highlights 👉 https://t.co/LOdKDXkdnV pic.twitter.com/l0jUevqIZx
While this Germany squad can hardly hold their heads high, they did at least perform better than the class of 2018 who finished rock bottom of their group. Going into the tournament as defending champions, Joachim Low's team were immediately derailed when they suffered a shock 1-0 defeat against Mexico in their opening game. They then recovered to beat Sweden 2-1 before a galling 2-0 defeat against South Korea, with both goals scored beyond the 90th minute, sealed their glum fate.
It's perhaps also worth noting that West Germany went out in the first round of the 1938 World Cup -- though due to the format of the competition that was technically a round-of-16 game -- with a 1-1 draw against Switzerland in the initial tie leading to a replay, which the Germans lost 4-2.
Netherlands have reached three World Cup finals but never managed to take the final step and win the tournament. While they are one of those teams whose absence is felt from a tournament when they fail to qualify, the nation's overall record at the finals is actually quite poor.
They missed out altogether in 1958, 1962, 1966, 1970, 1982, 1986, 2002 and 2018 but on the 11 occasions they have actually made it to the World Cup, the Oranje have always made it out of the group stage. As such, their worst performance at a World Cup would be the round-of-16 exits they suffered in 1990 (2-1 vs. Germany) and 2006 (1-0 vs. Portugal). The former was perhaps the more disappointing, given that neighbours and great rivals Germany went on to win the tournament, although the latter was the infamous "Battle of Nuremberg" -- 16 yellows (equalling the existing World Cup record) and four reds (a record).
Spain failed to reach the knockout phase in both 1978 and 1998, but their greatest underachievement came in 2014 when the once-imperious defending champions were unceremoniously dumped out in the group stage.
Vicente del Bosque's side -- who had also won the two previous European Championships when they arrived in Brazil -- were thrashed 5-1 by Netherlands in their opening game before losing 2-0 to Chile in a result that sealed their fate with a game left to play. La Roja did manage to beat Australia in their final group match but by that point they were already out.
Winners of the inaugural FIFA World Cup in 1930 as hosts and again in 1950 in Brazil, Uruguay have struggled to live up to that early dominance. However, fourth-place finishes in 1954, 1970 and 2010 add to a mightily impressive record for a country which today has a population of 3.5 million, slightly more than Wales.
La Celeste have qualified for 13 World Cups and only exited in the group stage on three occasions (1962, 1974 and 2002), with their most underwhelming performance being the 1974 finals held in West Germany where a 1-1 draw against Bulgaria proved to be the only point they managed to accrue while finishing bottom of the pile.