To win the World Cup, you have to throw caution to the wind and take risks, but it doesn’t always pay off. Will Roy Hodgson live to regret not picking Ashley Cole? Have France made a terrible mistake by sending Samir Nasri on his holidays? Here, football writer Michael Cox, from ZonalMarking.net and the Guardian’s Football Weekly podcast, looks for clues by scouring the archives for risky World Cup decisions that have backfired, big time.
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1. Rojas fakes injury in qualifying for 1990
In the final qualification game before the 1990 World Cup draw, Chile travelled to the Maracanã to play Brazil. The winners would go to the finals in Italy, while the losers would be eliminated.
Chile faced an uphill task in front of 141,000 Brazilian fans, and midway through the second half they were 1-0 down thanks to a goal from Careca. Suddenly, Chilean goalkeeper Roberto Rojas collapsed, bleeding from his forehead, with a smoking flare a couple of metres away from him. Chile refused to play the remainder of the game and left the pitch, in the expectation of being awarded a 3-0 victory.
However, video evidence proved Rojas hadn’t been struck by the flare, and had instead cut himself with a razor blade hidden inside his glove. It had been a deliberate, premeditated strategy to steal qualification, and Brazil were awarded a 2-0 victory.
Not only did Chile not qualify for the finals, they were banned from the 1994 World Cup tournament too – Rojas’s blatant act of cheating backfiring quite spectacularly.
2. Ronaldo plays in the final, 1998
In the age of Twitter, journalists regularly tweet pre-match teamsheets, but never has a team’s line-up been such a topic of interest as before the World Cup final of 1998 between Brazil and France in Paris.
Stories vary, but the general consensus is that Ronaldo suffered a fit the night before the game and was initially left off Brazil’s teamsheet, with fiery striker Edmundo taking his place. But then Ronaldo requested to play, despite clearly being in no proper state to take part. Manager Mário Zagello gambled and named him up front.
Ronaldo had a couple of half-chances, but clearly wasn’t on top form, snatching at the opportunities while Zinedine Zidane headed France into a two-goal lead. Ronaldo’s fit seemed to affect the whole Brazilian side – having played some sparkling football throughout the tournament, they were outplayed by France, who won 3-0 on home soil.
3. Orsi tries to prove a point, 1934
Italy won the 1934 final in Rome, with a 2-1 extra-time victory over Czechoslovakia. Italy had been 10 minutes away from losing, before Argentina-born winger Raimundo Orsi produced an astonishing equaliser, bursting through the defence before unleashing a dipping, curling strike into the top corner. Angelo Schiavio netted the winner, but Orsi’s goal stole the attention.
None of the reporters believed Orsi had intended his stunning goal – putting such spin and swerve on shots was uncommon in those days, particularly with such a heavy ball.
So Orsi arranged for the journalists and photographers to re-assemble the next day at the Stadio Nazionale, where he promised to recreate his strike. Unfortunately, he couldn’t do it, taking 20 attempts before giving up and going home – leaving the journalists convinced Orsi’s crucial goal was a mere fluke.
4. Higuita becomes an extra outfield player,
The goalkeeper’s role has changed over the past quarter of a century; where once they were purely shot-stoppers, now they are expected to start attacks with good distribution, and often sweep up behind their defence, from a high starting position.
Columbia’s René Higuita, however, took things to the extreme. Most famous for his incredible ‘scorpion kick’ against England, Higuita was an incredibly flamboyant goalkeeper, and in 1990 interpreted the sweeper-keeper role rather too broadly.
He regularly took up a position just behind his centre-backs when playing out from defence and – in the second round of World Cup 1990, against Cameroon – got caught in possession by 38-year-old Roger Milla, during the second half of extra-time. Milla sent the ball into an empty net to put Cameroon 2-0 up. Colombia were eliminated.
5. North Korea take only two goalkeepers, 2010
According to Fifa’s rules, three of a country’s 23-man World Cup squad must be goalkeepers. When North Korea attempted to circumvent this law at South Africa 2010 – naming just two recognised keepers in their squad, and instead including an extra striker, Kim Myong-won – they were left looking silly.
Fifa were adamant: “The three players listed as goalkeepers cannot play outfield,” confirmed the governing body in a statement. This meant Kim, who had scored 98 goals in 112 appearances for North Korean side Amnokkang, never had a chance of playing up front.
Presumably, he spent the entire World Cup practising his goalkeeping skills, just in case he was required – but he got no playing time, as North Korea exited at the group stage having lost all three of their games, scoring one goal and conceding 12.
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