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The Most Embarrassing Qualification Failures Ever Seen

By Conor Neville
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It's never been so easy to qualify for the European championships and yet Holland have somehow managed to avoid doing so.

Sadly for Robin Van Persie, his own goal will probably become the most vivid memory for the Dutch disaster, the go-to-clip for montage makers.

The Dutch class of 2015 are not alone in their ignominy.

France, USA 94

France only lost four competitive matches in the whole of the 1990s, but managed to fluff their only World Cup qualification campaign in the decade.

Their failure to reach the World Cup in USA in 1994 represents, arguably, the biggest late collapse in football history. The most self-defeating nation in world football were cruising in Group D, sitting serenely on top of the table ahead of Sweden and Bulgaria.

The contained a number of stars including Jean Pierre Papin (one of the most prolific strikers in Europe), Marcel Desailly, David Ginola (the player of the year in France), Emmanuel Petit, and Eric Cantona (the player of the year in England and a man whose international career was much more respectable than is commonly thought).

Gerard Houllier's men needed one point (yes, one point) from their remaining two home games against the behemoths of Israel and Bulgaria. For Israel in 1993, read someone like Georgia today. The French newspapers boldly printed the following days headline which was to be 'QUALIFIED.' Not only that but, according to Phillipe Auclair in his brilliant biography of Eric Cantona, a number of the French superstars (not including Cantona) opted to prepare for the little Israelis by going out on the razz and bringing home some women.


Unbelievably, the French were drawing 2-2 with minutes remaining, a massively underwhelming that might have sparked an inquest in any event. But it would have been enough to secure their plane ticket to the US.  To the amazement of everyone present, the Israeli's managed to snatch a win in the final minutes.

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It was a disturbing result. Still, all they required was a draw at home to the qualification-chasing Bulgaria four days later and it would be enough.


Cantona scored early, and France breathed a sigh of relief. However the dogged Bulgarians equalised on the stroke of half-time. The French were spooked.

Late in the game, David Ginola (who was somewhat unfairly blamed for the whole fiasco by the typically classless Houllier) over-hit a cross when he'd have been wiser to hold it in the corner and Bulgaria's counter-attack ended with Emil Kostadinov smashing the ball past track-suited goalkeeper Bernard Lama.

Houllier and Aime Jacquet looked like they'd seen a ghost. The latter couldn't remove his hands from the back of his head for several minutes, while the former bolted down the tunnel only to be chased by accusatory television cameras.


As a nation, the French would boo a children's nativity play if they felt it wasn't up to scratch, and the booing that night in the Parc des Princes was something to behold.



England, USA 94

England's USA 94 qualification disaster is possibly the most famous of all such disasters thanks to the FA's generous decision to allow Channel 4 make a fly on the wall documentary of the campaign, complete with a mic'd up manager and occasional dressing room footage.


The low point - the 'oh bollocks' moment, if you will -  was England's 2-0 defeat in Oslo in June 1993, a game in which Taylor opted to play 3-5-2, with Gary Pallister at left back.

England were flattered to only lose by two goals as they were ripped apart time and again by the Norwegians.

Previously, England had thrown away victory at home to both Norway and Holland. They led the latter 2-0 in the first half.


The Dutch had fallen to in-fighting (the most commonly written sentence in football writing) with Ruud Gullit refusing to play for then manager Dick Advocaat, a stance he maintained to the bitter end. They had a ropey enough campaign but had enough about them to despatch England 2-0 in Rotterdam.

The match is mainly remembered for Taylor going nuts at the linesman and referee over the failure to send off eventual goalscorer Ronald Koeman for hauling down David Platt. However, it's less recalled that Frank Rijkard had a perfect goal disallowed for offside in the opening half.

The documentary transformed Graham Taylor into a laughing stock for some, but an admirably empathetic minority insisted the footage made him more endearing.



Holland, Korea-Japan 2002

It is not the first time that Ireland had finished above Holland in a World Cup qualifying group. That honour goes to Eoin Hand's team of 1982 (see article). But it is the first time Ireland qualified at the expense of Holland. Thanks to his managerial performance with an average group in 2014, Louis Van Gaal's reputation in his native land is thoroughly rehabilitated. But it was damaged for a time.

The great Dutch football writer Simon Kuper spoke to us about the Ireland-Holland game of 2001 and the Dutch campaign generally.

He says it sits high in the pantheon of Dutch footballing disasters.

It sits quite high because it was so completely unnecessary. I mean, that was a team that had reached the semis of the World Cup, the semis of the European championship and would reach the semis of Euro 2004. It was just really, really silly. A lot of our other disasters, in the 80s, or in the present qualification campaign for Euro 2016, were because the team wasn't good enough or was too young. This (2002 WC) was self-inflicted. And Van Gaal inflicted it. And it's a very rare lapse from someone who is a brilliant tactical manager making really dumb tactical errors.... It was a very good Dutch team and (the feeling was) they just got a bit spoilt and lazy and arrogant.

This makes the Dutch disappointment at failing to qualify all the more acute. With their team sitting at home (or on South American beaches), the fare in Japan and Korea inspired monumentally apathy in Holland.

Kuper again:

For the Dutch, it's the World Cup that didn't happen. I mean, nobody in Holland watched it, nobody talked about it. I remember there were about three or four Dutch journalists there. People were so sick that they really let this go, and it was felt to be, apart from Brazil, quite a weak World Cup. A very, very weak German team reached the final. England were one of the stronger teams there, Turkey finished third, so the Dutch felt. 'this really is a World Cup where we could have done well' but the mood was one of total sickness.

Read more: How The Greatest Irish Team Never To Qualify Were Robbed

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