Thursday, April 29, 2010 ESPNsoccernet: May 27, 12:12 PM UK
Winless streaks and Cafu's finals
Each time the World Cup rolls around, enduring football memories are created on the biggest stage of them all and the tournament's history books rewritten. Here, Soccernet tells the stories of those players, coaches and teams who can already claim to hold a place in the record books.
Most consecutive matches without a win: 17 - Bulgaria
(From 0-1 vs Argentina, 1962, to 0-3 vs Nigeria, 1994)
The 1994 World Cup will always be fondly remembered in Bulgaria as the tournament that the "Golden Generation" flourished on the global stage. A team led by Barcelona star Hristo Stoichkov and Yordan "the Magician" Letchkov achieved a remarkable foruth place finish, notably defeating reigning champions Germany 2-1 in the quarter finals. What made their performance even more incredible, was that prior to the 1994 finals the Bulgarians had never even won a World Cup match.
Bulgaria made their World Cup bow at the 1962 finals in Chile, having edged out France in a one-off play-off after finishing level on points in qualifying. But lady luck wasn't smiling on Georgi Pachedzhiev's side as they were drawn in a tricky group with Argentina, England and Hungary. A 1-0 defeat to the South Americans in the opening game and a 0-0 draw with England in the final match sandwiched a 6-1 drubbing by Hungary, and Bulgaria finished rock bottom of the group.
Four years later and Bulgaria were back, but they were to finish with the wooden spoon once more, as Hungary again, Pele's Brazil and Eusebio's Portugal all dished up defeats to Rudolf Vytlacil's side. In 1970, Group 4 seemed to provide a more promising proposition, but after a 3-2 reverse to Peru, a 5-2 defeat to eventual champions West Germany and a 1-1 draw with Morocco, Bulgaria were again going home early, albeit in third rather than fourth place. 1974 would see further improvement, with two draws against Uruguay and Sweden, but a 4-1 defeat to a Netherlands side intent on showing the value of 'Total Footbal' meant they were out once more.
After two failed qualifications, Bulgaria managed to reach the second round before exiting in 1986 - though it was another winless campaign. Ivan Vutsov's side took full advantage of the rule change that allowed the best third place teams to progress and following draws with Italy and South Korea, and a defeat to eventual champions Argentina, they played their first ever finals knockout match, losing 2-0 to hosts Mexico.
A 3-0 defeat to Nigeria came in the opening match of USA '94 and it seemed like it would be the same old story for Bulgaria. But finally, after 17 matches without a win, the duck was broken in emphatic style with a 4-0 hammering of Greece, inspired by a brace of penalties from the irrepressible Stoichkov. With the taste of victory fresh on their lips, Bulgaria recorded another in the very next game against Argentina - ensuring they atoned for two previous finals defeats to the South Americans.
On a roll, Bulgaria defeated Mexico in the second round and Germany in the quarter-finals before Italy knocked Dimitar Penev's side out in the semis. A third-place play-off was also lost to Sweden but the Bulgarians, and in particular Golden Shoe winner Stoichkov, had wowed the world - and, of course, ended their astonishing barren streak.
Most World Cup final appearances: 3 - Cafu (1994, 1998, 2002)
The legendary Pele may be the only player to have won three World Cups, but his absence from Brazil's1962 final victory over Czechoslovakia through injury allowed compatriot Cafu to become the only player to appear in three finals, when he lifted the trophy as captain forty years later.
When Cafu made his debut for Brazil in a friendly against Spain in 1990, few could have predicted that, over the course of the next 16 years, he would become the most capped player in his nation's history, amassing 142 appearances. He was not a regular in the side at the beginning, making his first World Cup appearance as a substitute in the second round at USA '94 against the hosts. And Cafu certainly wouldn't have been planning to play a major role in the final after making only a fleeting appearance in the quarter-final and not featuring at all in the semi-final victory over Sweden.
But after an injury to regular right-back Jorginho in the 21st minute, Cafu was thrown into action against Italy. What followed was an impressive performance in the then biggest game of his life, and after Roberto Baggio missed his crucial shootout spot-kick, Cafu could claim to have won both the World Cup and the respect of the Brazilian faithful. By the time the 1998 finals rolled around, Cafu was an integral part of the Brazil team and he played all but one game - missing the semi-final with the Netherlands through suspension - as the Selecao reached another final. But there would be no repeat fairytale for Cafu as France ran out comfortable 3-0 winners in Paris.
In 2002, fortune favoured Cafu as he was made captain for the finals in the absence of regular skipper Emerson, who missed the tournament in Japan and South Korea through injury. The right-back played every minute as Brazil lifted the trophy for a fifth time, beating Germany 2-0 in the final. Along with team-mate Ronaldo, Cafu joined a distinguished club of two-time World Cup winners, containing no fewer than 14 of his countrymen, but he was not about to call time on his career.
Four years later and a 36-year-old Cafu returned as captain, setting another finals record when Brazil beat Ghana in the second round to hand him a 16th World Cup victory. But it was to be a disapoointingly meek exit from the international scene for Brazil's greatest servant when he was substituted 14 minutes from the end of the quarter-final defeat to France.
Lowest attendance in a World Cup match: 300 - Romania vs Peru (July 14, 1930)
When discussions take place about World Cup attendances, the first figure to be plucked out is usually 199,854. That is how many people crammed the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro to watch Brazil lose their first World Cup final to Uruguay, and it remains the highest finals attendance of all time.
But 20 years earlier, at the inaugural World Cup in Uruguay, a very different piece of history was made when just 300 spectators turned up to the Estadio Pocitos to witness Romania beat Peru 3-1 in the opening match of Group 3. It is one of the few records from that first ever finals that remains intact to this day and because of the requirement for host nations to provide modern stadia with capacities of 30,000 plus, it will most likely stand forever.
Romania nearly didn't play in the1930 tournament, but joined fellow European sides Belgium, Yugoslavia and France at the behest of newly crowned King Carol II. The Romanian monarch even selected the team for the finals, personally asking the players' employers to grant a three-month leave with full pay, before sending them on a marathon 12-day boat trip - sharing a vessel with the other competing European nations - to South American shores.
Considering how poor the turnout was, the opening game was actually quite an exciting affair. Romania's World Cup account was opened inside the first minute when Adalbert Desu - who tragically died of pneumonia seven years later - fired home after just 50 seconds. Luis Alfonso Souza-Ferreira equalised for Peru with 15 minutes to go to set up an exciting finale but with 85 minutes on the clock, Stefan Barbu and then Constantin Stanciu scored within seconds of each other to seal the victory for Romania.
Both Peru and Romania's subsequent games must have been somewhat of a shock to the system, as they lost to Uruguay in front of partisan crowds of 70,000 and 80,000 respectively. The hosts advanced to the semi-finals, beating Yugoslavia 6-1 before seeing off Argentina 4-2 in the final to become the first side to lift the Jules Rimet trophy, in front of 93,000 at the Estadio Centenario.