England’s 1-0 defeat at the hands of minnows USA in the 1950 World Cup is one the most talked about games in World Cup history. It’s been hailed as one of the biggest “David Vs Goliath” upsets ever and continues to linger in the memory of English football fans. I am not sure though about the importance it’s given in American sporting folklore, considering that football isn’t very popular like baseball or basketball. For the inventors of the game, however, it’s the starting reference point for a litany of ‘unfortunate’ World Cup exits.
This game’s immortality stems from England’s status as overwhelming favourites, not just for the game per say but for the tournament itself. This was England’s debut in the World Cup and it was an opportunity for them to legitimize their claim as the greatest footballing nation in the world.
This game was dominated by England, and therefore it’s becomes rather convenient to mark the defeat as an unlucky one and bemoan the World cup winning opportunity gone abegging.
What is often forgotten, or more likely not well known, is the result of England’s other games. England could still have qualified for the next round and continued their quest for Wold Cup glory had they won their other two games in the group. They beat Chile but lost to fellow Europeans Spain 1-0. They had their fate in their own hands but couldn’t rise to the occasion. You cannot be unlucky two times out of two.
It should also be noted that the eventual runner-up Brazil hammered the Spanish 6-1; clearly proving that England’s other conquerors weren’t such a great side either. Spain weren’t even the highest place finisher from amongst the European nations, losing 3-1 to Sweden. The tournament had also been weakened by the sanctions on Italy, Austria and Germany – two of whom were very strong teams before the war and the third was to become a force in the next World Cup.
Argentina’s defeat against Cameroon in the opening game of Italia 90 was an upset of even bigger proportions (as the Argentines were the defending champions). But Maradona’s side picked themselves up and went all the way to the final. And that is why they were a great team and deserving of the favourites tag . France in 2002 were shocked by Senegal and never re-grouped. They went out in disgrace.
France’s upset at the hands of lowly Senegal was also a bigger upset than England’s shock defeat in 1950. Yet, the French don’t continue to lament their defeat. That is probably the reason, why, they recovered to reach the finals in the next World Cup. England can’t seem to get over all their supposed missed opportunities, constantly bemoaning 44 years of bad luck.
The England side of 1950 was clearly over-rated. They lost two games and none of their vanquishers was a great side. On paper they had a great side but so did the French in 2002. In fact the French had proven international credentials, whereas the English had largely made a name for themselves in their domestic league. They went out because they couldn’t beat the Spanish in a must-win game and not because they lost to the Americans. They would have gone out even if they had won against the Americans. It wasn’t the great upset that we have been making it out to be for the last 60 years.
The English need to stop fretting over 1950 because contrary to what they believe, they weren’t really dealt a cruel blow by the gods of fortune. They weren’t the world beaters that they thought they were. They were simply not good enough.