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Tears of World Cups Past – Remembering the Agony of Defeat

Yesterday we brought you celebrating goals in every language. Today, as part of our World Cup promotion series, we look at the dramatic ways fans and players react to defeat. Words are substituted with actions when a team loses: emotions run wild and tears take center stage.


Defeat at the World Cup can be tough to swallow: when stakes are high, emotions fly. Tears are the universal expression of disappointment for fans and players alike. However, in many cases, hasty words soon take the place of tears: expect wild speculation in the national press and extravagant excuses made in defensive attempts to explain the loss.

We regale you with three of the most poignant World Cup moments of all time. Each reveals something profound about the national psyches at play.

#1 Crying Englishmen


Crying in sports can make players look weak and vulnerable, but it can also endear them to the public.

Former England midfielder Paul Gascoigne, aka “Gazza,” was famously reduced to tears in a semi-final against West Germany in the 1990 FIFA World Cup. The tears came shortly after the England legend received a yellow card which meant, had England beaten West Germany, he would have been suspended from playing in the final.

The moment features in many lists (concerning the World Cup) compiled by the English press, often regarded as a defining moment in English football and as a poignant display of unity between player and fans.

José Roberto Wright, the referee whose booking proved key to England’s elimination in the semi-finals, said, “It wasn’t until later that I saw footage of the game and noticed how upset he was. Years later I read that Gascoigne’s tears were some kind of watershed moment in English football, that it helped people fall in love with the game once again.”

Months after the 1990 Fifa World Cup, Gascoigne was announced as the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

#2 Brazilians Want the Truth

Photo via Pixabay

As the 1998 World Cup final illustrates, conspiracy theories can sometimes overshadow even supposedly climactic wins. Brazil was the favorite to win the 1998 World Cup and faced host country France in the final.

An hour or so before kick-off, the first team sheet was printed and sent to FIFA and journalists. It did not feature Ronaldo – Ronaldo was unofficially reported to have an ankle injury. Ronaldo was what made Brazil the favorite to win.

Some 20 minutes later, Ronaldo appeared to be on the team and Edmundo on the bench as the Brazilian team warmed up. Journalists were scrambling for answers as the world’s eyebrows were raised. A subdued Ronaldo played despite what was printed on the first team sheet and Brazil lost 3-0 to France.

LÍdio Toledo, the team doctor, tried to explain the decisions to take Ronaldo off and then put him back on the team to a confused media: “What happened to him? Quite simply, he felt faint and after that he went to rest. I stress that he is feeling better now.”

Details such as these began to seep through and suggest the ankle injury had been a cover-up. Brazil was fuming, the media unsatisfied, and conspiracy theories ran amok. Brazilians wondered if sponsorship deals and corporate giants were behind the decision for a seemingly unwell Ronaldo to play in the final.

An inquest was launched by Brazil’s national congress. The investigation revealed that Ronaldo had suffered a convulsion several hours before the game and had been frothing at the mouth; the cause was uncertain.

The Brazilian press reported many things–an anesthetic had entered Ronaldo’s vein by accident, that the decision to use Ronaldo had not been down to manager Zagallo but corporate giants.

#3 El Salvador Shame

Photo via Pixabay


What happens when you suffer a 10-1 defeat? El Salvador made history in the first group stage of the 1982 FIFA World Cup by letting Hungary put a record 10 goals past them. However, the odds seemed stacked against El Salvador from the start.

Goalkeeper Ricardo Mora said, “We were treated as third-class visitors… The bags and kit FIFA gave us were old – most bared the 1974 World Cup’s logo. It was shameful. The officials said they’d been stolen. So we sent a player to the Hungarian camp to ask for some. They had received the 25 FIFA sent to every team and they lent us a couple. That was one day before the game.”

Ironically, the goal scored by Luis Ramirez Zapata that day still stands as the only goal scored by El Salvador in their two World Cups.

Despite this fact, the El Salvadorian public did not take kindly to their returning players.

Defender Francisco Jovel explained, “When we qualified, we were heroes and useful, then after we lost we were a disgrace and disposable. In every conversation, the 10-1 reared its head.”


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