This series of articles will celebrate (or laugh at) some of the worst professional sports teams of all time. I will focus on teams within my lifetime so expect the worst from the 1970s to present day.
When Saudi Arabia qualified for the 1994 FIFA World Cup, many observers thought that they would be one of the worst teams in the tournament. After all, none of the players were playing for any of the big European clubs and very little was known about the Saudis.
However, Al-Saquor surprised the football world by advancing past the group stage, which included a 1-0 victory over Belgium, thanks to a stirring goal from Saaed Al-Owairian.
Saudi Arabia returned to the World Cup in 1998, but finished last in a difficult Group C, which featured the eventual World Cup champions France.
The Saudis we’re hoping for a better showing in 2002, but knew they were going to be in tough. Saudi Arabia was drawn into Group E along with Germany, Ireland and Cameroon. The Germans were expected to win the Group while the Irish and Cameroonians were supposed to battle for second place. Saudi Arabia were picked by many to be the also-rans, just like they were in 1994. Similar to 1994, no player on the Saudi Arabian side played in Europe as the entire team stayed in their homeland to play club football. Unlike eight years earlier though, the experts were right about the Saudis.
Saudi Arabia’s first match was against the Germans wasn’t on the radar for many soccer fans. The Germans didn’t have high expectations themselves after a poor showing in Euro 2000. Die Mannschaft were yearning to make amends and they took out their frustrations on the hapless Saudis. Miroslav Klose’s hat-trick set the pace as Germany routed Saudi Arabia 8-0, to set the tone for both sides in the tournament. It was the worst loss by a team in the World Cup since 1982, and the largest margin of defeat without scoring a goal since 1974. The Germans must have felt it was 1939 and Saudi Arabia was Poland.
The Saudis were deflated after the Germany match, but they needed to recover quickly, if they had any chance of knocking off Cameroon. While skilled, Cameroon were inconsistent and a mystery. No one knew which Cameroon side would show up on match day. The Saudis performed much better in this match, but it still wasn’t good enough. Samuel Eto’o provided the lone goal in the 66th minute to secure the three points for Cameroon.
The Saudis had no chance of advancing to the knockout stage, heading into their final match of the group stage against Ireland. The only thing the Saudis had to play for was to ruin the Irish’s chances of going past the group stage. The Irish made sure early on that the Saudis weren’t going to spoil their party. Robbie Keane’s goal in the seventh minute got the ball rolling for Ireland. Second half strikes from Gary Breen and Damien Duff, secured a 3-0 defeat for Saudi Arabia, and the end of their 2002 World Cup campaign.
The Saudis -12 goal differential was the third worst goal differential in World Cup history, equalling El Salvador’s poor showing in 1982. Manager Nasser Al Johar was sacked following the tournament. But the misfortunes for Saudi Arabia football continues. They have not qualified for the World Cup since the 2002 debacle. In 2014, Saudi Arabia failed to qualify for the World Cup, after losing twice to Australia, and playing to scoreless draws against that dreaded soccer powerhouse, Oman! If you can’t score a goal against Oman, you don’t deserve to be in the World Cup. The nightmare that is the 2002 World Cup still haunts Saudi Arabia to this day.
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