When two strong teams clash in football, the result is generally a keenly contested match, often decided by a narrow margin. On some very rare occasions, however, a team can simply outplay and outclass its opposition to an embarrassing extent.
Barcelona found that out to their cost when they were slaughtered 8-2 by a rampant Bayern Munich in the Champions League. If it is any consolation to the Cules (as Barca fans are called), they were not the first acclaimed team to be on the wrong side of a severe thrashing from a distinguished opponent.
Football history is strewn with incidents when a great team was simply beaten to pulp by a team that happened to be on that particular day, the greater team. In some cases, it was a particular player having a great day or another one having a nightmare. In others, it was simply a bad run of luck. But whatever the reason, such hammerings do occur and are the stuff of fans’ dreams or nightmares, depending on which side won!
Here then, are seven matches where a projected clash of giants turned into a terrific thumping for one of the teams.
The scoreline might seem one of the least humiliating in this list, but in terms of sheer impact, this match has a special place in football history. England went into the game firm favourites, seen as the country that gave birth to the game. Hungary were relatively unknown but many were talking about the ability of their players to swap places and to change roles, a forerunner of what would later become “Total Football.” England on the other hand were doggedly traditional, sticking to strict formations. The match was marketed as the Match of the Century, with a traditional power taking on a new star. It was expected to be a clash of cultures and styles. It actually was a massacre. Hungary’s forward line pulled the English defence all over the pitch, creating space for their teammates. Hidegkuti scored in the first minute to stun the hundred thousand crowd, but when England battled back and levelled in the 13th minute, people felt a match was on. Fat chance. As a shocked crowd watched, Hungary toyed with the inventors of the game and were 4-1 up within half an hour. England went into half time 4-2 down, but all hope of any sort of revival ended when Hungary made it 6-2 within ten minutes of the restart. Alf Ramsey, who would coach England’s World Cup winning squad of 1966, made it 6-3 from the penalty spot, but it made no difference. Hungary had just changed world football, and had thirty five shots on goal to England’s five. Hungary beat England 7-1 in the return fixture in Budapest for good measure. The margin was worse in the second match, but it is the 6-3 hammering at Wembley that still haunts England.
Uruguay were one of the favorites going into the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. The team was well-balanced and in Enzo Francescoli they had a player who many felt was a match for Maradona and Platini. Denmark on the other hand were seen as an attractive fast playing European team that would struggle in the heat and high altitude of Mexico. A well worked out goal from Preben Elkjaer gave the Danes a lead but many felt it was only a matter of time before the Uruguayans would assert themselves. Doubts however crept in when Uruguay’s Bossio was sent off shortly after the goal. The Danish domination was complete after that with the Europeans running rings around the outnumbered and often outplayed former World Champions. Elkjaer picked up a hat-trick and Michel Laudrup slalomed past three players to score one of the tournament’s memorable goals.
This was not supposed to happen. Argentina came into the match, needing a win desperately to get into the 1994 World Cup and avoid playing a play-off against Australia. And they were odds on to win. Argentina were twice World Champions and had been the runners up in the previous World Cup. They were also the defending champions of the Copa America, South America’s football championship. And had not lost at home for six years. Colombia on the other hand, were seen as a talented side, but not too many expected them to defeat Argentina. Most felt that Colombia would be happy enough with a draw, as that would be enough to take them to the tournament. Maradona, although not playing, was openly contemptuous of the Colombian team in the build up. And for most of the first half, it seemed as though Argentina would run out winners, as they dominated the play. They were however stunned by a goal from Freddy Rincon on the stroke of half time. Faustino Arpirilla made it 2-0 early in the second half, but Argentina still pressed forward with hopes of a comeback. Three goals in front of a shell-shocked crowd in a 12 minute period from the 72nd to the 84th minute put paid to that. Argentina had not just been humbled, but humiliated at home!
Sixteen years after the nightmare at home to Colombia, Argentina were at the receiving end of another hammering. And this time the opponents were the lowly ranked Bolivia. Yes, the Bolivians could be formidable at home and were known for playing at high altitudes. But still, this was an Argentinian side with Carlos Tevez, Javier Zenetti, Angel de Maria, Javier Mascherano, Maxi Rodriguez and oh yes, a 21 year old called Lionel Messi. Managing it was Diego Maradona, who had yet to lose a match in that role. Playing at altitude at La Paz would not be easy, but surely Bolivia could not beat THIS side? Beat? It hammered them. Mind you, it did not seem likely for the best part of the opening half hour. Yes, Bolivia did get into the lead with a goal by Marcel Martens but Argentina equalised through Luis Gonzalez, and while the visitors clearly were not at their best at high altitude, things seemed under control. It all went pear-shaped around the 35th minute when Joaquin Botero scored off a spot kick to put Bolivia ahead and before Maradona’s men had even got another recovery act going, Alex da Rosa made it 3-1. Another goal from Botero shortly after half time left Argentina totally dazed and things were not helped when Angel de Maria who had been brought on to get some goals, got sent off. It was 6-1 at the end, Argentina’s worst defeat in a while, with Botero getting a hat-trick. It was such a staggering result that one spectator texted the result to a friend in another part of the world, and added “This is not an April Fool’s joke!” Maradona’s honeymoon period as manager was over. It would end with another thrashing by Germany at the World Cup a year later, but thanks to the Bolivia result, not many were surprised when THAT haoppened.
It might not make as much news as the other leagues but the Dutch domestic competition is formidable in its own right, and has churned out its own series of superstars and high profile victories. Hey, this is the land of Total Football. And the big three here are Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Feynoord, each of whom has won its share of domestic and European honours. Clashes between them in the domestic league have the aura of heavyweight title bouts with agendas of their own. So when PSV and Feynoord clashed in 2010 in the Dutch domestic league (called the Eredivisie), expectations of a tense, tight contest were high, even though Feynoord’s form had been erratic. Feynoord had a player sent off early, but seemed to be determined to hang in there and while PSV did end the first two goals ahead, no one could have anticipated what happened next. Well, to cut a long story short, the next forty five minutes saw eight goals, as PSV inflicted a 10-0 hammering on Feynoord, easily the latter’s worst ever result. Feynoord fans were left stunned by what they had seen and many pundits even used the result as an example of how Dutch football was declining. To their immense credit, Feynoord bounced back and won the Eredivisie in 2016-17. But that night of double digital hammering remains a dark chapter in their distinguished history.
Yes, this was perhaps one of the showcase matches of the early stages of the 2014 World Cup. But seriously, no one expected Spain to lose. The Spanish side had been the most dominant team globally for almost half a decade, winning with 2008 and 2012 European Championships and the 2010 World Cup. The Dutch had been runners up in the 2010 World Cup but were not expected to really overrun the Spaniards who perhaps had one of the greatest teams in modern football history honed around the short passing and ball retention technique that many called Tiki-Taka. And everything seemed to be going to script in the first half. Spain had most of the possession and took the lead from a penalty from Xabi Alonso and although they then fell back and tried to retain possession, the defending champions looked in no trouble and seemed set to go into half-time with a lead. And then Robin van Persie popped up with a sensationally headed equalising goal just before the half-time whistle. The two teams finished the first half locked at 1-1, but no one was ready for the carnage that the second half brought as the Dutch ran the Spanish team ragged, snatching possession and attacking at high speeds. Arjen Robben was at his fleet-footed best and the rampant Dutch scored four times against the World Champions who for the first time in almost half a dozen years of dominance had no answer to their rivals. When it was finally over, the World Champions had suffered the biggest defeat a defending champion had ever been handed out. We did not realise it then, but the match marked the end of Tiki-Taka as a system of play for Spain. Speed suddenly became important again, thanks to those flying Dutchmen.
In terms of sheer shock value and just how recent it is, this is perhaps the one match that everyone remembers the most, It was a World Cup semi-final and it was being played in Brazil. Of course, Brazil were the crowd favourites even though their team had not been playing particularly well and were without the talismanic Neymar. Observers felt Germany would give the hosts a tough time. What no one expected was Germany literally ripping the hosts to shreds. When Thomas Muller gave the Germans the lead in the 11th minute, everyone settled in for what they thought would be an engrossing contest. Any hope of that evaporated. With Brazil defending with all the solidity of a lace curtain, Germany scored four times in six minutes to send the stadium into shock. Some say that the Germans themselves were so stunned that at half time they made a pact to not humiliate the hosts further. But two more goals still got scored, even as the Germans visibly tried to not rub salt into the wounds of a legendary football power. Brazil pulled a goal back in the last minute but never was a goal less celebrated in football history.
The match shocked Brazil so much that a new term was coined to reflect utter and complete defeat – “sele a um.” It means “7-1.”