Football’s red-hot favourites who fell at the final fence

It's all about Cheltenham this week - even when we're talking football...

BBC smoothie Des Lynam once claimed that it was Grand National day that the nation “went to the bookies” but Aintree’s famous meeting has now been eclipsed by the Cheltenham Festival which takes place this week and which will see millions of punters having a flutter at national hunt racing’s biggest week of the year.

The beautiful game may play second fiddle for a few days, but that still doesn’t mean that we can’t slip some footy related content onto these pages, as we take a look at five firm favourites who fell at the final hurdle.

Annie Power and Ruby Walsh fall at the final flight in the Mares Hurdle
Cheltenham 10.3.15 Pic: Edward Whitaker


The Brazilians have always believed it to be their divine right to win every World Cup and when they hosted it for the first time in 1950, the other nations taking part were told that they would only be cannon fodder because the hosts were certain to lift the Jules Rimet trophy on home soil. When they faced Uruguay in the final match of the competition at the imposing Maracanã Stadium (where Brazil only had to avoid defeat as the tournament was a round-robin format), the local press were already giving out souvenir newspapers claiming Brazil to be the greatest team ever and when they took the lead shortly after half-time, the celebrations began in earnest.

Not even a Uruguayan leveller on 66 minutes could dampen the festivities, but just 13 minutes later and with the street parties already in full swing, Uruguay’s right winger, Alcides Ghiggia, collected the ball and kept on running before firing a shot under the body of Brazilian keeper Moacir Barbosa to become the biggest party pooper in South American football history. After realising that he would never be able to visit Copacabana Beach ever again, Ghiggia absconded to Italy to join Roma. Barbosa however, was used as the scapegoat and claimed in an interview shortly before his death in 2000 that he had been “Living in a prison for 50 years.”


“We’ve never had one team win the FA Cup Final by five clear goals, but that surely could happen this afternoon,” was how one hack described the 1988 final as Liverpool, bidding for their second double in three seasons, took on Wimbledon in front of Lady Di and Prince Charles. Kenny Daglish’s men were the shortest price of any final team in history but that didn’t faze his opposite number Bobby Gould, who was confident his ragtag bunch of merry men could pull off the shock of the decade.

The night before the final, the Wimbledon lads were allowed to go on a pub crawl and when the two teams lined-up in the tunnel, Don’s midfielder Vinnie Jones and striker John Fashanu (who had famously fallen off a wall during a Football Focus interview), started intimidating their opponents to the extent that when they walked out into the sun-drenched arena, John Barnes looked like someone who had forgotten to go to the toilet. Once Vinnie had decapitated Steve McMahon in the early exchanges you sensed an upset, which duly arrived courtesy of a Lawrie Sanchez header.

There was still time for Dons keeper and club captain Dave Beasant to become the first man to save a penalty (from John Aldridge) in the final, before he went up the 39 steps to receive the trophy from the Royal couple leaving Liverpool’s double and their hideous cup final single, The Anfield Rap, in tatters.


By mid-January 1996, Newcastle United were 12 points clear at the top of the Premier League with just 15 matches remaining and heading for their first league title in 69 years then, for reasons known only to himself, manager Kevin Keegan went out and bought Faustino Asprilla and unwittingly handed Manchester United their third Premier League crown in four seasons.

The Colombian, who touched down in the North-East on a snowy February morning started well enough, inspiring his new side to a derby win against Middlesbrough, but then the wheels came off with many claiming that his inclusion in the team had upset the balance as Keegan’s side lost five of their next eight matches. When Sir Alex Ferguson’s United side sensed blood, the boss started playing mind games with Keegan which culminated in his very public meltdown live on air in front of the watching millions.

After that, it was all over bar the shouting.


When Carlo Ancelotti started handing round the champers at half-time in the 2005 Champions League Final with his AC Milan side three goals to the good against Liverpool, there seemed no way back for the Merseysiders whose fans were still making their way to the ground thanks to another masterstroke by UEFA in choosing this particular venue for their showpiece club competition. The reward for the thousands who had trekked about 10 miles from the centre of Istanbul to the Ataturk Stadium was to witness one of the greatest comebacks in football history as the Reds, led by their talisman Steven Gerrard, got themselves back on level terms by the hour mark.

Milan players, still in shock and probably still a little tipsy, knew the game was up, but it took a dramatic penalty shoot-out to finally decide the contest with Andriy Shevchenko and Andrea Pirlo missing their spot-kicks. Liverpool returned home to a heroes welcome as Milan touched down to face the rotten tomatoes, although they would get their revenge a couple of years later.


By the time Euro 2016 had got to the last 16 stage, England already looked like a team devoid of ideas or enthusiasm. But surely even the most pessimistic of fans thought that Roy Hodgson’s men would breeze past Iceland, who had won the hearts of everyone despite playing a style of football that made Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland side look like Brazil 1970.

On a stifling night in Nice, normal service looked to have been resumed after just four minutes, when Wayne Rooney fired the Three Lions ahead from the penalty spot. Just two minutes later, however, big centre-half Ragnar Sigurðsson had levelled for Iceland (playing in their first major finals) to send their fans into ecstasy and that stupid tribal clapping thingy that made you yearn for the days of the vuvuzela.

12 minutes later the underdogs incredibly were in front thanks to a goal from striker Kolbeinn Sigþórsson, who was bench-warming on-loan at Galatasaray at the time. Iceland spent the next 72 minutes comfortably seeing off an England side who were ready to hit the beach, but Hodgson still had time to produce a true comedy moment getting Harry Kane to take corners. Iceland of course got battered in the quarter-finals by France as Roy picked up his P45.


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