10 Biggest FIFA World Cup "What Ifs"

The World Cup offers the ultimate prize. It also has the same ability to create and crush dreams.

Maradona hand of god

Every football fan and player has one dream - winning the World Cup. Nothing compares to the agony and ecstasy that the tournament can arouse. With so many great teams and players falling short, no other sporting event has a list of "what if" moments like it.

Sometimes the pain of failure is brief and fleeting in nature. On other occasions it is brutal and lasting. Football transcends the world of sport and acts as an allegory for life. It has defined the careers of players, the lives of fans, and the trajectory of national identities.

We all remember World Cups with fondness and a rose tint, but often we cannot help ourselves from asking how different things could have been, if only. From stories of redemption, substance abuse, and the loss of life, to more light-hearted matters such as the stereotypical English football fan, these questions are as existential in nature as the works of Sartre and Descartes.

Instead, we will focus on the works of Socrates, Maradona, Hurst, and a certain Divine Buddhist.

10. The Entire 2002 World Cup

The 2002 World Cup was without a doubt the most controversial tournament to date. It had it all. Dodgy refereeing calls? Check. Dramatic collapses? Check. Major upsets? Check. A story of redemption? Check and check.

The list of "what ifs" reads rather long. France, Portugal, and Argentina head up the list of major teams who didn't manage to get out of the group stages. With three of the strongest line-ups at the tournament, nobody predicted such dramatic implosions from the two top ranked teams (France and Argentina), as well as that of Portugal's golden generation.

The last 16 saw Italy defeated by South Korea in a match that will forever live in infamy due to the sheer number of dubious refereeing calls made by an official who also tried smuggling 6 kilograms of heroin into the USA. Enough said. Spain coincidently bowed out to South Korea in the following round. The match wasn't quite as bad as the Italy fixture, but La Roja were denied a goal and many legitimate opportunities to win the game.

Due to underperformances from major teams and a degree of favouritism towards the hosts, we were robbed of an England vs. France tie in the Round of 16. The quarter finals would have been stuff of fantasy as likely matches would see Germany face Portugal, Spain vs. Italy, and Brazil vs. England or France. Semi Final possibilities include Germany/Portugal vs. Spain/Italy and Brazil/England/France vs. Argentina.

With so many of these teams sporting once in a lifetime talents and squads, it is unlikely that we would or will ever see so many stars go head to head at a World Cup. I guess it's time to call up some friends, dust off our PlayStation 2s, and relive what could have been.

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After a few years in the writing wilderness, I'm back to doing what I love most: writing about football, music, MMA, and pro wrestling.