Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Most Improbable Finals Appearance Ever

Last month saw the playing of the 2011 Campeonato Sudamericano Copa América -- the Copa America, an twelve team international football tournament for South American teams and their invited guests. The winner this year was Uruguay, continuing their excellent form following their impressive run in last year's World Cup.

The tournament however should be remembered for the remarkable performance of Paraguay, the team that lost in the final.  They achieved one of the most improbable feats in the history of international football by reaching the final without winning a game. In the group stage they had three draws, leaving them third in their group after Brazil and Venezuela.  Paraguay advanced to the quarterfinals as the second wildcard, finishing ahead of Costa Rica on goal differential for the last spot.

They played Brazil in the quarterfinals, which was a scoreless draw after extra time.  Brazil's players  inexplicably forgot how to take a penalty, missing all attempted, and lost the shootout.  The semi-final against Venezuela saw another draw after extra time, and Paraguay advanced 5-3 on penalties.

That put them in the finals with 5 draws and no losses, no wins. I asked the brilliant guys at Opta Sports just how rare an event it was to advance to the final of a major international competition without winning a game.  Here is what they told me:
Before Paraguay in 2011, Italy had reached the final of Euro 1968 without winning, however there were only four teams involved in the tournament. Ethiopia reached the final of the 1957 African Cup of Nations without even playing a game, because South Africa - their semi-final opponents - were banned.
Based on this history, I'd guess that it will be a very long time before we see another performance like Paraguay's -- maybe never.

1 comment:

  1. fwiw, in the 1982 World Cup, which Italy won despite drawing all three initial group games, England were knocked out despite never losing a game.