Great Britain: Top of the Flops

Eurosport - Mon, 08 Mar 12:09:00 2010

Is it time to take the 'Great' out of Great Britain? The nation's Davis Cup defeat by a group of unheralded Lithuanian teenagers at the weekend certainly suggests so.

British failure - 0

And to 'celebrate' our nation's proud history of sporting atrociousness, we look back at the 10 biggest British sporting flops.

1- England lose to USA at the 1950 World Cup

So arrogant was English football about its superiority in the first half of the 20th century that, despite inventing the game, the nation didn't even bother sending a side to the first few World Cups.

In 1950, the Three Lions sent a squad out to Brazil confidently expecting to brush aside Johnny Foreigner. Having beaten Chile 2-0, England travelled to Belo Horizonte to face a totally unfancied United States side - this was, after all, an era when 'soccer' simply did not exist in the minds of most Americans.

Yet Haiti-born Joe Gaetjens glanced the US into a first half lead, and the best efforts of Tom Finney, Stan Mortensen, Billy Wright and company proved in vain as the minnows somehow held on.

It is still rated as the most shocking defeat in English football history - which is saying something given some of the subsequent howlers. On the plus side, it came as less of a surprise when England went down 2-0 to the US in 1993.

2- Paula Radcliffe at the 2004 Olympics

Fewer British athletes have been hotter favourites than Paula Radcliffe heading to the Athens Olympic Games.

So perhaps it was appropriate that it was too much heat which did for Radcliffe's chances of taking gold.

As the marathon world record holder and a winner of every major 26-miler in the world, the 30-year-old was confidently expected to be the best British hope for gold at that year's Games.

But the 35 degree heat of late August in Greece proved too much for her. After plodding through the first 15 miles she was still in the leading group, but gradually her running became more and more laboured.

When she lost third place at the 23-mile mark she clearly had nothing left in the tank, and pulled up to sit in tears at the side of the road.

3- India humiliate Scotland at the home of golf

In the mid-1990s, Colin Montgomerie was at the top of his game. Ranked in the world's top three and already looking like a Major champion waiting to happen, he led his team to the Dunhill Cup in St Andrews in 1996 as defending champions in the team event.

First up came Jeev Milkha Singh, world famous now for his string of international wins, but back then was an unknown journeyman. Yet Singh took first blood for the 1000-1 underdogs as he beat Andrew Coltart in a play-off.

Then came Montgomerie, who shot an appalling seven-over-par 79 at the Old Course to fall to world number 696 Gaurav Ghei.

That result gave India an unassailable 2-0 lead in the match, and though Raymond Russell restored some pride by beating Ali Sher, the nation that gave golf to the world suffered humiliation in the sport's spiritual home.

4- England beaten by Australia at The Oval

These days we're more than used to losing to the Aussies at pretty much anything: rugby, football, cricket, coarse fishing... you name it.

Only a recent policy of fielding a predominantly South African cricket team when the Australians visit has stopped the rot; or the occasionally successful rugby tactic of stopping anybody scoring tries and relying on a solid goal kicker to see you through.

What is the worst of them? Well, the 2003 humiliation by the Socceroos at Upton Park seemed like a new low, but in our defence it was only a friendly.

Instead, we'll pick out the devastating defeat that started it off: the 1882 Test cricket match between England and Australia at The Oval. England were left a run chase of 85 to win in the fourth innings - wickets back then weren't quite the same as they are today - but fell seven runs short of their target.

The loss stunned the nation, and prompted a sarcastic obituary in The Times, ending with "N.B. The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia". And hence the legend was born.

5- Ricky Hatton destroyed by Manny Pacquiao

There's no doubting that Ricky Hatton is one of the best boxers ever produced by Britain, and despite his 10th-round welterweight loss to Floyd Mayweather in late 2007 hopes were still high that Hatton could beat Filipino Manny Pacquiao for the IBO light welterweight title in May 2009.

It was one of the most keenly-anticipated bouts for years, and as the build-up reached its crescendo the world was convinced that it was about to witness one of the classic fights of all time.

It was an optimism that didn't last long. Hatton went down twice in the opening round, and only made it to round two courtesy of the bell.

The onslaught continued, and when Pacquiao floored the Mancunian at the end of the second round the referee ended the fight.

6- Wales lose to Western Samoa

In modern professional rugby the Pacific islanders are known as a force to be reckoned with, but back in the still-amateur days of the 1991 Rugby World Cup they were a ramshackle bunch with nothing more than the spirit of optimism and immense physical strength.

Amazingly, the Samoans got to the break at 3-3 after their fierce tackling pegged back the Wales team - and when they scored a try soon after half-time, they kept their noses in front to record a first ever victory by an unseeded team over a seeded team at the World Cup.

7- Celtic stunned by minnows: We could have written this entire article on the woes of Scottish football, but we've picked out Gordon Strachan's first match in charge of Celtic. The Glasgow side went down 5-0 to Slovakian minnows Artmedia Bratislava in a Champions League qualifying match in July 2005, and went out despite fighting back to win the second leg 4-0.

8- Ryder Cup: Following a 1957 victory, the Great Britain & Ireland Ryder Cup went 10 matches without a victory against the USA. Things got so bad that the competition was abandoned in its old format, with the GB&I team instead becoming the Europe team.

9- England at Euro 1988: Three matches, three defeats - to Ireland, Holland and the USSR - made for the worst ever performance at a major championship finals for England. Hard to believe such an appalling display was sandwiched between two very decent efforts at the World Cup in '86 and '90.

10- Audley Harrison: The winner of the super heavyweight gold medal at the 2000 Olympic Games turned professional soon after Sydney, but since then his impact on the world of boxing has been weaker than one of his right hooks.

What is your favourite sporting flop? Leave your memories in the comment box below!

Toby Keel / Eurosport

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