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Who Are International Football's Greatest Underachievers?

In modern day football, players, coaches and managers often fail to live up to expectations placed upon them - having the 'Underachiever' tag against their name. From failing to justify the hefty price tag to struggling to meet their club's aims - underachievement in Football is prominent. Conversely, the complete opposite can happen. A player may perform well above their modest transfer fee or a manager may guide his team far higher up the league table then anyone had predicted. Football is an unpredictable game and that's what makes it so gripping.

Yet, whilst this may be true within the club game over a gruelling season - often determined by club finances and business decisions - we pondered a question as to whether or not the underachiever or overachiever tag can be equally labelled within the International Game. Without the ability of the transfer Market to develop and improve a squad, International team managers have to simply manage what they have at their disposal. So many factors take place when determining whether an International team is of the elite level or not - from it's cultural and footballing history to it's professional club game structure - it becomes more of a deeper issue as to why some National teams somewhat fail to succeed at the level which they should do and others perform well above.

When looking at countries of the world's overall populations, there are immediately a few nations that crop up where you can argue that they have drastically underachieved within the Game. China, the worlds most populous country has effectively no national team history of  note. With a staggering 1.4 billion people - it is odd to think that as a national team, they have only competed at 1 world cup and even that was because Japan and South Korea were hosting in 2002, therefore the qualifying route to the finals were far easier. Japan, like China has a mass following of world football. Whilst they have performed far better than China in recent years and with a much smaller population to choose from, they have never really produced a constant group of top class players to consistently compete. Japan have competed at every world cup since 1998 now - albeit only ever reaching the last 16, where they often lack the quality of other nations. One would think that Japan, with a focus on youth development, could have the potential to one day be a force in the game - although, this is a statement that has been put against them for decades now and they still don't seem to have that needed quality to develop as a team.

USA and Mexico, when taking in all factors - are equally nations of underachievement. United States, simply lack the culture. A sport which is not and will probably never will be the number 1 pick for kids growing up, is always likely to struggle to produce the talent which it should do. With a professional league system that is deemed by the worlds best as a retirement league for a few years - it has struggled to really move on and compete with europes elite. That in hand has had a detrimental effect on the standard of American players coming through as millions tend to favour other sports. Mexicans on the other hand, love football. You can argue that they always produce technically gifted football players - but once again, maybe not enough to build a team that may one day compete with the very best. Mexico have a real history of world cup attendance - notably during the 70's and 80's where they made the quarter finals. Always likely to qualify out of the group stage, they have in recent times struggled when in knock out football - losing in the last 16 for the past 7 world cups, suggesting a good level of consistency without a cutting edge when it really matters. Combine this with a population of 129 million, it becomes clear that for a nation who love the game, they simply haven't reached the heights they really should do either.

Within the African Game, the immediate underachievers are South Africa. A country which favours Cricket and Rugby, yet for it's size it's undoubtedly failed as a footballing nation. They did reach the world cup in 1998 and 2002 but simply struggled to match the quality their opponents possess, being eliminated from the group stages on both occasions. They only made the 2010 finals as hosts but failed to get out of the group in that tournament too. Nigeria is the most populous african nation and while they are Africa's most historically successful team, they have perhaps not produced performances some of their world superstars merit. Always a nation capable of producing world class players who play within europe, yet as a national team they don't seem to reach the latter stages when up against top nations.

Colombia whilst not a hugely populated country, have over the years failed to live up to their potential. Having produced world class talents since the early 90's and with a squad in 1994 destined for big things, successive world cups simply faltered as the squad struggled to live up to expectations. They have made slight return in recent competitions, but too many tournaments fail to reach the later stages. For Colombia, the national team seems to produce talents on a cyclical basis, therefore whether this current crop of talents can reach their potential remains to be seen.

Within Europe, Russia have by far and away achieved the less in relation to population at a countries disposal. A historically successful nation pre 1990 - Russia have in recent years slipped behind Europes more illustrious teams, only reaching 1 semi final in the Euros and a Quarter Final in the world cup over a 30 year period. A major issue the Russians have is that of the quality of their own domestic league- whilst it's competitive by overall standards, it simply doesn't match that of a lot of European Leagues. Combine this with a general reluctance from Russian players to move abroad, players tend to remain in their home nation due to highly inflated wages from their wealthy domestic club owners. This is am issue likely to continue whilst this wealth remains.

As the vast majority of Europe's 'top' nations have achieved some kind of success over recent years, the argument must simply be posed that England - the so called 'Birth of Football' - are undeniably the king's of underachievement. A highly populous nation with a widespread hardcore following of football and homing the world's richest and most thriving professional game - the statistics behind England's national team is alarming. With only one major honour to their name (that being on home soil) and no appearances in a final since 1966, the national team have never been able to live up to any kind of potential. Flattering to decieve and world class talents buckling under the mounting and ever growing pressure have contributed to a successive long line of failures. Blessed with countless 'Golden' periods and long lists of high performing stars for their club sides - yet England still can't seem to overcome the hurdle of winning when it truly matters. Mental weakness in certain situations has been their greatest achilles heel - and is still, to this day.

Whilst it is clear that the largest countries across the world generally have a greater chance of success and therefore are more prone to pick up the dreaded underachievers tag - it simply doesn't guarantee any success on it's own. Smaller nations have over decades proved that with a constant stream of talented stars coming through a shallow pool of options, a successful football team can be built for years. Notable mentions include; Uruguay - a small nation of only 3 million proving that relative success can be achieved when a group of world class talents come through at the same time. To put it into context, they are the 132nd biggest country in the world - sandwiched between Moldova and Bosnia, yet still have arguable one of the most potent strike forces in the world in Suarez and Cavani. In Europe, Iceland and Wales have also shown in recent times just what can be achieved - but probably the greatest examples come from Portugal and Netherlands. They are only the 88th and the 67th biggest countries in the world yet they are widely considered within the top 10. Netherlands have recently suffered from the cyclical nature of international football for a smaller nation - but now seem to be back on the radar once again. A nation possessing an outstanding approach to playing attractive football and producing some of the games very best players, Holland consistently perform well above their counterparts. Without a particularly strong domestic league, they continually produce top-class talent and this looks set to continue. Furthermore, Portugal are equally adept at breeding excellent players. A nation unlikely to field 11 world class players, yet for it's size they have achieved outstanding success since 2000. Before then, they rarely appeared at major tournaments yet since, they have never failed to qualify - reaching many semi-finals and eventually winning the Euros in 2016. For a nation of on only 10 million people - thats incredibly impressive to say the very least.