The FIFA World Cup is the biggest sporting event on earth. Winning it is an achievement of almost incomprehensible magnitude. So, perhaps you’d be surprised to learn that five countries have chosen to withdraw from the prestigious tournament after qualifying or being invited. Those countries were Austria in 1938 and Scotland, France, Turkey and India in 1950.
France is a particularly curious case. Despite failing to qualify, FIFA invited them to fill the gap left by Scotland and Turkey in 1950. Le Bleus humbly accepted the offer at first, but got ‘cold feet’ and changed their mind. Somehow, withdrawing from a tournament they didn’t even qualify for.
Countries That Have Withdrawn From the FIFA World Cup
Big Things Expected From Austria
Saying that Austria withdrew from the 1938 World Cup is a bit unfair and misleading.
The reason they ‘withdrew’ was that they were occupied by Nazi Germany earlier that year, and it’s a real shame we never got to see Austria at the 1938 World Cup. Although Sweden were a good team at the time, they would have still been the underdog against Austria, the then-eighth best team in the world. Cuba, Austria’s would-be quarter-final opponent, would have been a much easier foe, as Sweden so elegantly highlighted by obliterating them 8-0.
Austria made it all the way to the semi-finals at the previous World Cup, only losing controversially to hosts Italy by a single goal. It is likely that they would have managed to repeat that feat in 1938, unless Sweden caused an upset in the first round. Their semi-final opponent was likely to have been Hungary, who they triumphed over at the previous World Cup.
A maiden World Cup final appearance was definitely feasible. Italy were the favourites, but an Austrian upset was certainly within the realm of possibility. Anything less than a semi-final appearance would be a major disappointment. Playing in the final was undoubtedly also possible. Winning it was more unlikely, but not out of the question.
Turkey Unlikely to Make It Past the Group Stage
Five countries have withdrawn from the World Cup throughout its illustrious history. Four withdrew from the 1950 Cup hosted by Brazil. Turkey were one of them, withdrawing from what would have been their first tournament.
However, their main problem was inconsistency. On home soil, they won 3-1, 6-1 and 3-2 against Egypt, Iran and Israel, but struggled in their away games.
In 1954, when Turkey did eventually make their World Cup debut, they were a better team than in 1950. Even then they couldn’t make it past the initial group stage, so managing that in 1950 was even more improbable. The margin in 1954 was minuscule, but still present. Their vastly different Elo ratings at the respective tournaments further support this thesis. Turkey withdrew before the group stage draw, so assessing their exact performance is close to impossible.
Scotland: Not Quite Good Enough
Scotland, like Turkey, withdrew prior to the group stage draw. The spring of 1950 saw them obtain some impressive results., with wins against Switzerland and France, as well as a 2-2 draw with Portugal. Granted, it was not a Portuguese side not of the same calibre as the one that exists today, but it was an impressive feat nonetheless.
Scotland did eventually make their World Cup debut in 1954. However, they lost every game in 1954 without scoring a single goal, one of which was a 7-0 battering at the hands of Uruguay.
Even if Scotland had a respectable showing, it’s unlikely they would’ve managed to win any of the groups. Despite being ranked sixth in the world, their Elo rating was lower than three out of four group winners. This goes to show how incredibly competitive the World Cup was at the time. Uruguay were ranked significantly lower, which is why that group would’ve been Scotland’s greatest hope. However, at the same time, Uruguay battered them in 1954.
A Much Weaker France
Had France not withdrawn from the 1950 World Cup, they would’ve been accompanied by Uruguay and Bolivia in the group stage. Anything except a win against Bolivia would be a massive disappointment, even though the South American side had home continent advantage. Uruguay were a much tougher opponent. Ranked 22nd in the world, France were a respectable side, but were much worse than Scotland.
India’s World Cup Chances Look Dim
India are the only team in this article that have never played at the World Cup.
They famously withdrew from the 1950 Cup because they weren’t allowed to play barefoot. That is at least a popular belief, but it’s actually untrue. In reality, according to India’s Sports Illustrated magazine, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) announced that the team would not attend the World Cup, citing “disagreements over team selection, and insufficient practice time.”
India sensationally reached the semi-finals of the 1956 Olympics, but that was not until six years after their would-be maiden World Cup so using it as an argument would be unreasonable. They would have been accompanied by Sweden, Italy and Paraguay. As a result, the odds of India advancing from that group are poor.
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