The Best Teams in Football History Whose Overconfidence Cost Them

Grey Whitebloom
West German goalkeeper Sepp Maier catches the ball
West German goalkeeper Sepp Maier catches the ball / STAFF/Getty Images

There are many things that can contribute to a loss. Some of them are out of your control; a wonder-strike, a bizarre own goal, a stray beach ball on the pitch.

But some are more readily avoidable, and chief among these preventable factors is overconfidence.

These days, a regular staple of a pre-match press conference involves the manager of the clearly superior side stressing how 'seriously' they are approaching the upcoming 'challenge' in an attempt to preemptively avoid accusations of cockiness. But this has not always been the case, which has often led to dire consequences.

So let's take a look back at the examples in history of those teams who have been a little more bullish in their self-assessment, which have served as a warning for those that have come after them.

Preston North End - 1888 FA Cup Final

The legend goes that prior to kick-off, Preston North End's players asked the referee if they could have their photograph taken with the trophy. To which the official supposedly replied: "Hadn't you better win it first?"

Yet, their bluster had some concrete foundations given this North End side had whipped Hyde 26-0 in the first round of the competition. The following season, ten of the 11 that played in the 1888 final would start next year's showpiece which North End duly won, after going the entire league season unbeaten.

However, on that March afternoon against West Bromwich Albion their confidence was misplaced as they were defeated 2-1 in front of 17,000 people, the first sell-out crowd in football history. In a brilliant window into the standard of the time, the Preston players blamed the defeat on their stiff limbs having stood on the banks of the Thames watching the University Boat Race earlier that day.

Brazil - 1950 World Cup Final Group

It's largely excepted that Brazil were the outstanding team of the 1950 World Cup played on home soil. Due to the structure of the competition at the time (an initial group stage followed by a final group stage), Brazil only needed a draw in their last fixture, against Uruguay, to be crowned world champions.

The game was seen as something of a formality and early editions of newspaper O Mundo on the day of the final carried a photograph of the Brazil team under the headline, 'These are the World Champions'.

Even their opponents had bought into their host's superiority. When the national anthems were being played, sung by nearly 200,000 fervent fans, Uruguay’s Julio Pérez was so nervous he wet himself.

However, despite taking a 1-0 lead, Brazil were pegged back and Uruguay found an equaliser. In the final 11 minutes, Pérez played a lovely one-two with Alcide Ghiggia who slotted a bobbling shot in at the near post to silence the Maracanã. Having started the game with urine soaked shorts, Pérez ended it as a world champion, having assisted the winning goal.

Netherlands - 1974 World Cup Final

The Netherlands had left the wider world in awe after gliding through the World Cup, bamboozling opponents with their seamless interchange of positions, offside trap and incredibly aggressive press. And going into the final they were up against the old enemy, West Germany.

One of the Germans that day, Bernd Holzenbein, spoke of the aura the Dutch had prior to kick-off: "They had the feeling they were invincible...Their attitude to us was, 'How many goals do you want to lose by today, boys?'"

In a perfect personification of this superiority, the Dutch won and scored a penalty in the opening two minutes without West Germany touching the ball. However, it was their focus on inflicting pain on their opponents rather than finding another goal which was their ultimate undoing.

The Dutch forward Johnny Rep explained: "We wanted to make fun of the Germans...We forgot to score the second goal." His teammate Wim van Hanegem reinforces this idea by saying: "I didn't mind if we only won 1-0, as long as we humiliated them."

Needless to say, it didn't quite go to plan as West Germany wrestled the lead from the Dutch to eventually win 2-1, prompting a bitter and nasty rivalry played out in the decades which followed.

Scotland - 1978 World Cup

Ally MacLeod's start to life as Scotland manager in 1977 began in a fittingly boisterous manner which would become the hallmark of his time at the helm.

The former Aberdeen boss told reporters in his very first press conference that he was 'born to be a success' and the first words he uttered to his players were: "My name is Ally MacLeod and I am a winner.”

Yet his most emphatic pronouncement concerned his nation's chances at the upcoming World Cup. MacLeod was characteristically confident, proclaiming: "You can mark down 25 June 1978 as the day Scottish football conquers the world. For on that Sunday, I’m convinced the finest team this country has ever produced can play in the final of the World Cup in Buenos Aires and win."

Admittedly, Scotland could boast the talents of European Cup winners Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness, but for a nation which had never got past the first round, predictions of lifting the trophy seem a bit ambitious.

And they were. Scotland lost to Peru and drew with Iran as they again failed to progress beyond the group stage.

Barcelona - 1994 Champions League Final

Johan Cruyff is no stranger to a show of confidence. But his team's preparation for the 1994 Champions League final against AC Milan was undermined by this self-belief.

Much like the 1888 Preston side, the story goes that Cruyff posed for a photo with the trophy before the match, but his comments proved more destructive. Having lifted the European Cup two years prior at Wembley, and were four days removed from wrapping up their fourth consecutive La Liga title, Cruyff was in a confident mood.

Speaking ahead of the game, he said: "Barcelona are favourites. We’re more complete, competitive and experienced than at Wembley. Milan are nothing out of this world.”

But instead of inspiring his team, this encouraged their opponents who romped to a 4-0 win.

Milan's defender Alessandro Costacurta later revealed: "Cruyff's words were inappropriate and really stuck with the team. Had they not been, things might have been different." Cruyff's assistant Carles Rexach admitted that Barcelona 'didn't prepare properly for the game' and went into the final 'with no concentration'.