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Aug 15, 2012

Heroes to zeroes

Norman Hubbard is ESPN's resident anorak. If you have any questions on football facts, statistics or trivia, please send them to asknorman@hotmail.com and he'll try to answer as many as possible.

Spain were eliminated from the 2012 Olympics without scoring a single goal. Is there any team that have suffered a similar fate (including World Cup/European Championships/Champions League/Europa League)? James Mbogo from Nairobi, Kenya, asked.

There are plenty of other examples, but perhaps the closest comparison for Spain, who had been among the favourites to win Olympic gold, came in the 2002 World Cup. France, winners in 1998 and reigning European champions, went out ignominiously without scoring, despite boasting a squad that included Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet, Djibril Cisse, Youri Djorkaeff and Sylvain Wiltord. Less memorably, except for those in the countries concerned, China and Saudi Arabia also failed to score in that World Cup.

In total, 19 teams have failed to score in the World Cup. They are: Bolivia and Belgium in 1930; Holland and Dutch East Indies in 1938; Bolivia in 1950; South Korea, Czechoslovakia and Scotland in 1954; El Salvador in 1970; Australia and Zaire in 1974; Canada in 1986; Greece in 1994; China, France and Saudi Arabia in 2002; Trinidad & Tobago in 2006 and Algeria and Honduras in 2010. Bolivia have the unfortunate distinction of being the only country to fail to score in two different World Cups.

The last team to fail to score in the finals of a European Championship was Denmark in 2000. Indeed, the only other team who did not register a goal in its current incarnation was Turkey in 1996. Soviet Union did not score in 1968, but as it was only a four-team tournament then - with a rather more arduous qualifying process - it seems harsh to put them in the same bracket as they were actually semi-finalists.

In addition, there was a notable near-miss when Greece, defending champions in 2008, failed to score in their first two games and only struck once before going out, bottom of their group.

It is also worth remembering that the precursors to the Champions League and the Europa League, the European Cup and the UEFA Cup, were knockout competitions for most of their history, so many a side lost a two-legged tie in the first round and exited without scoring.

One is particularly significant, however: in 1978-79, Liverpool, who had won the European Cup the previous two seasons, lost 2-0 on aggregate to Nottingham Forest in the first round and went out without scoring a goal in the defence of their trophy.

Have there been any players who have been relegated from the top division with their clubs and, in the same season, became champions of the world (winning the World Cup) or of Europe (winning the European Championship)? Foo Cheong from Tong asked

There have been. As far as I can determine, there are 11 in total, seven of them Italians and eight relegated from Serie A. However, there is a caveat that regular readers will recognise: the Calciopoli scandal of 2006 crops up often in this column and Juventus, who had been crowned champions, were relegated. They provided five of Italy's World Cup winners - Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Del Piero, Mauro Camoranesi and Gianluca Zambrotta - so technically they are an answer to the question.

But there are others whose sides were demoted for footballing reasons. Two come from another of the great Italian clubs: AC Milan went down in 1982, but Franco Baresi and Fulvio Collovati went on to be members of Enzo Bearzot's World Cup-winning squad. Collovati started the final and then moved to Inter while Baresi, like Buffon, Camoranesi and Del Piero 24 years later, played in Serie B the following year. In addition, the Argentine Pedro Pasculli played for Lecce, who propped up Serie A in 1986, and his country, who won that summer's World Cup.

Two of the other relegated continental or world champions may seem understandable: they played for countries that few expected to become officially Europe's best. Johnny Molby went down with Velje in his native Denmark and was a part of the Euro 1992-winning squad, though he did not take the field. Nikos Dabizas joined Leicester in January 2004, partway through a season that culminated in their relegation as well as Greece's triumph at Euro 2004.

The final one may be most surprising. Andreas Kopke won Euro '96 with Germany - indeed, by saving Gareth Southgate's semi-final shootout penalty, he helped ensure their place in the final - but only after Eintracht Frankfurt departed the Bundesliga. Indeed, they conceded 68 goals that season, suggesting Kopke was kept busy as he prepared for the European Championship.

Is Clarence Seedorf the first Dutch player ever to grace the Brazilian league? Henrik Chua asked

I passed this one over to ESPN contributor Chris Atkins, who is more of an expert on Brazilian football and who believes Seedorf is the first of the modern era, if not ever.

He writes: "As far as I can see, Seedorf is the first Dutch player to play in a major Brazilian league, but that is almost impossible to say for certain. There have been other Europeans, though, with Serbia's Dejan Petkovic the biggest name in recent years - having spent the majority of his late career (1997-2011) in Brazil after spells at Red Star Belgrade and Real Madrid. There have been a couple of French players in recent times - Aymen Souda, who is currently playing in the youth ranks of Second Division side Parana is one - and there was recently an Englishman, Seth Burkett, who spent some time at a small side called Sorriso in Mato Grosso state a couple of years ago. For major European influences, though, you would need to look back to the game's formative years in Brazil in the early part of the 20th century, predominantly amongst Italian and Portuguese immigrant communities.

"For the most part, though, foreign players in Brazil have been South American, with the growing economy making Brazil an ever more attractive destination for some of Uruguay, Argentina and Chile's biggest names. Seedorf, though, remains a special case in terms of high-profile Europeans. He is born in Surinam, a country in the north of South America that is heavily influenced by all aspects of Brazilian culture, and Seedorf himself has said he grew up watching Brazilian club football. Secondly and perhaps most importantly, Seedorf's wife is Brazilian and from Rio de Janeiro, which is said to have played a major part in the decision. Whilst there are some other players - French Guiana-born Florent Malouda being one - in similar situations, it seems that, for now at least, Brazil will continue to pull talent from its neighbours rather than see any sort of European influx."

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