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Who had the most error-strewn World Cup?

"Rob Green's howler against the USA got me thinking," writes Pete Bailey. "Which player has had the most error-strewn World Cup?"

sports Updated: Jun 23, 2010 13:20 IST

"Rob Green's howler against the USA got me thinking," writes Pete Bailey. "Which player has had the most error-strewn World Cup?"

Step forward the hapless Pierre Issa. The South Africa defender did not enjoy the most auspicious tournament in 1998. In the first game against France he scored two own-goals and missed his side's only clearcut chance at the other end and in Bafana Bafana's final group game against Saudi Arabia he conceded two penalties. Issa, however, protested his innocence: "For the first penalty I didn't touch the Saudi and on the second our arms and legs entwined and we fell over together."

The misery didn't stop there for Issa. He joined Watford in 2001 and in one of his meagre 15 games for the club he was carried off the field on a stretcher only to be dropped by the medical team.

The South Korean goalkeeper Hong Duk-yung is another contender. Hong conceded 16 goals in two games at the 1954 tournament a 7-0 defeat to Turkey had been preceeded by a 9-0 loss to Hungary though quite how many of those were down to goalkeeping incompetence is open to question.

Edge of their seats

"Fifa is apparently going to investigate the number of empty seats at games in South Africa," writes Sam Hale. "Is this the first World Cup seating crisis?"

Not quite, no. In 1966 hundreds of tickets were sold for Row I at Roker Park, Sunderland, which was due to host matches between Italy, Chile and the Soviet Union. One eagle-eyed fan, 70-year-old William Smith, on arriving at the ground to check out his viewpoint prior to the tournament was surprised to see rows H and J, but no I.

A letter followed, as was the style at the time, and the Roker Park doyens quickly had to call the painters in to reletter the rows.

Mistaken Identity

"The North Koreans naming a striker as their third goalkeeper got me thinking of the possibility of them attempting to sneak him on to the pitch at some stage," writesIain Peyton. "Have there been any cases of mistaken identity in previous World Cups?"

We're not aware of any such incidents on the pitch, but in 1966 the Guardian reported a case of mistaken identity elsewhere at the tournament:

"Two men from the Central Office of Information were lurking round the corridors of the Mexican team's hotel in Finsbury Park yesterday hoping to get some film of the players relaxing. Each time a swarthy-looking individual with a toothbrush moustache went by, the cameras whirred. Just in case.

"After three hours of inactivity they were in a somewhat despondent state. They had got pictures of the team eating their lunch; at least they guessed it was the team as none of them spoke English. 'In the end,' said the taller of the COI men, 'we went out into the street and photographed what we thought were some more players.' They turned out to be Swiss tourists.

And in 1970, with the teams playing in the opening game expected to line up in the Mexican heat for the 30-minute duration of the opening ceremony, the Soviet Union side cleverly protected their first XI by sending their reserves in to do the honours at the Azteca.

Knowledge archive

"According to my chums at Daejeon World Cup Stadium, the population of fellow host Seogwipo stands at a mere 85,000," wrote Martin Zatko during the 2002 tournament. "Does this make the Jeju Island community the tiniest host town in World Cup history?"

Sadly it doesn't, Martin. As Thomas Paternoster and others point out, Seogwipo is beaten hands down by Lens, which hosted several World Cup games (including Germany v Croatia) in France 98.

As was doubtless brought up billions of times by Des Lynam and co at the time, Lens is famous for having more seats in their 40,000-capacity Stade Felix-Bollaert than residents (30,000) in the town itself.

However, Lens might itself not be the smallest; several World Cup matches in Sweden 1958 were played in the small industrial towns of Uddevalla and Sandviken. As Peter Liljenberg points out: "It is difficult to find exact numbers on the population of the towns themselves, since Sweden is organised around counties. However, both Uddevalla and Sandviken county had about 40,000 inhabitants overall in 1958.

Modern statistics on Uddevalla show that about 60% of the inhabitants live in the town itself, so transposing those numbers to 1958 yields a population of about 25,000. Sandviken is a bit more dominating at 75% of the inhabitants in the county, so let's settle on Uddevalla being a likely candidate to being the smallest World Cup host town."

Daniel Wilson, meanwhile, suggests that Lugano might be the smallest-ever town to hold a World Cup finals match, as its population is currently 29,000 and "would almost certainly have been lower in 1954".

It certainly was, Daniel. Paul Joyce says: "I found on my bookshelves an ancient book called The Motoring Guide to Switzerland, which has no publication date but which gives the 1953 population figures for Swiss cantons. It also lists population figures for Swiss towns and villages which I assume must also come from 1953.

According to this book, Lugano had a population of 18,400 in 1953, way behind the other cities in the tournament (Basel 187,800, Bern 154,000, Geneva 154,300, Lausanne 110,800, Zurich 413,617).

First Published: Jun 23, 2010 12:55 IST