Alarm bells rang when one of my quizgoers said to me at Jenny Ha's the other day: "Here's a good pub quiz question for you:
Q. Which is the only country to be put out of the world cup without losing a game?
A. Scotland (in 1974)"
Apparently they'd heard it on the radio and is one of those 'facts' that forms an important part of Tartan Army legend: that only Scotland would be so unlucky as to be put out of the world's top footy tournament without even losing a game!
Of course, Scotland did become loss-less losers in 1974 (see table), drawing with Yugoslavia and Brazil after beating Zaire and going out on goal difference, but I had a niggling doubt about the unique-ness of the claim.
So, avoiding Wikipedia and going straight to the quite-handy Planet World Cup I conducted a wee bit of research and, sure enough, found a few other countries who can claim the loss-less loser distinction, including our old friends/foes from down South.
England (Spain 1982)
England also achieved this distinction of being losers who never lost in 1982. Aftter winning all three of their first phase games, England then ground out two 0-0 draws against Spain and West Germany in the second round. This was in the days when FIFA still had group phases beyond the first round, a tournament feature which was used in various World Cups prior to 1986 when knockout from the 2nd round onwards became standard.
Brazil (Argentina 1978)
Brazil themselves were loss-less losers in 1978 when they beat Peru and Poland in the second phase, only to draw 0-0 with hosts Argentina and go out on goal difference. Brazil went on to beat Italy in the 3rd place playoff, so despite a tournament record of W4, D3, L0 - they failed to become champs.
Cameroon (Spain 1982)
The teams above at least qualified for the second phase but Scotland aren't even the only team to go out of the first round without losing a game. In 1982 Cameroon 'achieved' this after three draws in the opening phase saw them going home on goal difference behind eventual winners Italy.
Belgium (France 1998)
Belgium cemented their reputation for boredom in 1998 by drawing all three group games with South Korea, Mexico and Holland. Three points wasn't enough and they were out.
New Zealand (South Africa 2010)
The Kiwis are the latest team to achieve this feat, a remarkable performance for 1000-1 outsiders who came above World Champs Italy in the group but finished behind Slovakia and Paraguay and went out after three draws.
So you see, Scotland are not quite unique in World Cup misfortune and, as a long-suffering Scotland fan, I find that kind of comforting.
And remember, quiz questions on the radio are apparently sometimes written by people without access to the internet! So, quizmasters, don't forget the golden rule:
Don't believe everything you hear!
There again, what was broadcast on the radio may have been right so don't forget the other golden rule:
Don't believe everything you hear in the pub!