A world of extreme joy and unbearable heartache, sport doesn’t leave much room for any middle ground emotions, but some stars (and fans) seem to endure even more pain than others. It’s those that seem to keep missing out on the elusive goal, cup or trophy that hurt us the most, so when they finally do achieve, it makes the victory that much sweeter.
1. Netherlands Football World Cup Squad
Their fluid passing and technical brilliance on the football pitch has seen the Netherlands’ team putting on some spectacular football. The nation brought the world ‘total football’ in the 1970s, a revolutionary approach to the game whereby an outfield player can take over the role of any other team player. However, despite Die Oranje’s contribution to the world of football, they have yet to take the illustrious World Cup held every four years.
In 1974 the Dutch lost 2-1 to arch-rival, West Germany, and in 1978, they once again came very close to winning, only to lose in extra time to an upstart Argentinian team. It was during this match that Dutch forward, Rob Rensenbrink, hit the post in the 89th minute, a shot which – had it been successful – would have most certainly won them the Cup. Since then, the Dutch have failed to qualify for the World Cup three times, with only a fourth-place finish in 1998, silver medal at the 2010 edition and third place in the most recent World Cup. Hopefully 2018 will be their year.
2. South African Cricket World Cup Team
Notorious for their incredible performances in-between World Cups but their unrelentingly poor luck during, the South African cricketing squad continues to try shake off its ‘choker’ title. In 1996 South Africa hadn’t lost a pool match but, come the quarter-final against the West Indies, Brian Lara pulled out all the stops. The following World Cup, Australian cricketer, Steve Waugh’s prophetic words to South Africa’s Herschelle Gibbs, ‘You just dropped the World Cup, mate’, would come to haunt the team after Gibbs inadvertently dropped a sure-fire catch with some misplaced showmanship. In 2003 they were knocked out in the group stages to Sri Lanka after South Africa miscalculated the Duckworth Lewis system. Australia once again proved too much for the South Africans in 2007 where South Africa lost the semi-final, only making it to the quarter-finals against New Zealand in 2011. They came up against New Zealand again in 2015, losing an epic semi-final in the last over.
3. Sharks Super Rugby Team
Although the Sharks have been one of the most successful competing sides in Super Rugby since its inception in 1996, they have yet to take the title. That same year the KwaZulu-Natal side reached the finals only to lose to the Blues at Eden Park, a losing pattern they repeated in another three Super Rugby finals until 2012. There was much excitement ahead of the 2014 season when 2007 World Cup-winning coach, Jake White, took over, however, they lost to the Highlanders at a home quarter-final.
4. Greg Norman
A good-looking, wealthy individual, Australian golfer, Greg Norman, has received some luck in life, however, when it comes to the golf course, his luck seems to run dry. During the 1986 Masters, Jack Nicklaus completed one of the greatest final rounds in the history of the sport, leaving Norman in his dust. That same year, he lost the 1986 US PGA Championship when Bob Tway holed a bunker shot on the 72nd hole. The following year he lost a play-off for the Masters when Larry Mize over-hit a chip on the 11th that was heading for the water until it hit the pin and dropped into the cup. Norman missed out on the 1989 Open Championship when a freak bounce sent his drive 330 yards into a pot bunker. The 1990 Nestle Invitational was just out of Norman’s reach when Robert Gamez holed out from 170 yards on the final hole and that same year saw him losing the USF&G Classic when David Frost holed a bunker shot on the final hole. 1996 was no better as he was simply unable to play a good round of golf and was defeated by Nick Faldo. Although Norman ended his career with two Majors, this doesn’t count for much when he spent an incredible 331 weeks as the World Number One golfer.
5. Nigel Mansell
The English F1 driver was brilliant at his chosen career but just seemed destined for failure through a series of blunders. While on track to winning the 1986 championship, he suffered a blow out with 19 laps left of the season. A year later he missed out again because of a loose wheel nut that cost him the Hungarian Grand Prix; a missed gear change cost him the Italian Grand Prix and a qualifying accident in Japan forced him out of the final two races and let his team-mate Nelson Piquet win the championship. This up and down trend continued until 1992 when Mansell eventually managed a (then) record nine wins.
6. Mary Decker
Although this American running star dominated women’s middle distance running for years – setting 17 world records and winning several World Championship golds – she never achieved at the coveted Olympics. In 1976 a stress fracture prevented her from competing and the 1980 Moscow Olympics was boycotted by the United States. She was on track for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles but unfortunately a collision with South Africa’s Zola Budd left her with a hip injury that prevented her from getting that Olympic gold.
7. Michael Ballack
The German footballer has proved the superstition that the number 13 is bad luck. In 2002, the midfielder’s team finished second in the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen, and his club side was runner-up in the DFB Pokal Cup and the Champions League. That same year, although he played a pivotal role in Germany reaching the World Cup final, he missed the defeat to Brazil because of a suspension. In 2008, playing for Chelsea Football Club, his team finished as runners-up in the Premier League, Champions League and League Cup, with Germany – captained by Ballack – losing to Spain at Euro that same year.
8. Goran Ivanisevic
A truly inspiring story of hope and determination, the Croatian tennis star is the only person to have won the Wimbledon men’s single’s title playing as a wildcard. This achievement took place in 2001 against Australia’s Patrick Rafter, before which Ivanisevic was ranked 125th in the world. Having reached the finals in 1992, 1994 and 1998, only to be knocked out by tennis greats, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, the Croatian’s career seemed to be tanking when he entered the 2001 Wimbledon Championships. However, he earned his wildcard placing and won over hearts at the same time.
9. Ernie Els
Although nobody can argue that the South African golfer is a failure, he has missed out on a number of wins, primarily because he was up against golfing legend, Tiger Woods. For a player of his extraordinary talents, ‘The Big Easy’ has only won four Majors, the US Open in 1994 and 1997 and the British Open in 2002 and 2012. There have been a shocking number of near-misses for Els. He was runner-up at the Masters in 2000 and 2004; he tied second at the US Open in 2000, tied fifth in 2003 and was third in 2010. In the Open Championship, he tied second in both 1996 and 2000, tied third in 2001, was second in 2004, third in 2006 and tied fourth in 2007. In the USPGA Championship, he tied third in 1995, tied fifth in 2003, tied fourth in 2004, finished outright third in 2007 and tied sixth in 2009. That’s a whopping 16 near-misses in 15 years. Unfortunately for Els, golfing phenomenon Tiger Woods happened to be peaking at the same time.