What are the biggest football fixtures that have never taken place?

“What are the ‘biggest’ (competitive) international and club matches that have never occurred, ie the teams that have never played each other competitively?” asks David Mills.

Pete Tomlin kicks things off for us with the kind of researched answer that could put us out of work. “I have been looking at international matches and used the current Fifa rankings to decide which are the biggest matches that have not occurred, depending on the teams’ current placings,” he begins. “It also depends what you class as competitive – there are tournaments such as the Confederations Cup, Umbro Cup, etc which may be seen as competitive by some but are not officially.

“Taking all of this into account, I have calculated that the biggest men’s international match to have (surprisingly) not occurred is Argentina (No 1) v Portugal (No 6): total ranking = 7. The teams have met eight times since 1928 but all fixtures have been classed as friendlies. They played each other in 1964 in something called the Taça das Nações (Little World Cup), which was played in Brazil to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Brazilian Football Confederation. They also met in 1972 in a friendly competition called the Brazil Independence Cup.

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“For men’s teams that have literally only played friendlies against each other, the biggest international that has never happened is France (No 2) v USA (No 11): total ranking = 13. They have only played each other four times, France winning three of them. For teams that have never met at all, the biggest game would be Argentina (No 1) v Senegal (No 20): total ranking = 21. This is matched by Croatia (No 10) v USA (No 11): total ranking = 21. The only time the two teams met was in Croatia’s first ever international fixture which was a friendly in October 1990, Croatia winning 2-1. However, Fifa does not recognise this match as an official international.

“The highest-ranked team that England’s men have never played against is Bolivia (No 85). Wales’s highest missing opponent is Morocco (No 13), for Northern Ireland it’s Japan (No 18) and for Scotland it’s Senegal (No 20).”

Lino Di Lorenzo also has an international offering: “Look no further than current European champions Italy (No 9) and Colombia (No 17). They have never met at all in the men’s game – friendlies included. And back in September 2013 they were ranked No 5 and No 4 in the world. Even that wasn’t enough it seems for them to want to share a pitch.”

Stephen Pollack Toal takes us back into men’s club football: “If we go by the metric of European Cup wins, then look no further than Nottingham Forest v Real Madrid, who, despite having a combined 16 European Cups between them, have oddly never met in a competitive match.”

Dirk Maas has a few other European big-hitters to add: “If you look at renowned teams with more than 40 years of European Cup football experience, it’s a surprise that these teams never met competitively: Milan v Valencia, Liverpool v Feyenoord, Atlético Madrid v Rangers, Valencia v Benfica, Juventus v PSV and PSV v Celtic.”

A-B-C-D sub chain

“We all know about subs-being-subbed-off situations (Player A is replaced by player B, who is later replaced by player C), but are there examples of longer chains where player C is then replaced by player D, player D is replaced by player E, and player E is replaced by player F?” tweets (we’re still calling it that) Doremus Schafer.

“The NY Red Bulls created an A-B-C-D sub chain in this year’s Open Cup loss to Cincinnati,” writes Dan Ryazansky. “In the 69th minute, Cory Burke replaced Dru Yearwood. After Dante Vanzeir tied the game in the second minute of added time, Burke got concussed in the 100th minute – in extra time – so he was replaced by Matt Nocita, making his first-team debut. That concussion gave NY an extra substitute, the seventh of the match (the sixth was added for extra-time). As the game was headed for penalties, manager Troy Lesesne decided that usual starting goalkeeper Carlos Coronel would make a better spot-kick taker than the lanky Nocita, so Coronel came on with seconds to go. Coronel was supposed to take the sixth, but Cincinnati made their first five penalties, so it never got there. So, Yearwood (A) > Burke (B) > Nocita (C) > Coronel (D).”

White Hart pain

Spurs have conceded two second-half injury time goals in their last two games. Has this ever happened before?” wonders Jeremy Cartwright.

Huw Richards explains why we don’t have to go far to find another team who have suffered the same heartbreak. “At the other end of White Hart Lane you’ll find Haringey Borough. They led 1-0 after 90 minutes in their Isthmian Premier games at Hastings on 9 September and at home to Hornchurch on 23 September, but lost both 2-1. They did play an FA Cup tie in between, but these were consecutive league fixtures, and helps explain why they’re firmly stuck in the relegation places.”

Mind the (GD) gap

“After 15 games, Hornchurch were top of the Isthmian League Premier Division with a goal difference of +34. The team in second, Enfield, were +11. Has there ever been a bigger difference at this stage of the season?” asks Jack Hart.

“The answer is ‘Yes’ with regards to the top four English divisions,” writes Chris Roe. “But we’ve got to go way back to the very first season in 1888-89, when after 15 matches the goal difference difference between Preston in first (+43) and Aston Villa in second was 24 (+19). The only three instances of it being more than 20 were all a very long time ago. However, a good recent example is that in 2000-01 Manchester United had a goal difference (+29) that was 19 more than Arsenal (+10) after 15 matches.”

Knowledge archive

“In the recent Nike TV adverts, one player crouches down while another uses his back to jump off for a header,” wrote Chris Liptrot in May 2002. “Would this actually be allowed on the field of play?”

You wouldn’t think so – but, strangely, there were no laws against it in the official rules of the game. However, a referee could decide to blow up for a foul.

“Such a scenario is not specifically mentioned in the laws of the game, so there’s no hard and fast rule on it,” a puzzled Fifa spokesman Andreas Herron told the Knowledge. But after consulting his colleagues – and leaving us to listen to Fifa’s turgid anthem for five minutes – he added: “Although there’s nothing against it, it would be up to the referee who could use his discretion and decide it was dangerous play.” Of course, as Andreas pointed out, would a player really go to the trouble of jumping on someone’s back when they could go for the ball themselves?


Can you help?

“What’s the first instance of a plane flying a banner above a football ground?” muses Alan Sheppard. “Does anything predate the ‘staying down forever’ banner flown above Burnley’s ground by a group of Blackburn fans in 1991? It’s briefly referenced here.”

“Brazil’s defeat to Argentina in a World Cup qualifier last week claimed two records: the first time Brazil had lost three consecutive qualifiers, plus the first time Brazil had ever lost a home World Cup qualifier. Are there other countries/clubs with similar/more impressive records?” wonders Ant Gee.

“On Sunday, a draw in Tottenham v Aston Villa would have left the top five Premier League teams on 30-29-28-27-26 points,” notes Christopher Zorn. “What are the longest and highest such ‘sequences’ of points that have occurred?”