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Agony Index: Losing the World Cup

German captain Michael Ballack acknowledged the home crowd after his team's semifinal loss to eventual champions Italy.
Marcus Brandt
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AFP/Getty Images
German captain Michael Ballack acknowledged the home crowd after his team's semifinal loss to eventual champions Italy.
After Italy's penalty-kick win, French defender Lilian Thuram, left, was consoled by teammate Patrick Vieira and Italian forward Alessandro Del Piero.
Patrick Hertzog / AFP/Getty Images
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AFP/Getty Images
After Italy's penalty-kick win, French defender Lilian Thuram, left, was consoled by teammate Patrick Vieira and Italian forward Alessandro Del Piero.
Few people chose Tunisia to advance past group play. But midfielder Medhi Nafti took his team's opening loss to Ukraine hard.
Fethi Belaid / AFP/Getty Images
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AFP/Getty Images
Few people chose Tunisia to advance past group play. But midfielder Medhi Nafti took his team's opening loss to Ukraine hard.

The World Cup has ended, with glory for Italy and heartbreak for France. But don't think for an instant that the French players are alone in their agony. There are hundreds of World Cup losers. And they're not all just quietly taking down flags from the bars and city squares, either.

In Brazil, which didn't make it into the final match for the first time in 16 years, fans burned a 22-foot-tall statue of starter Ronaldinho. The statue was erected two years ago, when FIFA selected his as the world's best player.

At the airport in Rio de Janeiro, players and even the head coach chose to use a private exit to avoid meeting angry fans. A chanting mob called the team's performance a fiasco and a disaster; the players, mercenaries and traitors.

Despite threats and emotional fans, no losing player has been killed this year. That fate befell Colombia's Andres Escobar, who scored a decisive own-goal for in the 1994 World Cup. He was assassinated shortly after returning to Colombia.

But hooliganism, bar fights -- and even deaths -- come with every World Cup, when losers can find themselves on the verge of a national identity crisis. A Web site that tracks World Cup-related fan deaths puts the tally at over 60 -- including a half-dozen who died from heart attacks in China. The country, which has steadily embraced soccer, didn't qualify for the Cup, four years after making its debut.

More high-stakes loser drama: Coaches are being replaced in Costa Rica, Serbia and Montenegro, Ivory Coast, Australia, Japan, and England. Losing coaches are still barely hanging on in the United States, Brazil and Mexico.

Referees haven't escaped the battlefield unscathed, either. They've been accused of treachery and bias by many losing team in a World Cup that has featured a rash of penalties and a dearth of scoring.

Refs handed out a record number of yellow cards -- for faking injuries, arguing about calls, and all around dirty play -- to go with a record number of red cards, for everything from stepping on an opponent's groin to smashing him in the face.

At least it's a beautiful game for the winner.

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