Hoodoos and bogey teams

As any pundit will tell you, making predictions is an inexact science. Sometimes even the big boys lose, and over the years more than one side has developed the knack of thwarting the same opponent over and over again, defying logic and the experts in the process. A hex, Indian sign, or psychological barrier; call it what you will, the fact remains there is just no explaining some of the sport's longstanding curses, as FIFA.com reveals.

Any outfits with designs on becoming a bogey team have to nurture the ability to trip up the same opponent on a regular basis, regardless of their status in the global pecking order, personnel and form. And who better to have a psychological hold over than the all-powerful Brazilians, who have not one but two adversaries they would rather not come up against?

The first team to give the Auriverdes nightmares on the international scene were Uruguay. Victorious in the first meeting between the two in 1916, the Charruas enjoyed regular success over their northern neighbours for the next 30 years, even dishing out a 6-0 defeat in 1920. But it was at the 1950 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, in front of 200,000 baying fans at the Maracana, that the Uruguayans registered their most damaging defeat of the Seleçao, plunging an entire nation into despair with a shock 2-1 win in the deciding game of the Final Pool to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy.

Even in recent years, the Celeste have more than held their own in one of the continent's classic rivalries, going unbeaten against the Canarinhas between 1999 and 2007. Indeed, the Brazilians needed penalties to edge past their old rivals in the semi-finals of the 2004 and 2007 Copa Americas before squeaking home 2-1 in a South Africa 2010 qualifying match last November.

More blues for Brazil
While the Sky Blues of Uruguay have caused Brazil their fair share of heartache, the Dark Blues of France have also held the Indian sign over the five-time world champions. On the receiving end of a 5-2 reverse at Sweden 1958, Les Bleus have since grown accustomed to edging out the South Americans in official competitions, registering some of the finest achievements in French sporting history in the process.

From the final of the 1984 Olympic Football Tournament through to Zinedine Zidane's majestic string-pulling in the quarter-finals at Germany 2006, France have dashed Brazilian hopes on the big stage time and time again, most gloriously in the 3-0 triumph at the final of France 1998. Further high points include Michel Platini and his cohorts prevailing in a dramatic quarter-final at Mexico 1986 and the semi-final success at the 2001 Confederations Cup, yet more proof that when it comes to combating Gallic flair, Brazil still have much to learn.

Yet the French have a bête noire of their own, having developed an unhappy habit of slipping up against Germany when the chips are down. Twice the duo have met in FIFA World Cup semi-finals and twice the Germans have emerged victorious, blocking their path in 1982 and again in 1986.

The mighty Mannschaft acquired such a reputation for coming good on the big occasion that after losing out to them in a heartbreaking semi-final at Italia 1990, England striker Gary Lineker memorably declared: "Football is a simple game; 22 men run around a pitch for 90 minutes and the Germans always win."

One country who have made a regular point of disabusing that notion, however, are Italy. The Azzurri have crossed swords with the Germans four times in the world's showpiece football tournament, recording one draw and three wins on the way, the last of them coming in a breathless semi-final clash at Germany 2006.

Greece and the Portuguese Maracanazo
One European outfit with more than their fair share of bogey sides are Portugal. France grabbed a place in the final of the 1984 UEFA European Championship at the expense of the Lusitanians and repeated the trick in 2000. Luis Figo and Co hoped to exact revenge when the two met in the last four at Germany 2006 but that man Zidane had other ideas, stroking home a penalty to see Les Bleus through.

Portugal's record against the Italians is even less impressive. In the 11 meetings since the Portuguese last tasted victory on 22 December 1976, the Azzurri have racked up 10 wins and a draw.

And just as the Brazilians tasted bitter defeat on home soil against Uruguay back in 1950, so Portugal suffered their own Maracanazo at the hands of Greece in the final of UEFA EURO 2004. Widely expected to put the Greek upstarts in their place, Luiz Felipe Scolari's men fluffed their lines on their big night. They had been warned, however. In a warm-up match a few months before the tournament the Portuguese needed a last-minute penalty to scrape a 1-1 draw, and in the opening game of the finals the hosts slipped to a surprise 2-1 defeat to Otto Rehhagel's well-drilled outfit.

And the hex seems set to continue. Only last month the two came face to face yet again, with the European champions adding another win in a now-predictable rivalry, courtesy of two superb free-kicks from former-Benfica man Giorgos Karagounis.

Victims turned executioners
Thankfully for Portugal, there is one team they invariably come good against. England succumbed to Scolari's charges at EURO 2004 and Germany 2006, both times in the quarter-finals and both times on penalties, with goalkeeper Ricardo twice standing tall against the English to continue their shootout hoodoo.

Another duo to play out the roles of hunter and the hunted are Spain and Denmark, the Spaniards proving too good for the Scandinavians at the 1920 Olympic Football Tournament, the 1984 European Championship, Mexico 1986, and the Euros again in 1988.

And down in Africa, Egypt seem to have the measure of Côte d'Ivoire. Ten meetings between the two at the Africa Cup of Nations have yielded a solitary win for the Elephants in 1990, with the Pharaohs emerging triumphant on the nine other occasions, most notably in the 2006 final and the semi-final of Ghana 2008, when the Ivorians were firm favourites to advance.

So there you have it. Whether by pure coincidence, a psychological edge or tactical superiority, every team seems to have both a favourite victim and dreaded adversary. But in a sport where logic is often turned on its head, even the most downtrodden of victims can dream of one day exacting the sweetest revenge on their eternal tormentors.