Some occasions are just too important to miss. This summer's 2014 FIFA World Cup™ is a case in point, and the sense of expectation is even more acute if you happen to be Brazilian. As tournament ambassador Ronaldo remarked recently: "I'm a few years older and a few kilos heavier, but I would've loved to play a World Cup in my own country." He is hardly alone either, with local hopes rising that*A Seleção *can dominate the 20th edition of the competition and seal a sixth triumph in front of their own fans. It would be a fairytale outcome for many – but the history of the game is littered with dream scenarios that turned to nightmares.
Brazil supporters know that better than anyone, of course, with the wounds caused by their 1950 World Cup Final loss yet to fully heal. Despite the passage of time, Brazil's famous 2-1 defeat by Uruguay at the Maracana still looms large in the collective conscience, a bad memory that stubbornly refuses to fade. Scorer of the winning goal for Los Charrúas, Alcides Ghiggia certainly has not forgotten. "Only three people have ever managed to silence 200,000 spectators at the Maracana," he later said. "Frank Sinatra, John Paul II and me."
Ten years ago, Portugal suffered similar heartbreak on home soil. The gifted UEFA EURO 2004 hosts had managed to advance all the way to the showpiece, and their supporters were braced to celebrate a first ever major title – particularly as tournament minnows Greece were the only obstacle left in their path. Instead, Angelo Charisteas buried the winner in a 1-0 triumph for the Greeks that stunned the Estadio da Luz. "When the referee blew the final whistle, it was as if we'd turned the lights out," noted victorious captain Theodoros Zagorakis. "Then I had a constant grin on my face like an idiot for I don't know how long. It was unbelievable." Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portugal team-mates were left in tears, meanwhile.
The following season, Sporting Lisbon had a chance to begin the healing process when they contested the 2005 UEFA Cup final at their Estadio Jose Alvalade home. A year on from the EURO catastrophe in another part of the Portuguese capital, Sporting took on CSKA Moscow eager to give their fans reason to cheer, and they looked set to deliver when Rogerio Regis opened the scoring. Disaster lurked, however, with CSKA battling back to claim a 3-1 victory.
In fact, winning a European final at home is not as easy as it looks, as Bayern Munich can also attest. The script appeared to have been prepared for a Bayern triumph in the 2012 UEFA Champions League decider, but Chelsea ruined the fun at the Allianz Arena by prevailing 4-3 on penalties at the end of a 1-1 draw. Incredibly, the hosts were leading until Didier Drogba conjured an 88th-minute equaliser. They also won a penalty in extra time only for Petr Cech to pull off a save, before going ahead in the shoot-out when Chelsea missed their first spot kick.
It's one of the worst matches of my career. It was over after 20 minutes.
From the Blues to Les Bleus and another German stadium, where Zinedine Zidane ended his glittering career eight years ago. The French playmaker stepped out on to the Olympiastadion pitch in Berlin hoping for an idyllic farewell in the 2006 World Cup Final, and the match looked to be going according to plan when Zizou scored a superb Panenka-style penalty after just seven minutes. Marco Materazzi had other ideas, however, and after equalising for Italy, the defender provoked Zidane into earning a red card. France never recovered from his dismissal and their talisman's final outing ended in ignominy and defeat.
On a different scale, there was a bittersweet note to Paolo Maldini's retirement game as well. The elegant centre-back represented AC Milan throughout his career, defending the club's colours from 1978 to 2009, but a section of Rossoneri supporters saw fit to boo him when he graced the San Siro turf for the last time on 24 May 2009. The hosts had lost 3-2 to Roma, but what sparked the reaction were comments made four years previously, when Maldini had criticised fans for whistling at the end of Milan's Champions League final loss to Liverpool. "Thank you captain: an incredible champion on the pitch, but you lacked respect for those who loved you," read one of the banners on display that day.
Like Maldini at Milan, Argentinian forward Guillermo Barros Schelotto always felt a strong emotional bond to Gimnasia. He started out with the La Plata club before leaving in 1997 and racking up 16 titles at Boca Juniors and three with MLS side Columbus Crew, but in 2011 he opted to return home to see out his career. Then aged 38, and capped ten times by Argentina along the way, he hoped to help Gimnasia stave off relegation, a mission that came down to a must-win meeting with San Martin de San Juan in Schelotto's 593rd and final game as a professional. Gimnasia had lost 1-0 away against their rivals, but they could only manage a 1-1 draw at home and slipped into the second tier after 32 years in the elite. As the club waved goodbye to the top flight, their crestfallen striker hung up his boots for the last time.
As it happens, Schelotto already had experience of festivities turning sour from his time at Boca. Playing alongside the likes of Carlos Tevez and Nicolas Burdisso, the forward helped Los Xeneizes win the Copa Libertadores in 2003, after which players and supporters congregated at La Bombonera to revel in their triumph. Scheduled for a championship fixture away against Rosario at the same time, Boca thus sent a weakened team – and while celebrations raged in Buenos Aires, the club suffered one of their heaviest ever league defeats, going down 7-2.
More recently, 22 March this year was meant to be a day to remember for Arsene Wenger. The Arsenal manager was gearing up for his 1,000th match at the Gunners helm, and though his team's trip to Chelsea was undoubtedly memorable, losing 6-0 can hardly have been what he had in mind. "It's one of the worst matches of my career," the Frenchman said following the final whistle. "It was over after 20 minutes and it's a long game after that. You don't prepare all week for that kind of experience." As for Wenger's former club Monaco, they also endured an unhappy milestone when their 2,000th game in Ligue 1 ended in relegation in 2011, bringing to an end their 34-year stay in the top division.
It was a similar story for Real Madrid when they celebrated their centenary in 2002. Having booked a berth in the Copa del Rey final on 6 March, Los Merengues had given themselves a perfect opportunity to mark the event, but Deportivo La Coruna were not in a generous mood and spoiled the party with a 2-1 success. Sergio Gonzalez and Diego Tristan hit goals to leave the Santiago Bernabeu in shock, and although Raul reduced the deficit, the capital outfit could not salvage the game. By the time King Juan Carlos presented the trophy to Depor, the stadium was practically deserted.