Since the FIFA rankings first came into use in late 1992, things have never been easy for those stuck at the bottom. Prior to the rankings first taking effect, any previous disastrous runs of form or multiple thrashings were partly hidden from the wider world. Until the rankings came into being, nobody suffered the label of being the worst in the world. That changed as soon as the first table was published in December 1992.
The team with the ignominy of being highlighted as the inaugural official worst national team in the world was the Chinese Special Administrative Region of Macau. This dubious honour was bestowed on Macau in spite of recording a win over Chinese Taipei the previous June in Asian Cup qualification. When the subsequent rankings came out – not until August 1993 – Macau were joint-last with the Maldives, but it was Macau who would remain rooted to the bottom for nigh on the next three years as other teams came and went.
As if seeking to confirm this status, Macau set about proving their label correct in a particularly diligent and conscientious manner. In the Asian zone qualification for the 1994 World Cup, Macau succumbed to six defeats from six matches, and by no small margin either. A 10-1 thrashing by Kuwait would provide the only occasion Macau managed to score a goal, with a 9-0 loss to Malaysia and a couple of 8-0 defeats to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait added in for good measure.
They wouldn’t play again for almost three years, leaving them firmly stuck in the basement. Their return to action wasn’t hugely better, losing to their big brother, the People’s Republic of China, 7-1 in an Asian Cup qualifier. That was followed immediately by a 4-1 loss to Hong Kong. Same old, same old…
Their final match in that same qualifying campaign saw Macau face up to the relative giant of the Philippines; a country with vastly greater population resources than themselves. With a population of a shade over 600,000, Macau is a crowded, cluttered, city-state. Squeezed into an area little over 31km2 it can lay claim to being the most densely populated region in the world.
But the Philippines are another beast altogether. With a population nearing 100 million it is over one hundred and sixty times the size of Macau. They also had a footballing history of sorts. As a Spanish colonial outpost, it became one of Asia’s earliest practitioners of football in the first half of the twentieth century and accordingly they were one of Asia’s strongest.
Times had changed however, and when the two sides clashed in early February 1996 in Kowloon, Hong Kong, they were fighting over last place in their group; any hopes of qualification having swiftly faded as both suffered heavy defeats. Within two minutes of the start of this clash of the struggling, Macau had taken the lead through Paulo, but things remained close for the rest of the opening half.
A crazy ten minute spell midway through the second half decided the outcome though. Macau would score three times in that brief flurry, also finding the time to concede one as well. The decisive blows had been struck, however, and after the coup-de-grace was added in the closing minutes to make it 5-1, Macau could celebrate the biggest win in their history and with it, a rise from the ignominy of being the worst in the world.
Their long-standing spell at the bottom in the early years of football’s meritocracy had come to an abrupt end with this impressive 5-1 win. From a worst in the world point of view, it was a win that was achieved with by far the biggest magnitude of population differential that a worst in the world team has ever managed.
Some way to secure their rise from the bottom.