Of all the players in Aston Villa's squad, only three are going to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Brad Guzan will go as the backup keeper for the United States, while Ron Vlaar is expected to get some minutes for the Netherlands. The newest Villan, Philippe Senderos, is part of Switzerland's 23-man squad that is going to Brazil. Christian Benteke most likely would have gone if not for his injuries and Chris Herd was getting a look for Australia before personal problems caused him to take a break from football. Other than that, the Villa squad is a collection of players whose teams didn't qualify and those who never got picked during qualifying.
But what have Aston Villa players done at past World Cups? This edition of Holte History aims to find out.
In 2010, Villa had four players in South Africa. Guzan went as a reserve keeper for the US. The other three were part of England's squad. James Milner was still a Villa player during the World Cup but wasn't for very long after the tournament. Emile Heskey was there doing Emile Heskey things. The third? Stephen Warnock. After his solid 09-10 season, Warnock got to go as reserve left back. He didn't play a minute and turned to crap pretty much as soon as he got back off the plane in England following their elimination.
Three Villans appeared at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Ulises de la Cruz started all of Ecuador's matches as they made it to the round of 16. De la Cruz would be sold to Reading in August of 2006. Cult hero Olof Mellberg was Sweden's captain for the tournament as they also made it to the last 16. The third player was Milan Baros. Baros' only appearance was in the Czech Republic's loss to Italy in the third group stage game. Baros' tournament went much like his Villa career. (But Baros did help Villa land John Carew, so thanks Milan!)
Five Villans were there in 2002 in Japan and South Korea, one of which was his team's captain. Olof Mellberg was there but he was not captain of Sweden back then. Steve Staunton was in his second spell at Villa when he captained Ireland to the round of 16. Staunton retired from international football after the tournament and later managed Ireland. That didn't go well. Darius Vassell was there for England because Sven-Goran Eriksson. Bosko Balaban was in the Croatia squad but did not play. And then there was Alpay Ozalan. Ozalan helped Turkey to a third place finish, was courted by big clubs and then proceeded to have Villa fans turn against him. Oy.
Just two went to the World Cup in 98. Gareth Southgate played in England's tournament-opening 2-0 win over Tunisia, but would not play again until he came on in the 71st minute in their quarterfinal loss to Argentina. The other was Yugoslavia's Savo Milosevic who also started the opening game but did not get another start.
It's arguable that the World Cup in which Villa made the biggest impact was 1994 in the USA. All four Villans that went played for one country: Ireland. Staunton was there. Ray Houghton played in all but 32 minutes in the tournament and scored a goal against Italy. Andy Townsend was Ireland's captain and helped lead them to the round of 16. But of course there was Paul McGrath. 34-year old McGrath played every minute for Ireland, which included a memorable 1-0 win over Italy, in which McGrath was incredible.
The Ireland squad in 1990 featured two Villa players. McGrath was also there for this one, as was fake Irishman Tony Cascarino. While Ireland made it to the quarterfinals, it was Villa and England's David Platt who had the most memorable moment. Platt's 120th minute volley sent England through to the quarterfinals.
The lone Villan in Mexico in 1986 was Steve Hodge who had only played one season at Villa and would then move to Tottenham later that year.
Despite winning the European Cup a few weeks earlier, only two Villans went to the 1982 World Cup. Peter Withe (he of "Oh, it must be, and it is" fame) was there but did not make an appearance. The other was Scotland's Allan Evans. He played in Scotland's opening 5-2 win over New Zealand but would not play again. Also in that '82 Scotland squad was Alex McLeish. Knowing that, I'm sure you'll now be surprised to know that Scotland did not advance past the first round.
To find the next World Cup Villans we now have to go back all the way to 1958. Curiously enough, no Aston Villa player played in the 62, 66, 70, 74 or 78 World Cups. In '58, Midfielder Vic Crowe was part of the Wales squad that made it to the quarterfinals. The other was also part of a team that made the quarterfinals. Peter McParland scored five goals for Northern Ireland, including both goals in a 2-2 draw with West Germany. McParland tied as the tournaments fourth highest goal scorer, behind some guy named Pele, Helmut Rahn, and Just Fontaine (who scored 13 goals, 13!).
And that's where the story ends. No Villa players took part in the five World Cups prior to 1958. Villa are by no means the club with the biggest impact on the World Cup, but several Villans have left a bit of a mark on the tournament's history.