Ipswich Town at the World Cup

Jonas Knudsen and Bartosz Bialkowski have been confirmed in the Denmark and Poland squads respectively for the upcoming World Cup in Russia, meaning this will be the first time since 2002 that two current Ipswich players have gone to football’s biggest tournament. It also means they join an exclusive group of Tractor Boys that have represented their nation at a World Cup.

2010 – Tommy Smith (New Zealand)

Despite being only 20, Smith played every minute of the All Whites’ only World Cup campaign to date in South Africa. He committed himself to New Zealand once their qualification had been confirmed late in 2009, despite representing England at under-17 and under-18 level. He made his international debut against Mexico in March 2010 and had nailed down his place in the side by the summer. He started at left-back against Slovakia and Italy, and played on the left of a back three in their final game against Paraguay. Incredibly, they drew all three games but this wasn’t enough to see them qualify for the second round.

2002 – Matt Holland (Republic of Ireland), Amir Karic (Slovenia)

Karic will not go down as an Ipswich legend – he only made three League Cup appearances for the club – but he did rack up an impressive 64 caps for Slovenia, representing his country at the 2002 World Cup. He played every minute of their ultimately disappointing campaign, losing to Spain, South Africa and Paraguay. He had also previously appeared at Euro 2000, and continued to be an international regular until 2004. His career at Town was to end shortly after the World Cup – his contract was terminated by mutual agreement in October 2002, after which he signed for Maribor in his home country.

Matt Holland had a rather more successful time, both in Suffolk and the Far East representing the Republic of Ireland. He scored a long-range equaliser in their opening game against Cameroon, and played the full ninety against Germany and Saudi Arabia. Ireland finished runners-up in their group to qualify for the second round, where they were sadly knocked out by Spain on penalties. Holland missed their second penalty in a 3-2 loss, and that was to be his last kick of a ball in a major tournament. He announced his international retirement after Ireland failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup, having made 49 appearances and scored five goals.

1994 – Bontcho Guentchev (Bulgaria)

Guentchev only made a dozen international appearances, spread out between 1990 and 1996, but he did get the chance to represent Bulgaria at the 1994 World Cup and be part of arguably their best-ever side. After getting hammered by Nigeria 3-0 in their opening game, a Hristo Stoichkov-inspired Bulgaria thumped Greece 4-0 and beat Argentina 2-0 to advance. Guentchev made his first tournament appearance in their second round penalty shootout win over Mexico, coming on in extra time and scoring the second penalty. He was also introduced in stoppage time in his side’s stunning quarter-final defeat of Germany, and replaced Stoichkov in their semi-final defeat to Italy. Guentchev was an unused sub in their 4-0 defeat to Sweden in the third place play-off.

1986 – Terry Butcher (England)

Butcher is the only Ipswich player to play at two World Cups, going on to play at a third in 1990 while playing for Rangers. He was a mainstay of the side by Mexico ’86, playing all three group games as England struggled to progress, losing to Portugal and drawing with Morocco before a Gary Lineker hat-trick brushed Poland aside. Butcher played the full ninety again as England comfortably beat Paraguay, before the infamous quarter-final with Argentina. This took his total World Cup appearances as an Ipswich player to nine, a record that is unlikely to be surpassed any time soon.

1982 – Mick Mills, Terry Butcher, Paul Mariner (England), John Wark, Alan Brazil, George Burley (Scotland)

Ipswich had a bumper group at Spain ’82, with half a dozen players selected from the team that just missed out on the title in the 1981/82 season. Captain Mick Mills and Paul Mariner started all three of England’s group games, defeating France, Czechoslovakia and Kuwait, while Terry Butcher started the first two. Mariner scored in the opening game against France.

In Group 6, John Wark started all three games for Scotland, scoring twice in the 5-2 win over New Zealand. Alan Brazil made two appearances but George Burley missed out altogether. A draw with the Soviet Union in the final group game condemned Scotland to an early exit from the tournament. Wark went on to make a total of 29 international appearances, Brazil played thirteen times between 1980 and 1983 and Burley won the last of his eleven caps in 1982.

England advanced to the second group stage where they faced West Germany and Spain. Two 0-0 draws saw England drop out of the tournament, with Butcher, Mills and Mariner completing both games. This meant Ipswich players made a total of 19 appearances across the tournament, comfortably the most of any World Cup to date. Mills didn’t make another England appearance after 1982, Mariner scored a total of 13 goals for England and Butcher would eventually retire from international football after Italia ’90, having won 77 caps.

1958 – John Elsworthy (Wales)

Elsworthy was a key part of Ramsey’s Ipswich side, winning four promotions and making over 400 appearances between 1949 and 1965. He was selected in the Wales squad for the 1958 World Cup, but sadly the Welsh FA could not afford to send a full squad to Sweden, so Elsworthy was left at home. Sadly he never won an international cap. His team-mates made it through the group stage but lost to Brazil 1-0 in the quarter-finals.

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