The relentless march of globalisation, more refined tactics and exposure to top European leagues has resulted in a gradual reduction in World Cup mismatches.
Ever since Saudi Arabia opened their 2002 campaign with an 8-0 surrender to Germany, minnows have tended to focus on making themselves hard to beat.
Sure, an occasional North Korea or Panama still slip into the finals wearing the out-of-place look of an antelope at Buckingham Palace.
But a certain charm has been lost from modern World Cups as sides pace themselves through the tournament rather than spank double figures past some exotic debutant.
So allow us to celebrate the dirtiest drive-by in World Cup history; Thierry Henry against Robbie Savage in the BBC’s Copacabana studio back in 2014.
Henry, who was still playing for New York Red Bulls, arrived in Brazil on punditry duty having stepped out of a Gucci catalogue; his suits were tailored, his teeth gleaming and his ‘je ne sais quos’ turned up to its eye-moistening peak.
If the Frenchman represented refinement and class, and fellow pundit Clarence Seedorf wasn’t lacking in both departments either, Savage ticked the box of those who wanted their World Cup coverage to mimic their local Weatherspoons.
Before the match between aristocratic France and unfancied Honduras, Savage was asked by Gary Lineker to explain how the Central Americans could steal an unlikely point.
Using his experiences with Premier League middleweights Leicester and Birmingham, the pony-tailed Welshman said: “Throughout my career, whenever I played against Thierry Henry, we used to go out there and be strong. Physical. We used to be like wasps around them.”
At this point, as he watched Savage wave his arms about like an air traffic controller accosted by a wasp, Henry failed to suppress a chuckle.
Shaking his head and slapping his thigh, Arsenal’s record goalscorer looked the spitting image of an Edwardian gentleman listening to his young daughter explain why women should have the vote.
“They used to bat us off, we were on them all the time,” Savage continued, unaware he’d just voluntarily dug his own grave. “We didn’t give them a minute to settle and you hated playing against that kind of team, didn’t you Thierry?”
With a delivery that redefined the concept of understatement, complete with a poker face and a modicum of arrogance, Henry uttered his immortal reply: “We managed.”
Amidst the deluge of laughter, Savage’s reaction was the most telling; like a dinner guest that’s had slightly too much red wine, Savage’s laughter was the loudest and most forced – and that’s without noting the hand-clap.
Henry had good reason to dismiss Savage’s claims. In the six Arsenal-Leicester matches between the pair, the Gunners won five and drew once with 18 goals scored and three conceded.
Never mind wasps, Leicester were the equivalent of a British earthquake where the only damage is a couple of plant pots and a toppled gnome. They must’ve barely registered during Henry’s imperial phase at Highbury.
Sure enough, France beat Honduras 3-0 with the losers only making their mark on French shins with a succession of malicious tackles.
But the mismatched opponents were Real Madrid and Barcelona when compared with the occupants of the BBC studio. Later in the tournament, Savage claimed to have lost a cotton bud in his Rio hotel and have no idea where it went.
It’s an eternal shame we were denied the opportunity to see Henry answer that question on live television.
By Michael Lee