World Cup Hammers

Continuing our regular series on this summer, we look back at West Ham United players who have made an impact at the World Cup finals over the years. Today we feature the three tournaments in the 1990s - a relatively barren period for West Ham United players at the World Cup - but still memorable in it's own right...

Languishing in the second flight, it was little surprise that West Ham United had only one representative at Italia 90.

But there was some astonishment at Upton Park when goalkeeper Ludek Miklosko headed off home to meet up with the Czechoslovakian squad…driving a sponsored Nissan Bluebird every mile of the way in aid of Barnardo's!

Ludo neither sought nor got any charity in the World Cup finals, though, as Jan Stejskal stood between the sticks to help the Czechs advance to the quarter-finals, before losing to eventual winners, West Germany.

The Germans also put paid to the chances of a fourth-placed England squad containing future Hammers Peter Shilton and Stuart Pearce with an infamous semi-final victory on penalties.

A Republic of Ireland side fielding ex-Hammer Ray Houghton saw off a Romanian squad boasting future Upton Park signings Ilie Dumitrescu and Florin Raducioiu in a second round penalty shoot-out, only to lose to hosts, Italy, in a Rome quarter-final, while John Harkes soon scurried home to the United States following a hat-trick of Group A defeats in the opening round.

Harkes, however, enjoyed better fortune in the 1994 tournament as Team USA played hosts to the world.

But having come so close to reaching the final fours years earlier, England had, disappointingly, even failed to qualify after being nudged out by Norway and Holland.

Playing in their own back yard, the Americans made it to the second round where they lost to champions-elect Brazil. Houghton and former striker David Kelly also made it to the last 16 with the Republic of Ireland before losing to Holland.

Elsewhere, the goal-scoring exploits of Raducioiu (4) and Dumitrescu (2) helped the Romanians to the quarter-finals before losing to Sweden.

The USA 94 challenge of future Hammers Rigobert Song and Marc Vivien-Foe soon fell by the wayside Stateside, and they were quickly heading back to Africa after Cameroon finished bottom of Group B in the first round.

And the 17-year-old Song also bagged the unwanted record of becoming the youngest player ever to be sent off at the finals.

"It was only a good, strong tackle," he later protested after baulking Brazil's Bebeto.

Sadly, a broken leg forced the ill-fated Foe out of France 98 at the eleventh-hour and that scuppered a move to Manchester United before Harry Redknapp swooped to sign the midfielder - who tragically died while playing for his country in 2003, aged just 28.

But team-mate Song again found himself on an early plane home after Cameroon's Indomitable Lions failed to roar and found themselves finishing bottom of Group B, behind Italy and a Chilean side fielding future Hammer Javier Margas, with barely a whimper.

Scotland's Christian Dailly - another future Upton Park signing - was also eliminated at the first round stage but former defender Marc Rieper helped Denmark into the quarter-finals before losing to beaten finalists, Brazil, who had also knocked out Chile.

West Ham United's only representative was 19-year-old Rio Ferdinand, who senstaionally made it into Glenn Hoddle's squad ahead of Paul Gascoigne, Dion Dublin and Phil Neville.

"This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me," beamed the Hammers' defender. "There are so many many who have never made it to the finals and I'm so lucky to have the chance. I know I won't be first choice for a starting place but whatever happens it's going to be a great experience for me just being there and I am going to make the most of it."

In fact, Rio would have to wait another four years for his World Cup chance.

Meanwhile, ex-hammer Paul Ince and future Upton Park signings, Teddy Sheringham and Rob Lee, helped England to finish second in Group G behind Dumitrescu's Romania, who were eliminated in the second round by a Croatian side which included Slaven Bilic, Igor Stimac and six-goal Golden Boot winner, Davor Suker.

But ex-Hammer Bilic was to enter the World Cup Hall of Shame after feigning injury to get Laurent Blanc sent-off in a semi-final defeat and that dismissal sadly cost the veteran French skipper the chance to lift the trophy following the hosts' 3-0 victory over the ailing Ronaldo's Brazil.

Back home, another red card also caused national outrage, when an impetuous David Beckham became Public Enemy No.1 after he was dismissed in the second round needle match with Argentina, who went on to beat England 4-3 on penalties after Ince and David Batty missed from the spot.

Yet, in an ironic twist, Beckham would be the England hero against the South Americans in 2002…

by Steve Blowers, author of Nearly Reached The Sky - West Ham United 1989-2005, available now in the club store.