IT was a cruel question prompted by a Sheffield United striker having a particularly bad time of it one sunny afternoon at Bramall Lane.
“Marcelo has a unique place among footballers. What is it?” we were asked in the press box during a lull in play.
“He’s the only Brazilian who can’t trap a ball,” was the droll answer from the journalist who posed it of the player who cost the Blades £400,000 from Alaves in 1997.
Perhaps a more pertinent but similar poser could be asked regarding Uli Stielike’s unique place in World Cup history.
For he is the only German to miss a World Cup shoot-out penalty and that came in their first such match decider when the Real Madrid player saw his effort saved by France goalkeeper Jean-Luc Ettori.
The Frenchman, in fact, is the only goalkeeper to even get a hand to one of those 18 German spot-kicks taken against France in 1982, Mexico in 1986, England in 1990 and Argentina in 2006.
Germany look a safe bet to win any shoot-out they are involved in, while England are 80-1 to both win and lose the World Cup final in a penalty shoot-out!Rob Gledhill
England’s Peter Shilton, in fact, went the right way every time in 1990 but to no avail.
German goalkeepers have not been too shabby either when it comes to actually saving the kicks in shoot-outs.
They have conceded just 10 of the 18 taken against them, saving seven with England’s Chris Waddle blazing over the bar in the 1990 semi-final.
The Germans have, however, lost a penalty shoot-out in a major tournament against Czechoslovakia in the final of the 1976 European Championships.
England are the worst team at World Cup penalty shoot-outs, having lost all three they have been involved in.
Italy have also lost three times, including the 1994 final when star player Roberto Baggio famously blasted the ball over the bar to give Brazil the trophy 3-2 on spot-kicks after a goalless draw in Pasadena, California.
The Italians atoned in the 2006 final win against France, which had finished 1-1 after extra-time in Berlin.
Fabio Grosso made it an unassailable 5-3 to the Italians after David Trezeguet had missed France’s second.
So Germany look a safe bet to win any shoot-out they are involved in, while England are 80-1 to both win and lose the World Cup final in a penalty shoot-out!
That is a long way ahead and probably too fanciful to envisage but an early wager in the competition could see many backing Russia to progress beyond the first round.
They aim to get out of their group alongside one of Uruguay, Egypt and Saudi Arabia and it is worth noting that South Africa are the only host nation to have been eliminated in the first round.
Uruguay, Italy, England, France, Germany and Argentina have all won the World Cup as hosts, though it must be recalled that Brazil lost to Uruguay in 1950 and then crashed 7-1 to Germany in 2014 on their home turf.
England is the one country where all 23 players in the squad are from teams in the same league, while Sweden and Senegal are the two countries without any players from their home league.
Germany’s Thomas Muller is the only player in Russia with 10 World Cup goals to his name.
He is six behind leader and compatriot Marius Klose, who scored 16 in 24 matches.
England’s record World Cup goal-scorer is Gary Lineker with 10 in 12 games at the 1986 and 1990 tournaments.