It can be easily argued that defending the World Cup is not like that of a league title. Unlike the league campaign,
the World Cup is a quadrennial event and one will agree that four years can be a long time in football.
Germany’s shock group stage exit in Russia 2018 ensured that the ‘Die Mannschaft’ joins the list of teams in
recent years that have failed to defend the world’s most coveted football prize. This is fast becoming a remarkable pattern as teams who won the last edition have so far given a timid and pitiful defence of the crown. One
might want to call it a kind of jinx that have affected every defending champion, particularly since the turn of
the millennium as they all have failed at the first hurdle, exiting the tournament very early and leaving their title defence in tatters.
Only two nations, Italy in 1938 and Brazil in 1962 have successfully defended the world cup. Recent title
holders have struggled heavily under the pressure of being world champions. Despite having star-studded
teams, good form going to the tournament and supposed relatively easy passage to the knock-out rounds.
We will take a look at their crashes after triumph.
FRANCE IN 2002
France won the World Cup on home soil in 1998 as a Zinedine Zidane headed double inspired a 3-0 win
over Brazil in Paris. ‘Les Blues’ also won the European Championship in 2000 & were one of the huge favourites
to clinch the trophy in Korea/Japan 2002. The Terranga Lions of Senegal who were playing their maiden game
at the global mundial beat France 1-0 in Seoul to take all three points.
It came as a huge shock to football followers around the world.
France played out a goalless draw against Uruguay in the following game and a 2-0 defeat to Denmark in the final group match sealed
their early & surprising exit. Despite having the likes of Thierry
Henry, David Trezeguet & Djibril Cisse in their attacking ranks,
they failed to score a single goal and recorded no win. A team that wowed the world just four years ago!
ITALY IN 2010
France were defeated on penalties by Italy in 2006 to win the world cup when Germany hosted. They gave
a very good outing in Germany & moved like a chain. The team played like a very functioning unit, tidying
both their defensive and attacking roles with teammates helping one another like a united fold on their way to clinching the prize. The ‘Azzurris’ were in South Africa 2010 as world champions but put up a poor outing.
Italy drew 1-1 against Paraguay in their opening group match & another 1-1 draw against New Zealand followed.
Slovakia claimed a famous a 3-2 win over Italy to see the title holders bow out. Coach Marcelo Lippi could not
inspire his team to back to back triumphs as they did four years earlier. Italy finished bottom of their group
with New Zealand also finishing above them!
SPAIN IN 2014
Italy’s poor title defence saw Spain won the world cup in South Africa 2010 as the tournament was hosted
for the maiden and so far, the only time on African soil. Spain were at a time of international dominance as
their World cup triumph in South Africa was sandwiched between two European championship successes.
Andreas Iniesta scored the solitary goal in extra time against the Netherlands as Spain shook off their
‘perennial underachievers’ tag to seal the title in South Africa. However, the team’s performance in Brazil 2014
was far from convincing as Spain couldn’t get past the group stage. A catastrophic display against the Netherlands
in their group opener saw them humbled 5-1 in Salvador, Brazil.
The game would be fondly remembered for Robin van Persie’s
stunning header as the Netherlands claimed what can be called a
sweet revenge in clear fashion! Chile also rubbed salt on the injury
with a 2-0 victory over the ‘La Roja’ in their next match, meaning
they were out of the World Cup even before their final match.
The 3-0 victory over Australia in their last group match was merely for confidence & pride restorations. The Spaniards went home early as their title defence was left in tatters despite boasting of some of the best footballers
in their squad!
GERMANY IN 2018
In 2014, Germany humiliated Brazil 7-1 in front of their own fans in the semi finals before beating Argentina
1-0 in the final thanks to a Mario Gotze effort in extra time. The Europeans were crowned champions in Brazil
and the holders headed to Russia 2018 as one of the hot favourites. Joachim Low, who guided to team to the
victory in Brazil had seen his team reach the semi finals of every international tournament since he took over in 2006. His ‘young’ Germany squad also lifted the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia and expectations were high coming to the World cup proper. (It’s worthy to note that no Confederations Cup winner has ever won the world
cup the following year!) Germany’s shocking group stage exit from Russia saw them eliminated from the
tournament at this stage for the first time in 80 years and before the quarter finals in 40 years! The shock started when a Hirving Lozano strike condemned them to an opening 1-0 defeat against Mexico. They had Toni Kroos
to thank as his last gasp free kick sealed a 2-1 comeback win over Sweden in the next group match but the cracks were evident. Germany needed a victory over South Korea in their final group encounter to seal qualification to
the next round. The Koreans who had been without a point and on their way out put the reigning champions to the sword as they sealed a memorable 2-0 victory and once again, the title holders were out!
Indeed, the Koreans made Joachim Low and his side had their
heads hung low!
From France in 2002 to Germany in 2018, it looks like this is a
plague that has continued to befall world cup holders in the last
two decades! Only Brazil (2002 winners) managed to get out of the group stage at the following edition
(Germany 2006). And looking at countries on this list, one might also argue that teams, especially from
Europe are beginning to make this a habit. Many factors might be held responsible for this unwanted record,
ranging from over confidence, selection errors, an aging squad, motivation or the difficulty of keeping a
World Cup winning team together. It may also seem unfair to point accusing fingers at the coaching aspect
too. Marcelo Lippi, Vincente Del Bosque and now Joachim Low all won the world cup as coaches of Italy,
Spain and Germany respectively but they all have been unable to repeat the feat, failing at the very first time of asking.
Are the World Cup champions a bit cursed? Maybe… But time
will tell if this evil jinx is banished back to hell and the eventual
winners in Russia 2018 would be very eager to break this
unpalatable trend in Qatar come 2022.
Till then, tick tock!