What is the World Cup Champions Curse?

In recent years it has become a theme that the winner of the World Cup ends up having a disastrous performance at the next tournament. Is this all a coincidence or is there more to it? We will look at five World Cup winning sides who crashed out in the group stage at the very next tournament.

Brazil – 1966

Entering the 1966 competition in England, Brazil had won the previous two World Cups (they still remain the only team to ever achieve this feat). The side included the likes of Pelé & Garrincha and were expected to give any opponent a great battle.

Due to winning the 1962 Finals in Chile, Brazil had already automatically qualified for the 1966 tournament. This meant the team did not have to deal with a qualifying campaign, which may have resulted in a lack of preparation for the Seleção.

World Cup

Despite this, the tournament started off positively for them, beating Bulgaria 2-0 with Pelé and Garrincha finding the net. Hungary awaited the Brazilians in the next fixture, but the latter would be without Pelé who picked up an injury against Bulgaria. Brazil’s all time leading goal scorer’s absence was felt as the Hungarians managed a comfortable 3-1 victory at Goodison Park.

Brazil were in great trouble and needed a victory against Portugal to even stand a chance of winning the World Cup for the third time in a row. Brazil’s coach Feola Vicente decided to change the entire defence for the match, he also included Pelé in the starting line-up, despite knowing he was still recovering from injury.

Vincente’s decisions completely backfired on him. Portugal won the game 3-1 with ease, with Eusébio bagging a brace. Pelé got injured again and had to be carried off the field, topping off an embarrassing tournament for the side. Brazil’s 1966 World Cup campaign is still remembered as one of the worst in the history of the national team.

France – 2002

The 2002 Fifa World Cup was the first to be held in Asia, with South Korea & Japan hosting the tournament. This was a World Cup to forget for the reigning champions France though.

France had won the trophy for the first time in 1998, smashing Brazil 3-0 in their own backyard. Going into the tournament the French had also won Euro 2000 with a victory over Italy along with the 2001 Confederations Cup. Les Bleus looked unstoppable with the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira within their ranks.

Disaster struck for France just before the tournament got underway. A week before the beginning of the tournament, South Korea and France played in a friendly. Talisman Zidane got injured during the match and was set to miss at least the first two opening matches of the group stage.

Zizou’s absence was evident in the first two matches for France. Losing 1-0 to Senegal and being held 0-0 by Uruguay had put the French in great danger of heading home early. Zidane was back in the team for a must win match against Denmark. Despite his return, Zidane could not inspire the already deflated French side who lost out 2-0 to the Danes. France had been eliminated and are still the only reigning champions to not even manage to score a goal in the tournament. This was truly a World Cup to forget for Les Bleus.

Italy – 2010

The Azzurri’s World Cup defence in 2010 was nothing short of mortifying. Italy was drawn into Group F with New Zealand, Paraguay and Slovakia. On paper it looked like the dream draw for Marcello Lippi’s team and the chances of advancing to the knock-out stages looked like a guarantee.

1-1 draw’s in the opening two matches against Paraguay and New Zealand put Italy in danger they did not expect to find themselves in. Going into the final match of the group stage against Slovakia, the Italians needed a win to make sure they could get out of the mess that they had found themselves in.

World Cup

Slovakia beat Italy 3-2 in one of the games of the tournament & Italy crashed out rock bottom of their group. Selecting a squad of mostly veterans and leaving out young talents such as Mario Balotelli came back to haunt Lippi, who resigned from the national team after the Slovakia defeat, leaving Italy having to rebuild their squad from scratch.

Spain – 2014

The 2014 Fifa World Cup marked the end of an eight year period of dominance for the Spanish national side. Back to back European Championships and a World Cup in 2010 showed that Spain were the leading force in International football, and despite losing the Confederation Cup final 3-0 to Brazil in 2013, Spain were still backed by many to win the World Cup.

Vicente Del Bosque’s team started their tournament against the Netherlands, who they beat in the final 1-0 four years prior. Despite taking a 1-0 lead, a substantial collapse ensued and the Dutch humiliated Spain 5-1. La Roja never recovered from that loss and after a 2-0 loss to Chile, the current holders were knocked out after the opening two matches.

Many put the reasonings of the poor performances down to fitness. The squad had seven players from Real Madrid & Atletico Madrid who had both gone all the way to the Champions League final just months prior, meaning the team overall lacked the energy required to compete in the humid climate of Brazil.

They finished their tournament with a 3-0 win over Australia before heading home. The famous Spanish era of dominance had come to an abrupt ending.

Germany – 2018

The Germans group stage exit in Russia during the 2018 World Cup meant that four of the last five winners had crashed out at the group stages in the very next tournament. Joachim Löw’s team selection did not help the side, with off-form players such as Thomas Müller, Jérôme Boateng and Sami Khedira still getting picked over others.

Hirving Lozano’s goal helped Mexico beat Germany 1-0 in their opening match. Germany struggled against Sweden but a Toni Kroos free-kick in the dying moments of the game helped Germany snatch a 2-1 victory.

Despite the victory, the warning signs were still prevalent in the German squad. Germany’s uninspiring, predictable and toothless play continued when they faced South Korea in a must win match. Löw’s side could not find the net when they needed to most and South Korea won the game 2-0.

The Germans went home after finishing bottom of their group and scoring only two goals the whole tournament, only Panama (1) scored less.

The retirement of experienced players such as Philipp Lahm, Miroslav Klose & Bastian Schweinsteiger had an effect on the team’s mentality, but Löw’s failure to replace them led to the squad’s demise.


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