2002 World Cup in Japan & South Korea: 1998 champions France eliminated in the group stage.
2010 World Cup in South Africa: 2006 champions Italy eliminated in the group stage.
2014 World Cup in Brazil: 2010 champions Spain eliminated in the group stage.
2018 World Cup in Russia: 2014 champions Germany eliminated in the group stage.
These four facts raise serious, undoubted questions about the best teams in world football. After a 2-0 defeat to South Korea, Germany faced World Cup elimination; humiliated in the group stages of a tournament that many expected them to win.
However, if history is anything to go by – we could have predicted this a mile off, so why didn’t we?
Well firstly, the belief that the power rankings of global football are static, and are themselves rooted in history, can be blamed. Football, especially in tournaments such as the World Cup where it all hinges on the performance of teams in just a handful of games, is far more dynamic than this. Four years may not seem like a long time in the grand scheme of things but in footballing terms it is clearly enough for a total revolution at the top of the ladder.
In four years, players aged 26-28, at the peak of their form and ability, become 30-32; which for some is too old to warrant a chance at the World Cup. Furthermore, the experienced veterans that are generally required to stand a chance at winning the World Cup will have retired and the dominating generation of the old guard passes on; leaving behind a new generation of those without big tournament experience.
Germany, for example, may appear as a similar side to how they were in 2014 in Brazil; yet the absence of Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose was felt – despite the initial appearance of Joshua Kimmich, Sebastian Rudy and Timo Werner as near like-for-like replacements. However, this was not enough to make up for a lack of passion, bite and drive; which Germany’s Group F opponents all, unfortunately for the Germans, had to offer.
On that topic, another cause for the champions curse could be complacency. As the previous winners, you almost guarantee being up there as one of the favourites for the tournament. The whole world is expecting you to win and therefore it becomes almost a self-expectation – one which consequently results in a lack of focus and an air of arrogance. If you believe you can win, that is great but if you do not at least consider the possibility of defeat, it becomes much more of a risk.
After being shocked by Mexico in their opener, Germany faced Sweden in the second round of group stage fixtures. After a tight game, which saw Germany centre-back Jerome Boateng sent off, Toni Kroos scored a last minute winner to keep German dreams alive. Now, if this were a smaller team – having narrowly beat Sweden to sit on 3 points after two games would be by no means considered ‘on track’. However, public opinion, and obviously that of the German players, presumed that Germany would have no problem defeating a South Korea side that lost to both Sweden and Mexico.
Germany were lured into a false sense of security and their naïvety cost them dear.
So, whether it be complacency, a lack of character or just plain bad luck, the champions curse has struck Germany and sent Die Mannschaft home early.