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Growing Curse Or Coincidence: The Story Of World Cup Defending Champions

Written by: Uttiyo Sarkar

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Of all the footballing curses in the world, this one continues to amaze everyone around the globe.

The whole football world was shocked on Wednesday when defending champions Germany crashed out of the tournament after being overwhelmingly defeated by South Korea. This was something which was not meant to happen. This was something nobody could've predicted to ever happen. But. it happened! Unlike some of the other footballing nations who've been topsy-turvy in recent tournaments, Germany have always been a source of inspiration on how to consistently perform at a tournament like the FIFA World Cup.

Not only are they four-time champions of it, but they have consistently qualified for every single tournament (barring 1930 when they didn't have a viable national team and 1950 when they were barred from entering). The only time they were knocked out of the World Cup was way back in 1938, when they were still becoming accustomed to performing on the big stages. Germany had either progressed to the quarter-finals or above in every World Cup tournament since 1978, hence earning the tags for the consistency.

Despite impressing at the FIFA Confederations Cup last year, there seemed to be a question discreetly lingering. Would the World Cup curse manage to devour the mighty Germans as well? It seemed extremely unlikely when Germany weren't placed in a group with the other "big" teams and only Mexico seemed a viable threat to them. But, shocking performances against El Tri and South Korea meant that not only were Germany knocked out in the group stages, but they would finish bottom of their group too!

Many still cannot believe this!

While Germany definitely didn't play the efficient football which has attained them so much success over the years, it's not like they didn't try at all. They did look too laid-back and complacent in their games, but Die Mannschaft constantly played on the attack. Against Mexico, Germany had 25 shots on goal, with nine being on target. Julian Brandt's shot struck the post and some astonishing chances didn't go into the net for the Germans. Similarly, against South Korea, they had some chances which would have been converted into goals 99% of the time.

It felt like Lady Luck had turned its back on them after so many years of fortune and had been replaced by a curse. So does this prove that there's some voodoo curse being placed upon the defending champions before each of the recent World Cups?

Now as realist, most people don't really want to believe in curses. Those are the things which are meant to normally creep into everyone while watching horror movies. But, there seems to have been a weird mental block created among defending champions going into recent World Cups and not only Germany, others too have entered the tournament to royally crumble under the pressure.

Spain's exit was way more brutal than those of Germany and Italy

For Example, Spain were the ones to shockingly exit in the group stages despite being favorites to go all the way in 2014. Italy might not have had the ideal team in 2010, but them faltering in a "weak" group, much like France did in 2002, was not something which could've been expected.

Brazil have actually been the only team to avoid the "Champions Curse" in the 21st century as after winning the 2002 edition, they progressed to the quarterfinals in the following tournament, where they lost to finalists France.

The thing is that neither of the defending champions in recent history looked to be in disastrous form heading into the tournament. Spain won the 2012 European Championships, Germany won the 2017 Confederations Cup and France won Euro 2000 before gearing up to defend their World Cup title.

In 2002, France had the terrorizing strike duo of Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet, who were arguably in the form of their lives. In 2010, Italy had a decent mix of experience and flair, along with the usual defensive strength. In 2014, Spain had some of the best players in the world in the likes of Andres Iniesta, David Silva, Diego Costa and Xavi, but were overwhelmed by both Netherlands and Chile.


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This year, Germany had some clinical players in Thomas Muller and Timo Werner along with the creativity of Toni Kroos and Mesut Ozil. But, when the going got tough, nobody apart from Kroos could come up with a fitting reply to lift their team. These key players of each of the defending champions in recent times have excelled at club level prior to the World Cup, but it felt like some force of nature was keeping them from making an impact and helping their sides progress into the knockout stages.

Upon putting his third clear-cut header shockingly above the bar against South Korea, Mats Hummels seemed to let out a sarcastic grin of sorts. He himself couldn't believe his luck on the day where he missed three opportunities, which on any other day, he would've scored blind-folded. It just wasn't his or Germany's day, with their shocking elimination being living proof that even the mighty Germans, who had earned the reputation of "Always Winning", had succumbed to the curse of defending champions.

Published: Sat Jun 30, 2018 12:30 AM IST

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