The daunted curse of the FIFA World Cup winners is one of football’s strange phenomena. Joachim Löw’s Germany were the most recent nation to encounter the hoodoo four years ago. After decimating Brazil 7-1 in their own backyard four years prior, then defeating Argentina via Mario Götze’s extra-time winner in the Maracanã, they travelled to Russia as reigning champions. But defeats to Mexico and South Korea left Die Mannschaft’s attempts to retain the trophy in tatters, finishing bottom of the group in the process. France would go on to lift the trophy in Moscow and oddschecker, who compares odds and provides offers on the World Cup have made Les Bleus second-favourites to lift the trophy in Qatar this winter. But will the unnerving curse rear its ugly head once again?
Could lightning strike twice?
You could argue that the curse began with the French back in 2002. After defeating Brazil 3-0 on home soil to lift the 1998 World Cup for the first time in their history, they would travel to Japan and South Korea as reigning champions. Their squad was stacked with talents such as Zinédine Zidane, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira and Les Bleus once again entered the tournament as joint-favourites, alongside the side they vanquished in Paris four years before.
But disaster struck immediately, losing the opening game of the tournament to tournament debutants Senegal. A goalless draw against two-time champions Uruguay was another disappointment, but all hope was not lost. A result against fellow Europeans Denmark would have seen Jacques Santini’s side progress to the knockout stages. But goals from Dennis Rommedahl and Jon Dahl Tomasson put an end to that, leaving the reigning champions licking their wounds. Not only did they finish bottom of their group, but they also didn’t even score a goal.
20 years on and Didier Deschamps’ side find themselves in the same position once again, and to make matters worse, Denmark have once again been drawn alongside them in Group D. On paper, a group containing the Danes, as well as Tunisia and Australia couldn’t look any simpler. But the same could have been said of their group two decades ago.
This time around, they are led by superstar Kylian Mbappe, who has come of age since his blockbuster goal against Croatia in Russia’s showpiece four years ago. Admittedly he didn’t impress at last year’s delayed European Championships, but he did lead his country to UEFA Nations League glory in the autumn, and if he is at his best in Qatar, it would take a brave man to bet against his side becoming the first to retain the trophy in over 60 years.
Who else has suffered from the hoodoo?
To be fair, a better question would be who hasn’t fallen victim to a stray banana skin over the last 20 years. There is only one team that holds that honour, and that is Brazil.
After defeating Ronaldo’s double sank Germany in the Yokohama showpiece in 2002, the Seleção travelled to the home of their vanquished opponents in 2006. And they were expected to dominate, boasting a squad with the likes of the aforementioned O Fenômeno as well as Ronaldinho and Kaká. They didn’t quite dominate, losing out to France once again, this time in the semifinals. But at least they made their way out of the group stages. The same cannot be said for every World Cup winner since.
Italy would go on to win that tournament, defeating hosts Germany in a thriller in Dortmund at the semifinal stage. They would then keep their calm in Berlin, defeating France on penalties after Zinédine Zidane’s moment of madness to secure the trophy for the fourth time in their history.
They would defend their crown in South Africa in 2010, and in a group containing Paraguay, Slovakia and lowly New Zealand, how could they not progress? Well, go and ask Marcello Lippi. Draws against the South Americans and the Kiwis left them needing to beat their fellow Europeans in Johannesburg to progress. They didn’t bank on target man Robert Vittek, however, who’s double put the Italian defence to the sword. Not even a goal of the tournament contender from Fabio Quagliarella could save them, and the Azzurri would have to endure the darkest moment in their history. Or so they thought.
The Italians would endure another group stage exit in 2014, after losing to Uruguay and Costa Rica. And to make things worse, they haven’t qualified for the World Cup since. Defeat to Sweden meant that they missed the 2018 and World Cup and further embarrassment, this time courtesy of North Macedonia, means they will also miss the trip to the desert this winter.
Spain mauled in Brazil
The final team to suffer from the curse is Spain, who were humiliated in Brazil back in 2014. Despite losing their first game in South Africa, they would go on to defeat Portugal, Germany and eventually the Netherlands in a bad-tempered final in 2010. Four years later, the Dutch were on the hunt for revenge after being drawn into the same group as the reigning champions. And boy, how they got it.
Despite falling behind to a Xabi Alonso penalty in the highly anticipated rematch, the Oranje roared back. Doubles from the blistering Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie helped them get their redemption, securing a thumping 5-1 win over the holders in Salvador.
Things went from bad to worse for Vicente Del Bosque’s side five days later, as goals from Eduardo Vargas and Charles Aránguiz secured a 2-0 victory for Chile and consigned La Roja to a group stage exit before they had even played all three games.
A last hurrah for Fernando Torres and David Villa meant that they would end the tournament on a high, defeating Australia 3-0 in that final game. But it was far too little too late at that point, and the Spanish had also fallen victim.