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It’s been 68 years since a World Cup winner lost a pre-tournament friendly

You've got to go back to 1950 to find the last time a World Cup winner lost a pre-tournament

This piece started out life as a gentle look at how important pre-tournament friendlies were before a World Cup.

I was hoping for an unexpected loss to a minnow before Brazil swept the 2002 World Cup, or a optimism-invoking England win over France ahead of the 1998 World Cup.

But it quickly became apparent that pre-tournament friendlies are very important.

Just to clarify, I’m only talking about the friendlies played in the immediate run up to a World Cup, not the ones played in the months prior to the tournament.

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The best striker Brazil never had

The best striker Brazil never had

Again, with all the experimentation and blooding of players that goes on before a World Cup, you’d expect a couple of rogue pre-tournament results, even from the eventual winners.

Not so for 2014 winners Germany, who warmed up with a 2-2 draw against Cameroon before smashing Armenia 6-1. Yep, Miroslav Klose got his obligatory six-yard tap-in.

Four years earlier Spain beat South Korea, with Jesus Navas scoring the only goal of the game, and ran in six goals against Poland.

Italy bucked the winning trend and drew to Switzerland and Ukraine before travelling to Germany and lifting the trophy. Nonetheless, they weren’t beaten heading into the tournament.

Head and shoulders above his team-mates

AP:Associated Press
Head and shoulders above his team-mates

Then we get to 2002 World Cup winners Brazil. Always the mavericks, Brazil only faced Malaysia pre-tournament, easing to a 4-0 win with Ronaldo, Juninho, Denilson and Edilson all scoring.

Can you spot a pattern emerging yet? Five tournament, five winners, zero pre-tournament friendly losses.

Spooky. But was it just a coincidence? No, is the easy answer.

You have to go back to 1950 to find the last time a World Cup winner lost heading into the tournament.

Uruguay took on Brazil in a triple header- travelling far and wide in search of ‘like for like’ opposition wasn’t really an option back then- and lost two of the three games.

The next 16 World Cup winners all came out of their pre-tournament friendlies unscathed.

It would be rude not to mention England’s heroes of ’66 who beat no less than four opponents- Poland, Denmark, Norway and Finland- in a brutal nine day stretch.

Say what you want about the quality of football back in those days, but winning four games in nine days with a football made of leathery concrete takes some doing.

The only World Cup that actually counted

AP:Associated Press
The only World Cup that actually counted

In the interest of transparency I do need to mention France’s preparations in 1998.

Ahead of the ’98 World Cup, France took part in the snappily named King Hassan II International Cup Tournament in Morocco.

It was a four-way affair with Morocco, Belgium and England rivalling France for the prestigious trophy.

Zinedine Zidane scored the winner against Belgium but after France drew 2-2 against Morocco a penalty shootout took place, with the host nation coming out on top.

Really it was a draw, but technically, if you really wanted to be busy, you could say France lost. I’m not having it though.

As a side note, if you want to see one of the worst bits of defending followed by a Youri Djokrkaef bicycle kick, watch the clip below.

So what does this mean for the 2018 World Cup?

Germany’s 2-1 loss to Austria has effectively ruled them out, so they should all probably just stay at home and keep Leroy Sane company.

If England beat Costa Rica we’ll have secured an undefeated run in, placing one hand firmly on the trophy.

I won’t go into any more detail as I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Needless to say, it’s coming home.

It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming

It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming

Pre-tournament friendly results of the last 16 World Cup winners:

Germany (Poland 0-0, Cameroon 2-2, Armenia 6-1), Spain (Saudi Arabia 3-2, South Korea 1-0, Poland 6-0), Italy (Switzerland 1-1, Ukraine 0-0), Brazil (Malaysia 4-0), France (Finland 1-0, Morocco 2-2, Belgium 1-0), Brazil (Honduras 8-2, Canada 1-1, Argentina 2-0), West Germany (CSSR 1-0, Denmark 1-0), Argentina (Israel 7-2), Italy (Switzerland 1-1), Argentina (Uruguay 3-0), West Germany (Sweden 2-0), Brazil (Austria 1-0), England (Finland 3-0, Norway 6-1, Denmark 2-0, Poland 1-0), Brazil (Paraguay 5-1, Paraguay 3-0, Belgium 4-0, Bulgaria 3-1), West Germany (Switzerland 5-3)

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