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How loyalty and comfort caused a ruthless World Cup winners’ curse to emerge

In the last 20 years France, Italy, Spain and Germany have failed to get out of the group stages after winning the previous tournament


Sorry, as you can see we’re taking a very sympathetic stance towards Germany’s World Cup exit.

It’s never nice to see Germany knocked out of a World Cup, especially when they finish bottom of the group… NOT (Mark Lawrenson voice).

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Truly heartbreaking sights

Getty - Contributor
Truly heartbreaking sights

Rest assured we’ll relish the sight of the Brandenburg Gate filled to the brim with crying Germans because it will be our Strongbow Dark Fruit tears filling Trafalgar Square before long.

If the 2014 world champions Germans need some reassurance then they need look no further than three of the previous four World Cup winners.

In 1998 France won the World Cup, only to be dethroned in the group stages four years later without three points or a goal to call their own.

Italy won in 2006 only to crash out at the group stages in 2010 while Spain, who went on to win that tournament, failed to get out of the groups in 2014.

Across the last 20 years only Brazil escaped their group having won the previous tournament, and even then, with a squad boasting Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka, they could only go as far as the quarter-final.

Okay, this one genuinely is a bit sad

Okay, this one genuinely is a bit sad

Five World Cup tournaments. Four winners going out at the group stages. It doesn’t take Bill Oddie levels of birdwatching to spot a pattern in the wild.

So what’s caused the World Cup winners’ curse?

Loyalty. There’s a fine balance between remaining loyal to the players who took you all the way and standing still.

For a start, Italy, Spain and Germany all kept the same coach that oversaw the World Cup winning campaigns.

Aime Jacquet’s decision to step down in a blaze of glory after France’s win in 1998 meant assistant manager Roger Lemerre took the reigns, so it was hardly a groundbreaking change.

Where’s Wally?

Getty - Contributor
Where’s Wally?

Golden Generations quickly become Slightly Rusty Generations.

France kicked off their 2002 campaign with the same goalkeeper and back four that started the final in ’98.

Midfielders Emmanuel Petit, Youri Djorkaeff, Patrick Vieira and Zinedine Zidane were all still crucial members of the squad.

While undoubtedly brilliant players, an argument could be made that France hadn’t gone forward in the four years they’d been world champions.



Changes were forced on Italy in 2010 given they had lost Francesco Totti and Alessandro Nesta but there was still the familiar cast of Fabio Cannavaro, Andrea Pirlo and co as well as a chronic lack of pace.

Copy and paste for Spain’s 2014 campaign in which there was no alternative to passing teams to death.

Stop us if you’ve heard this before but Germany were undone by a similar lack of ideas and dearth of speed merchants.

It’s hard to defend Joachim Low given he left Premier League Young Player of the Year and part-time 100m sprinter Leroy Sane at home, even if he didn’t show his best side in Germany colours in the build up to the tournament.

It’s also not a coincidence that Julian Brandt was one of the few Germans to come out of the tournament with his head held high. Again, it’s baffling that Low didn’t use him more.

The silver lining to this all is that Germany won the European Under-21 Championships so should be relatively future-proofed against the inevitable soul searching that comes with an unexpected early exit.

So, if England get bounced out of the 2022 World Cup at the group stages don’t say we didn’t warn you.