In the history of the World Cup since 1930, only eight powerhouse nations won the tournament. Five come from Europe, and the other three hail from South America.
Furthermore, only two countries won consecutive World Cups. Italy won in 1934 then in 1938. Brazil matched that feat in 1958 then 1962. Therefore, six nations, as well as Italy and Brazil on other occasions, failed to defend their championship for various reasons. For example, aging stars cannot repeat their dominance in the quadrennial event.
Moreover, unrealistic expectations blindside coaches and players looking to defend their crown. Besides that, 75% of defending champions gave cringeworthy performances when entering the grand stage four years after achieving glory in the world’s most significant sports event.
After winning a World Cup, former champions have a spell cast upon them. A decades-long drought of treading water ensues, succumbing to ennui before raising its next World Cup trophy.
The World Cup curse over the years
The first World Cup in 1930 crowned Uruguay as champions. However, La Celeste did not lift their second Jules Rimet trophy until after WWII in 1950. After winning the World Cup in 1954, Sweden easily defeated West Germany, 3-1, in the semi-final of 1958. In 1966, Brazil entered as the two-time defending champions. However, Hungary and Portugal knocked the Seleção out in the group stage. In 1970, England barely advanced from its group. West Germany stopped all hope of a repeat in the quarterfinals.
In 1974, the Seleção looked to defend its crown again. The Netherlands defeated Brazil in the de facto semifinal matchup. That year, after a 20-year drought, the Germans proved victorious after defeating the Netherlands in the final. However, four years later, West Germany bungled its attempt to advance from their group. Another drought ensued until 1990.
In 1982, Italy would win its 3rd World Cup after 44 years. The Azzurri thwarted Argentina’s efforts four years after La Albiceleste’s Mario Kempes led Argentina to its first World Cup in 1978. But, in 1986, France defeated the Azzurri in the Round of 16. From then on, Italy exited the World Cup on penalties and a golden goal in 2002. Eventually, Italy claimed its fourth World Cup win in 2006.
Close calls and major disappointments
In 1990, Argentina came close to consecutive championships. A resurgent West Germany side took away Maradona’s best chance for a second World Cup. Four years later, Hristo Stoichkov and Bulgaria knocked out the Germans.
French legend Zinedine Zidane and France would stifle Brazil’s hopes of a 2nd repeat in the 1998 Final. This final is the closest any team has come to repeating. Brazil returned a number of stars from 1994, but fell to the host nation in Paris. Perhaps it was the fact that Brazil strayed from its ‘ginga futebol‘. Instead, it worked a more practical, defensive approach in the 1990s.
In the 2000s, the World Cup curse developed into something more profound. The defending champions failed to make it out of the group stage in 2002, 2010, 2014 and 2018. The lone exception was Brazil in 2006, which succumbed to France in the quarterfinals.
Numbers Never Lie
Given historical statistics, there is a 19% chance that France repeat as champions in Qatar 2022. However, head coach Didier Deschamps, who scored a goal in the final of 1998, has a 64% win percentage since becoming manager in 2012.
But, France still has a tenacious youngster hungry for glory. PSG forward Kylian Mbappé is only 23 years old. Four years ago, he became just the 2nd teenager to score in a World Cup Final. Moreover, France enters the 2022 FIFA World Cup at -275 to win Group D and at +550 odds to win the tournament.
Legends Never Die
Italian forward Giuseppe ‘Peppino’ Meazza was 28 after the Azzurri won their consecutive championships in 1934 and 1938. Pelé was only 22 years old after the Seleção won their two World Cups in 1958 and 1962.
Therefore, Mbappé is on track to win at least one more ‘Coupe du Monde’ for France in his career. France might have the buoyant spirit to go all the way, a heart only 25% of former champions possessed. The world awaits to see if Les Bleus’ burning desire has been purged and their thirst for glory quenched.
The Dark Horse
Nonetheless, as the world awaits a new, ninth nation to be added to the alumni, it’s important to remember that ‘one-year wonders’ happen at major tournaments.
Most notably, Greece at Euro 2004. Although not a World Cup, the Greeks defeated nothing short of legends en route to the European Championship. The quarterfinals pit Greece against Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane. Then, Greece defeated Pevel Nedved and Petr Cech in the semifinals. Finally, the Greek story finished against the hosts. Greece defeated the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo as Portugal hosted the tournament.
This was a miracle, nevertheless, but one that was achieved with the tenacious spirit of underdogs.
It should not be a surprise if an underdog team advances to the final. Sweden played against Brazil in 1958 – an era when countries did not play soccer as advanced as teams play Fútbol in the modern-day. Plus, an underdog needs to step up to keep the World Cup curse in tact as France looks to defend its title.
PHOTO: Gokhan Balci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
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