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Spain hit with World Cup defending champions curse

Almighty Spain out of the World Cup: A curse of defending champions?

June 19, 2014 By Roxane Coche
After six years on top of the world, Team Spain has come back down crashing to the ground. Their World Cup 2014 group stage exit has millions of La Furia Roja fans in shock worldwide.

After their humiliating defeat against the Netherlands (5-1) in the opening game, the Spaniards have suffered yet another loss last night, 2-0 against Chile. Spain has thus become the fifth defending champions in history eliminated as early as the group stage (Italy 1950, Brazil 1966, France 2002, and Italy 2010), a page of history Vicente del Bosque's men would have rather avoided writing.

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil is the 20th edition of the tournament. This means that 5 times out of 20 – or 25% of the time, the defending champion crashed out in the group stage of the competition. Knowing that (1) the 4th edition in 1942 was canceled because of World War II, and (2) that some of the early events did not even have a group round, that figure is actually higher. 

Overall, only two teams were able to win back-to-back world cups: Italy in 1934-1938 and Brazil in 1958-1962. Not to take anything away from those achievements, but the fact is that it was a different era. The 1938 tournament in France only welcomed 15 participating nations. In the same vein, only 16 teams made the trip to Chile in 1962. That is half as many teams as this year's event. The game, of course was also very different back then.

Looking at modern history, since the World Cup became a 32-team competition in 1998, three of the four World champions were eliminated in the group stage of the following World Cup: France in 2002, Italy in 2010, and now Spain in 2014. The sole survivor is Brazil who after lifting the trophy in 2002 reached the quarter finals in Germany four years later.

France 2002

Following its victories in the 1998 World Cup and 2000 Euro Cup, team France was seen as the favorite to win the first Asian World Cup. Instead, Roger Lemerre's players became the first – and so far only –  defending champions to fail at scoring a goal in World Cup history. Deprived of Zinedine Zidane injured, team France started its World Cup overly confident, and they soon suffered the consequences. With losses against Senegal (1-0) and Denmark (2-0) and a scoreless tie against Uruguay in between, les Bleus flew back to France much earlier than expected.

Italy 2006

When Italy was drawn in a group with Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia, everybody thought the Azzurri would breeze through it. It didn't happen. While Italy was far superior on paper, the story was quite different on the field. Marcelo Lippi and his men were sent packing after two shocking 1-all ties against Paraguay and New Zealand, and one surprising defeat against Slovakia (3-2).

Spain 2014

Much like France in 2002, many soccer experts predicted Spain would reach the final of this year's tournament. Despite being drawn into a trickier group than both France's group in 2002 or Italy's group in 2006, few imagined the Spaniards hanging their heads so soon in the competition. In its first two games, La Roja never quite looked like the well-oiled machine it used to be. With a shaky defense and inefficient strikers, it was almost as if the aging Spanish players had never played together, despite winning their last three major events (Euro Cup 2008-World Cup 2010-Euro Cup 2012).

Team Spain now has one game left to save some face, but beware of the Australians who offered two very gutsy performances against Chile (1-3) and the Netherlands (2-3).

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