Being a defending champion at World Cup isn’t always easy |

Being a defending champion at World Cup isn’t always easy

Pan Pylas
Associated Press
FILE - In this Tuesday, June 11, 2002 file photo, France's goalkeeper Fabien Barthez sits on the ground with the ball in the net after Denmark scored their second goal to win 2-0 and knock France out of the tournament at the group stage in the Incheon Munhak Stadium in Incheon, South Korea. On Wednesday, June 27, 2018, Germany became the latest world champion to be eliminated from the World Cup at the group stage. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)

VOLGOGRAD, Russia — Being a defending champion at the World Cup has proven to be a tough challenge in recent years.

Four of the last five winners, including Germany this year, have failed to get out of the group stage of the next tournament. The one exception was 2002 champion Brazil in 2006.

Although only Italy in 1938 and Brazil in 1962 have successfully defended their World Cup titles, most champions in the 20th century managed to get themselves beyond the first stage.

Here’s a look at the ones that didn’t in this century:


France arrived at the World Cup in Japan and South Korea as the favorite to defend the title it won at home four years earlier.

After all, France had also won the 2000 European Championship and had a free-scoring striker in David Trezeguet, unlike in 1998 when the team relied on goals from elsewhere.

However, on the eve of the tournament, Zinedine Zidane injured his thigh in a friendly and would miss the start of the tournament. In the opening match, Senegal upset the defending champions 1-0.

In France’s next match, it drew 0-0 against Uruguay, again without Zidane.

“Zizou” made a return for the must-win game against Denmark but he was a shadow of his former self and France lost 2-0, eliminated from the tournament with only one point and no goals.


Italy has historically been a slow starter in World Cups. But in 2010, defending the title it had won in Germany, the Italians barely awoke from their slumber.

The Azzurri picked up only two points from three group games after successive draws against Paraguay and New Zealand were followed by a surprise 3-2 loss to Slovakia.

Like France in 2002, Italy finished at the bottom of its group, with injuries and age playing its part.

Marcello Lippi, the World Cup-winning coach from 2006, took responsibility for the disappointing performance in South Africa and admitted he hadn’t prepared his team well enough.


Spain turned up in 2014 widely expected to be the first team since Brazil in 1962 to defend its World Cup title.

The Spanish had been all-conquering since 2008, winning back-to-back European Championships as well as the World Cup in 2010.

It had a tough first match against the Netherlands to contend with, but all seemed to be going as planned when Xabi Alonso slotted in a 27th-minute penalty to give his team a 1-0 lead. Spain then nearly doubled its lead before a spectacular header from Robin van Persie got the Dutch even.

The second half capitulation was a shock. It ended 5-1 to the men in orange.

Still, Spain had lost its opening match to Switzerland in 2010 and went on to win the title. But this time Spain then went on to lose 2-0 to Chile in its next match and was eliminated from the World Cup in Brazil six days after it had begun.


Germany, still with the nucleus of the successful 2014 team, arrived in Russia expected to contend after doing little wrong between World Cups.

The Germans reached the semifinals at the 2016 European Championship and won last year’s Confederations Cup, a dress rehearsal for the tournament in Russia, with what was basically a reserve team.

But the Germans never really got going this time, losing their opening match to Mexico 1-0.

A last-gasp winner from Toni Kroos against Sweden in the second match appeared to have gotten Germany back on track. But a 2-0 loss to South Korea in the final group match meant elimination and last place in the group.


More AP World Cup coverage:

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