The World Cup Winners’ Curse: The Victims of the Last Three FIFA Tournaments

The FIFA World Cup is a notoriously hard trophy to defend, with only Italy (1934 and 1938) and Brazil (1958 and 1962) successfully retaining their title. However, in recent times, there has been an even more severe trend, where World Cup winners have exited the following tournament in the first round. Here is a closer look at the most recent teams to fall victim to this curse.


Germany (2018)


Germany is the most recent tournament holder to crash out at the group stages. This year they feature in Group E alongside Spain, Japan and Costa Rica, and Paddy Power gives them World Cup 2022 odds of 9/1 to win the competition. To do so, they will need to shake the curse that haunted them in Russia in 2018.


Despite previous nations suffering the same fate, few World Cup predictions could have foreseen that it would happen again. Just four years on from a memorable tournament in which Die Mannschaft decimated the host country, Brazil, 7-1 in the semi-finals, before winning the final in extra time against Leo Messi’s Argentina, Joachim Löw’s side bowed out at the first hurdle. Germany was unable to progress from a group containing Mexico, Sweden and South Korea, as they finished Russia 2018 with just three points. 



Spain (2014)


Working backwards from 2018, Spain was the previous nation to fall victim to a curse that, by this point, was really starting to take shape. Few football fans need reminding of la selección’s 2010 World Cup winning side, boasting the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol and co. Their squad was so strong, in fact, that just two years after their first international major trophy, they went on to win their second, beating Italy 4-0 in the Euro 2012 final.


How, then, did this same Spain side would crash out of the group stages of the 2014 edition of the tournament? The only explanation, it would seem, would be the World Cup winners’ curse. A 3-0 victory over Australia on match-day three wasn’t enough to overturn damning losses to Netherlands and Chile in the opening two group matches, the first of which came in the form of a 5-1 battering.



Italy (2010)


While France in 2002 was the first nation to start this so-called curse, Brazil bucked the trend by their elimination in the 2006 quarter-finals. As a result, Italy may be considered the first nation to continue this unwanted tradition after their French counterparts. In 2006, the azzurri were only the second side to win the World Cup on penalties, eight years after their (and Baggio’s) heartbreak in USA 1994.


Fast forward four years, and the story is a familiar one. This time, Italy’s group-stage exit came against possibly the most modest set of opponents in this list, finishing bottom of Group F behind Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand with just two points. Italy’s form in more recent World Cups is even more disappointing, having failed to qualify for the 2018 and 2022 editions of the tournament.



With France the current holders, all eyes will be on Didier Deschamps’ side to see whether they too fall victim to a misfortune that has plagued four of the last five World Cup holders. It will be up to Les Blues to buck the trend and put an end to the curse which they themselves started.