In this series, we take a look at how defending champions have fared in FIFA World Cups since 2002.
After a World Cup triumph in 1998 on home soil, France came into the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan as favourites. However, after a 1-0 defeat to Senegal, and a draw and loss to Uruguay and Denmark, respectively, they ended their tour on an all-time low.
A Brazilian team studded with stars such as Kaka, Robinho, Ronaldo, and Ronaldinho went crashing out of the quarter-final against France, in Germany. It was Thierry Henry, who scored the winning goal, thereby crushing the defending champions’ dreams of another World Cup win. France eventually reached the finals, but lost to Italy.
Italy’s hard-fought 2006 World Cup win was overshadowed when the team crashed out of contention in the group stages. Italy opened with a 1-1 draw against Paraguay, before drawing with minnows New Zealand, and losing 3-2 to Slovakia. Eventually, Spain went on to clinch the cup.
An overconfident Spanish team – packed with stars from La Liga – was demolished five goals to one by the Netherlands. Ironically, this was a rematch of the 2010 final between the two countries. Spain never really recovered from the shock, and they went on to lose 2-0 to Chile. Their win against Australia wasn’t enough to salvage them from an upsetting group stage exit. Germany went on to win the cup that year.
Germany began their 2018 World Cup journey with a loss against Mexico but bounced back with a late goal against Sweden. However, a crushing 2-0 defeat against South Korea ensured that the defending champions wouldn’t progress to the Round of 16 and, instead, would finish at the bottom of the group.