World Cup champions' curse? Germany latest to fall victim after shock group stage elimination

(Clockwise from top left) Players from Germany, France, Spain and Italy react during their World Cup matches where they were eliminated as defending champions in the group stages in 2018, 2002, 2010 and 2014 respectively. PHOTOS: AFP, REUTERS

Germany's elimination from the World Cup at the hands of South Korea on Wednesday (June 28) would have come as a shock to football fans and even casual observers.

The reigning champions, also the world's top-ranked team, had flown into Russia with justifiably high hopes of defending the title they so stylishly won in Brazil four years ago.

Loaded with experienced stars, talented upstarts and a proven manager, Germany had appeared to be the team to beat.

Yet they lost their opening game 0-1 against Mexico, before briefly reigniting hopes of a title defence thanks to Toni Kroos' last-gasp freekick winner against Sweden.

Needing a convincing win against the South Koreans to advance into the last 16, Die Mannschaft ended up losing 0-2.

But their fall from grace is not without precedent.

Three defending champions were eliminated in the group stages of football's most prestigious tournament in the last four editions, with only Brazil bucking the trend in 2006.

Here is a look at the trio that fell:

1. France (2002)

Zinedine Zidane walks off the pitch following the match between Denmark and France on June 11, 2002. PHOTO: AFP

The 1998 champions begun their title defence in South Korea shorn of inspirational playmaker Zinedine Zidane through injury.

But France still boasted of a formidable attack in the form of Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet and Djibril Cisse, with the defence anchored by the solid pair of Marcel Desailly and Frank Leboeuf.

The champions, however, got off to an inauspicious start after a 0-1 upset against World Cup debutant Senegal. They hung on for a 0-0 draw in their next match against Uruguay, after Henry received a red card in the 25th minute.

Zidane returned for the must-win last game against Denmark, but failed to spark the team as they bowed out meekly with a 0-2 loss.

2. Italy (2010)

Italy's Vincenzo Iaquinta and Antonio Di Natale (right) react during their 2010 World Cup Group F soccer match against Slovakia at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg on June 24, 2010. PHOTO: REUTERS

Guided by the legendary Marcelo Lippi,and boasting a spine similar to the team that claimed the World Cup in 2006, Italy looked good value to retain their title.

But the Azzurri could only labour to a 1-1 draw against Paraguay in the first game, with goalkeeper Gianlugi Buffon suffering an injury.

A porous defence proved to be their undoing as the Italians drew their next game 1-1 against the unfancied New Zealand before unceremoniously crashing out after a 2-3 defeat against Slovakia.

3. Spain (2014)

(Left to right) Spain's David Silva, Sergio Busquets, Diego Costa, Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso react after Chile's Charles Aranguiz scored his team's second goal during the 2014 World Cup Group B soccer match at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro June 18, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

Spain, World Cup winners in 2010, represented the most surprising fall of the lot. The Spaniards had reigned supreme for an extended period, with their attractive tiki-taka style of football also winning them the European Championship in 2008 and 2012.

Stars such as goalkeeper Iker Casillas, defender Sergio Ramos and midfielder Andres Iniesta formed the core of the team, and leading them in Brazil was Vicente Del Bosque, a proven world-class manager.

But their title defence got off to the worst start possible with a crushing 1-5 defeat to the Netherlands.

Things got worse in the next match after an upset 0-2 loss against Chile.

The Spaniards won their last game against Australia 3-0 to salvage a semblance of pride from their campaign, but the victory was ultimately futile.

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