The greatest empires in history have always fallen, and in the world of soccer, the FIFA World Cup champions are no exception. 2014 champion Germany was not able to secure a spot in the top two of Group F after losing Wednesday’s match against South Korea, causing them to be eliminated from this year’s edition.
The clean 2-0 loss to South Korea makes Germany now part of a continuing trend that came with the new millennium. After the 1998 French triumph arched into UEFA Euro 2000, the 2002 Asian edition of the FIFA World Cup saw them embarrassingly exit the tournament with zero goals scored. In the 2002 World Cup, which was ironically partially hosted by South Korea, the French national soccer team was the first defending champion side in the history of international soccer not to make it past the group stage.
The eventual 2002 champions? Brazil.
In the 2006 edition, Brazil proved to be the outlier of the trend. Graced by a stellar roster whose names carry great importance for any soccer fan, the team left the competition after losing 1-0 to France. Although the reason why the only goal on the scoreboard was due to an embarrassing mistake (left-back Roberto Carlos always tied his laces before the matches from then on, instead of during), Brazil built a respectable campaign as defending champions. Brazil won all three of its group stage matches, and went on to beat Ghana 3-0 in the Round of 16, with one of the goals being FIFA World Cup record-setting, a personal one for Ronaldo.
Eventual 2006 champions? Italy.
The sounds of vuvuzelas weren’t the only issue for the Azzurri during the 2010 South African FIFA World Cup matches. In what seemed like an easy group, the Italians tied twice and lost to a Slovakian side which couldn’t get past the Round of 16. Italy finished last in the group, disappointing not only their fanbase, but the whole world of soccer; four years earlier they were seen as an unbeatable side that conceded only 2 goals throughout the tournament. Yet, Italy’s luck seems to seep through as they saw the same outcome, as they weren’t able to make it past the group stage, once again. To stomp down on their prospects of recovery even more, they weren’t even able to qualify for the 2018 World Cup edition, unable to recover the streak that began in 1958 and ended this year.
Eventual 2010 champions? Spain.
After winning the World Cup for their first time in history, and doing so with an excellent display of the typical ‘tiki-taka’ passing technique, Spain was next on the list of our trend when the World Cup moved to Brazil in 2014. They not only allowed 5 goals to Netherlands, the team that they had beaten in the 2010 final to lift the trophy, but they weren’t able to make it past the group stage, embarrassingly diving out of the tournament. To make matters worse, in that 5-1 loss to the Dutch, Robin Van Persie scored a header that always makes any ‘Top 10 World Cup Goals’ list on social media.
Eventual 2014 champions? Our currently heartbroken Germany.
Bringing us back to the opening paragraph, the question that always crosses the mind of those with a letdown bracket in their hand is ‘How?’. Indeed, how does a team that is able to not only gather the best roster of any other nation in the world, but also be able to bring them together and function like clockwork to look down upon any other contenders not be able to repeat? Especially in the new millennium, when technology and money are not the issue, but the advantage.
Although the answer differs for each team, the anticipating solution is applicable to all. In 2002, France was just unlucky with Zinedine Zidane suffering injury, in 2006 Brazil was ousted because of the aforementioned Carlos mistake, and in 2010 Italy was just plain old, as were Spain and Germany in their respectively inglorious follow-ups. The common solution, I believe, is tasteful reconstruction.
With the exception of France and Brazil who were just short on luck, Italy, Spain, and Germany should’ve made efforts of specific changes which would benefit the development of a hopeful team, not just a participatory one. Young, goal-hungry players should’ve taken the place of Cannavaro, Camoranesi, Zambrotta, Di Natale, and Gattuso in 2010’s Italy. The options of Isco and Nacho should’ve been put in motion instead of declining Fernando Torres and David Villa in 2014’s Spain. Julian Brandt, Marc-André ter Stegen should’ve started instead of Thomas Müller and Manuel Neuer in 2018’s Germany. Would these options have made these sides recurring champions? Most likely not. Would they have crashed how they did to fit perfectly in the trend of shortcoming champions? Most likely not. I guess you can say that Joachim Löw couldn’t sniff out the failure this year.
What is known for certain is the fact that great teams always do come back. However, the distance from one triumph to the other could be shortened and performances wouldn’t be deemed as ‘pathetic’ by the world of soccer if popular but aging names would be kept in back pockets as options for possible difficult moments, and not be seen as lone alternatives in a sport often characterized by unpredictable possibilities.
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