Holders who starred
Italy won the second edition of the World Cup on home soil in 1934, but their triumph was not without controversy. With dictator Benito Mussolini keen to see the country do well in order to promote his own brand of fascism, several opponents decried foul play and corruption.
Nothing was ever proven, but it should not be forgotten that Italy possessed a fine team – as they proved in France four years later. The Azzurri beat Norway, the hosts and Brazil to set up a final against Hungary, which they won 4-2.
Brazil were the second nation to retain the World Cup, a feat which has not been repeated since. The pain of 1950, when the Selecao lost what was essentially the final on home soil, was lessened with their success in Sweden eight years later, and they moved level with Uruguay and Italy on two tournament triumphs in 1962.
An early injury to star man Pele threatened to derail Brazil’s title defence, but they regrouped to comfortably qualify for the knockout phase. England were dispatched 3-1 in the quarter-finals and Chile overcome 4-2 in the last four, before a talented team containing the likes of Garrincha, Vava and Didi beat Czechoslovakia 3-1 in the Santiago showpiece.
A Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina won the country’s second World Cup in 1986, and they almost added a third to their collection four years later. Maradona was not quite as brilliant in Italy as he had been in Mexico, but the captain still managed to lead his country to another final.
The holders’ campaign began badly with a 1-0 loss to Cameroon, but they recovered to squeeze through the group stage as one of the best third-place finishers. Claudio Caniggia’s goal defeated Brazil in the last 16, before Argentina overcame both Yugoslavia and Italy on penalties to reach the final, where they lost 1-0 to West Germany.
Holders who flopped
Spain had won the last three major tournaments they had entered heading into 2014: Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. They had, admittedly, shown signs of vulnerability in losing 3-0 to Brazil in the final of the Confederations Cup a year before the main event, but no one anticipated the group stage implosion that followed.
It appeared to be business as usual when La Roja took the lead in their opening game against the Netherlands, but five Dutch goals in response left Spain – and the watching world – stunned. A 2-0 loss to Chile a few days later meant the holders were the first team to be eliminated.
The first time the Azzurri were eliminated at the group stage as holders was in 1950, but that team was completely different to the one which had triumphed in the previous edition of the tournament in 1938. The 2010 iteration had no such excuse, falling at the first hurdle despite being drawn in a favourable group.
Marcello Lippi’s side were held to a 1-1 draw by Paraguay in their first game, and that scoreline was repeated when they faced New Zealand soon after. Italy’s fate remained in their own hands, but a 3-2 reverse against Slovakia sent them out in ignominy.
France were crowned world champions for the first time when they hosted the competition in 1998, before following that success up with victory at Euro 2000. Many tipped them to make it three in a row in South Korea and Japan, but Les Bleus crashed and burned in spectacular fashion.
A 1-0 loss to Senegal was arguably the biggest opening-game shock of all time, with Cameroon’s 1-0 victory over Argentina in 1990 the only other contender. France then drew 0-0 with Uruguay and lost 2-0 to Denmark, forcing them to board an early flight home.
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