The “curse of the champions” was first referenced at the World Cup in 1982, as defending Belgium knocked out champions Argentina in the second round following a 3-2 defeat.
Similarly, West Germany was defeated 1-0 by Spain in the group stage at Italia ‘90; Brazil’s defeat to the Netherlands at France ‘98 came after their victory four years prior, and Italy was eliminated from Korea/Japan ‘02 in the first phase after winning two years beforehand.
Each of these losing finalists had reached consecutive finals, which set the trend for what could be considered a curse for repeat winners.
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This jinx has only been lifted once – by Brazil, who did win again – when they defeated Peru to lift their fifth trophy in 1998.
Could France face the same ‘curse’ in the ongoing FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar?
No Benzema, No Problem?
After winning the FIFA Ballon Dior award on Saturday, Les Bleus striker Karim Benzema was ruled out of the World Cup with a thigh injury, according to Bleacher Report. The injury comes as a big blow for France coach Didier Deschamps, who may have to find a new striker for his first-choice attacking trio alongside Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann.
While Deschamps refused to call up Anthony Martial—who has been out of favor at Manchester United—the options are limited regarding other young players who could be called up at such short notice.
Benzema’s absence could be huge for France: he scored three goals in qualifying and has been key to the team’s success over the past decade. It also means that Les Bleus will need to find a way to replace his experience and leadership if they want to retain their title as world champions in 2022.
Kante- Pogba Midfield Conundrum
France’s midfield has been arguably the most important factor of their success in recent years. The midfield carried France to their first World Cup title since 208, when they beat Croatia 4-1 in the final to win the tournament.
However, with players such as Kante and Pogba ruled out with injuries, Deschamps will have to rely on less experienced midfielders such as Tchuameni and Camavinga, who are new faces and have only played a handful of matches for Les Bleus so far.
A Young Defense
The 2018 World Cup saw an experienced defensive partnership between Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti. These two players have played together for many years and are very familiar with each other’s style of play.
The current squad includes young debutants in defense like William Saliba, Moussa Konate, and Dayot Upamecano, which might cause Les Blues problems when facing more experienced teams.
Lack of experience might cause France to concede goals from set pieces or long balls over the top due to their lack of height in central positions compared to other teams.