Denmark two, France zero.
That was the result on June 11, 2002, which condemned the world champion to last place in Group A. Goals from Dennis Rommedahl and Jon Dahl Tomasson ended a French side that failed to score in South Korea 1-0 at Senegal and 0-0 at Uruguay in the other two games.
Twenty years later, France are world champions again and meet Denmark again in Asia.
Most predictions assume that France will do well. They have a strong squad and a relatively friendly group on paper, which alongside Denmark also face Tunisia and Australia. But like France in 2002, other recent world champions have stuttered at the following World Cup, creating a narrative known as the ‘curse of the world champion’.
Since France’s defeat in 2002, Brazil are the only World Cup holders to progress beyond the group stage. In 2006 they reached the quarterfinals. At the following World Cup in 2010, defending champions Italy finished last in a group with Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand.
After that, Spain were beaten 5-1 by the Netherlands in 2014 and then lost 2-0 to Chile to secure elimination. At the last World Cup, Germany huffed and puffed against South Korea but couldn’t find a way through and ended up conceding two late goals to finish bottom in Group F.
Will the “Curse of the World Champion” strike again?
There are several factors that might make some people doubt Les Bleus.
They go into this World Cup in poor form, only their neighbors across the Channel, England and Wales, are in worse form going into the current international break.
Injuries have hit some key players like N’Golo Kante, Paul Pogba, Christopher Nkunku and Presnel Kimpembe. France’s recent results against opponents Denmark in Group D will not give them much encouragement either; They lost 2-1 to the Danes in Paris in June and conceded a 2-0 defeat in Copenhagen in the last international break.
It has been suggested that the ‘curse of the world champions’ is due to the defending champions allowing their side to go stale, with the players only staying in the past because of their win four years ago.
Spain were among the oldest sides in 2014 and Xavi, David Villa and Xabi Alonso all retired from international duty shortly after their World Cup eliminations. Italy were the fourth oldest team in 2010, while Germany were one of the youngest teams in 2018. The starting eleven is a bit different, as six of the German team in the 2014 final were still in the starting eleven for Germany games against Argentina in 2018, all aged 28 and over.
Possibly more due to injuries than on purpose, France have chosen a young and hungry squad in 2022.
Despite the presence of veteran players like 36-year-old Olivier Giroud and 34-year-old Karim Benzema, France’s squad is the 10th youngest on average. Comparing mean squad age, only Ghana, USA, Wales and Ecuador have chosen younger sides. France head coach Didier Deschamps may have been there and done so, but many of his players have not, given the squad’s average cap 13 caps.
They have many talented players like William Saliba, Jules Kounde and Real Madrid midfielders Aurelien Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga who weren’t part of the 2018 triumph in Moscow and will be just as hungry for their first World Cup medal as everyone else in the team tournament .
Injuries in France’s midfield might seem like a weak point at first, but with the likes of Tchouameni and Camavinga now getting their chance to shine on the global stage, it could prove to be a positive in the end.
France created the so-called “curse of the world champion” back in 2002. This year they hope to finish it.