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Germany join list of World Cup holders who imploded at next tournament

Germany have become the fourth defending champions in the last five World Cups to exit in the first round, when prior to this stretch such a fall from grace had not occurred since 1966. So what happened to the others, and is there a common theme?

France, 2002

Having ridden the wave of multicultural goodwill to a home victory in 1998, this was arguably the most dramatic fall, France crashing out without scoring a goal in Japan and South Korea. It began with that infamous defeat to Senegal, followed by an insipid draw with Uruguay in which Thierry Henry was sent off, before a half-fit Zinedine Zidane was rushed back for the final game against Denmark. Zidane couldn't drag them to success again, and they were out.

What was to blame?

Too much faith was given to the heroes of four years earlier, the likes of Marcel Desailly, Bixente Lizarazu and Youri Djorkaeff creaking with the extra miles in their legs. They couldn't cope with Zidane's early absence, and several players complained of burnout after exhausting domestic seasons. In isolation, all sound like excuses, but when combined they meant calamity.

What happened next?

Roger Lemerre was sacked, and after Jacques Santini's two years in charge the French FA took the maverick step of appointing Raymond Domenech to steady the ship. Remarkably, it sort of worked. France somehow stumbled into the 2006 final before repeating the shambles in 2010.

Italy, 2010

After winning in 2006, Marcelo Lippi retired to sail his boat around the Mediterranean. But like an old boxer who doesn't know when to quit, he came back after Roberto Donadoni's tenure didn't go so well. A draw in the opening game against Paraguay wasn't the end of the world, but failing to beat New Zealand next up was closer to it. A win over Slovakia in the final game would have been enough, but they lost 3-2 and slunk home.

What was to blame?

The squad was tired, with nine players 30 and older, but while this might seem simplistic, those players also just weren't that good. The squad in 2006 wasn't great, but this time the better players were four years creakier, and apart from Leonardo Bonucci, the newer talent wasn't up to much. Had the returning Lippi managed to recreate the spirit of four years earlier it would have been something close to a miracle.

What happened next?

Italy reached the final of Euro 2012 under Cesare Prandelli, but as it turned out their departure in 2010 became a theme, rather than an exception. They were eliminated, along with England, at the same stage in 2014, and of course Gian Piero Ventura's mess didn't even make it to Russia this summer.

Spain, 2014

Not only World Cup holders, Spain were double European champions and, with the core of their great team intact, among the favourites in Brazil. All was going reasonably well until just before halftime in their first game, 1-0 up over a ragtag Netherlands, before hellfire was unleashed. They ended up losing that one 5-1, then slumped to a 2-0 loss against Chile and they were out. And not just out, but the first team in the tournament to be eliminated.

What was to blame?

The end of an era in so many ways: this proved to be a tournament too far for Xavi and David Villa, neither of whom played another international, while others like Iker Casillas clung on but maybe shouldn't have. But mostly for Vicente del Bosque, whose hold over the national team was gone, and he stepped down after the tournament with two major titles and the thanks of his nation.

What happened next?

Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Sergio Ramos, David Silva and several more players who failed in Brazil are still around, defeated on penalties by Italy at Euro 2016 but through in Russia. There is a sense that this wasn't a national team that needed to be ripped up, just refreshed.

Germany, 2018

When Jogi Low left Leroy Sane out of his 23-man squad, it looked like a power move, an indication to the rest of the world that Germany were not messing around. As it turns out, that was a facade. The defeat to Mexico in the opening game sounded alarm bells that were briefly muffled by Toni Kroos' late intervention against Sweden. While that was a magnificent moment, it was not representative of their tournament: a confused team lost to South Korea and jumped straight on a plane home.

What was to blame?

Perhaps it's too early to fully comprehend what went wrong, but it is tempting to think that Low has simply been there too long. After taking over from Jurgen Klinsmann in 2006, it's easy to see, 12 years later, why his messages simply might no longer be getting through. It doesn't help that those messages have seemed confused: he made four changes from the first game, then five in the third.

What happened next?

Perhaps this is a blip. This is Germany, after all, and this is the first time they have fallen at the first round of a World Cup since 1938. But only time will tell: Low is still in place, and it will be fascinating to see how they recover from something they are entirely unused to.

What do they all have in common?

It's interesting that three of these four these teams not only went out but finished bottom of their group. The natural randomness of a result from only three games must be a caveat, but when giants fall they tend to fall hard.

The biggest through-line in these falls from grace is a lack of renewal. Aside from France, they each had the same manager who had lead them in the tournament before, the voice of the man at the top perhaps becoming tired and simply not listened to. They're also all characterised by ageing personnel: winning a World Cup will get you a lot of goodwill, too much perhaps, and in all the teams you can identify at least two or three players who should have been omitted, and probably would have been if they didn't have the cache of previous success.

Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.

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