What makes a World Cup Champion? A look at the last five winners’ open secret to success

World Cup Champions

By Brian Tamayao

Ever wonder what makes a World Cup champion? Wonder no more. By examining the records of the last five World Champions, we shall be able to find a common denominator to their successes.

First, it’s important to identify who the last five winners are. Germany won it last time in Brazil. Back in 2010, Spain took home their first World Cup. Italy triumphed in Germany four years before Spain did. In the 2002 edition, Brazil secured their fifth World Cup, an act of redemption following their 1998 heartbreak against the French who emerged victorious in 1998.

Now that we’ve recalled the last five champions, we shall look at the teams’ various aspects to find out which is the most common among them.

First to be examined is performance in the last World Cup. A good run in the previous tournament shows the potential of the team to succeed. Having come close before gives players more experience in dealing with similar situations in years to come. Two of the five winners perfectly support this point.

Back when Brazil won the 2002 World Cup, they were extremely delighted as some of the squad’s members were denied victory at the last hurdle in 1998. The Seleçao reached the final of the World Cup only to lose against France. They could’ve gone on to be the first team in 36 years to defend the trophy, which they won in 1994. Instead, their fantastic tournament ended in tears as they succumbed to the hosts.

Another team that did well in the tournament before they won it was Germany. Die Mannschaft thrashed both England and Argentina in South Africa before being booted out by eventual winners Spain in the semifinal. It may not have been their time yet but they didn’t need to wait for long on getting their hands on the prize.

However, the same cannot be said of France in 1998, Italy in 2002, and Spain in 2010. The Spaniards only made it to the Round of 16 back in 2006. Italy also saw their tournament end in the first knockout round. France, meanwhile, did way worse, as they missed the tournament altogether. Evidently, performance in the previous World Cup is not a good indicator of success in the next tournament.

If overall performance in the competition isn’t a good gauge, perhaps offensive firepower is. After all, offense generates goals and goals win games. It is the currency of football. To be ruthless in front of goal means converting more chances which effectively increases every possibility of victory. Looking at the five teams, it’s easy to identify three teams that tick the box in this category.

France, Brazil, and Germany all had loaded front lines that delivered the goals. All of these teams averaged more than two goals scored per game as the likes of Thierry Henry, Ronaldo, and Thomas Müller spearheaded the goalscoring pursuit of their respective national teams. By racking up the goals, these teams have shown that scoring more leads to winning the title.

Italy and Spain, however, beg to differ. The two teams managed to win it without relying on plenty of goals. David Villa may have scored five goals in the 2010 edition but that was already more than half of La Furia Roja’s overall tally. The Italians, four years before, did not have a dominant goalscorer and instead depended on a concerted effort by the squad. Their average, like Spain, was also below two goals per game. With that said, offensive firepower may not be the answer we are looking for.

If it’s not offense, then it should be defense. As the old sporting adage goes, defense wins championships. In a tournament of this format, sometimes scoring is not the most important thing. Winning games is one thing – not losing them is another and if you don’t concede, you don’t lose. Two winners, Spain and Italy, exactly did just that as they made up for their lack of attacking threat by reinforcing their back lines.

It helps to have a great goalkeeper which Italy had in 2006 care of Gigi Buffon and Spain called upon to in the person of Iker Casillas four years later. Both goalkeepers only allowed two goals when they won the World Cup and while they played their part, others too had their say in it. Influential presences like Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta for Italy and Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique for Spain also held the fort for the title-winning teams.

Indeed, the two sides banked on defense to win the World Cup. How about the other three? A quick glance on records also suggests that France, Brazil, and Germany had the level of defensive discipline needed to win the World Cup. In fact, none of them gave away more than four goals out of the seven matches they played.

If we are to find parallels of these three teams’ defenses with the first two mentioned, then we can conclude that the similarities don’t just end with an impressive defensive record. France’s Fabian Barthez and Brazil’s Marcos may not be as great as the other two legendary goalkeepers mentioned before them, but they’ve won multiple titles in their career to show how valuable they are to their teams. Germany’s Manuel Neuer, the latest to win the World Cup, is regarded by many to be the best goalkeeper in the world. Scoring against him with Die Mannschaft is not an achievement many strikers can brag about.

Stellar and, more importantly, effective defenders also graced these three squads. France had the likes of Laurent Blanc and Lilian Thuram, Brazil leaned on Cafu and Lucio, and Germany had the Bayern core of Mats Hummels, Phillip Lahm, and Jerome Boateng to shut down even the brightest of stars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

World Cup trophy

It is safe to say now, after taking a long and hard look, that a sturdy defense is indeed a huge part of winning championships – especially the World Cup. The last five champions have that in common, meaning it is far more than just a coincidence. It’s what makes a World Cup Champion.