France showed it at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, and Italy proved it again at South Africa 2010; when world title defences fail, they often fail in spectacular fashion.
This year the curse of the returning champion fell on Alfonso Ramos. The Spaniard went into the Grand Final of the FIFA Interactive World Cup 2013 a year after winning the title in Dubai, but saw his hopes of retaining his crown blown away by a surprise first-round exit.
"I don't like losing at anything, so it has left me with a very bitter taste. I've always been competitive," Ramos, a powerhouse of the virtual game, told FIFA.com, still smarting from his failure to reach the quarter-finals. "I must admit I was very upset when I was knocked out because, obviously, I don't like being beaten. It was disappointing, as I believed I could have gone further and won the title again."
After his fate was sealed, Ramos rushed out of Cafe 40 – the venue for day two of the competition – to cool down and reflect. The pressure of being such a hot favourite would seem the obvious reason for his premature exit, but the Spaniard maintains that the added expectation was never a factor. "I felt no extra pressure – quite the opposite," he said. "Being the defending champion meant I had nothing to prove. I think I played well, but the ball just didn't want to go in."
Elusive cutting edge
The tournament did not start badly for Ramos, who finished day one of his Group A campaign with a win and a draw. Fortune, however, was not with him as he failed to score a single goal on the second and decisive day. The Spaniard played out a goalless draw with Stanislav Chakarov before suffering consecutive 1-0 defeats against Ovidiu Patrascu and Andres Botero, resulting in his early and entirely unexpected elimination.
"I couldn't find a cutting edge, despite having some very clear chances and one-on-ones against the goalkeeper," Ramos explained. "My opponents even congratulated me for playing better than them. But this is football, and if the ball doesn't go in, you pay a high price."
The mere mention of his untimely exit brings a grimace to Alfonso's face, which, considering his competitive nature, is hardly surprising. "I don't like losing at anything at all," said the former champion. "It even annoyed me that I didn't finish on the podium after this morning's activities!" he added with a smile, referring to the go-kart races organised for the competitors on the morning of the grand final.
Ramos believes the standard of competition is improving all the time, noting that "this year there were 2.5 million registered players, which forces you to improve and perfect your game every day". With this in mind, he knows he will need to work hard to win the title again and earn another trip to the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala.
"It's going to feel strange to not be able to be there again [at the Gala] with all those famous figures," Ramos said. "I think that's what I like most about the FIWC. While the prize money is significant, the chance to be around the likes of [Lionel] Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Xavi and [Gerard] Pique is a reward that few get to experience."
"But I'm not going to be defeated by what has happened," Ramos added as the interview concluded. "I have no doubt that I'll be back next year, fighting for a return to Zurich [for the Ballon d'Or Gala] in 2015."