The 2022 FIFA World Cup is finally here. Thirty-two of the planet's finest footballing nations are currently in transit to the Arabian Gulf to battle it out for the honour of being called the champions of the world. On November 20th, football’s greatest spectacle gets underway as hosts Qatar face off with Ecuador. France enters the tournament as the reigning champions however, OddsChecker, which provides World Cup free bets, has earmarked Brazil as the favourites to lift the trophy.
With a new story to be written in the book of the FIFA World Cup, we take a look back to the previous chapter, written four years ago in Russia. The 2018 edition of the tournament will go down in memory as one of the greatest in history. The opening days of the competition had enough memories to last a lifetime. The hosts thrashed Saudi Arabia 5-0 in the opening game of the tournament. Cristiano Ronaldo then stole the spotlight on day two with a magical hat trick in Portugal’s thrilling 3-3 draw with Spain.
There was plenty of talking throughout the tournament. Reigning champions Germany fell in the group stages after losing to Mexico and South Korea. England won their first-ever penalty shootout, defeating Colombia in the last 16 before going on to reach the semifinals for the first time since Italia ‘90. And while all those matches were barnburners, we’ve managed to whittle the 64 matches that took place down to the top two.
This year, Argentina are the second favourites behind Brazil for World Cup glory. Four years ago, it was a completely different story. The two-time winners looked set to be heading out in the group stages only for Marcos Rojo to smash home an 86th-minute winner against Nigeria. That set up a last-16 date with France. Les Bleus were unbeaten in the group stages, winning two of three, and were expected to comfortably handle their South American opponents. But if there’s one thing you can never do, it's write off Lionel Messi.
The French took an early lead through Antoine Griezmann ’s penalty, awarded after the marauding Kylian Mbappé was flattened in the penalty area. But Argentina came roaring back and were level when Angel Di Maria rifled one into the top corner of Hugo Lloris’ goal from 30 yards out. Then three minutes after the halftime interval, the Albicelestes shockingly took the lead when defender Gabriel Mercado deflected Messi’s shot past the despairing Lloris.
But from there, the French took over. Nine minutes after they fell behind, they were level courtesy of Benjamin Pavard’s wonder strike. Then two goals in four minutes from the brilliant Mbappé put the tie to bed. Sergio Aguero pulled one back late on for the underdogs, but it was too little, too late.
Expectations for Russia in their own World Cup couldn’t have been any lower. They were ranked 65th in the world rankings, the lowest of any nation that qualified for the tournament, and were without a win in seven in the buildup to the tournament.
Despite that though, Stanislav Cherchesov managed to galvanise his side to pick up wins over Saudi Arabia and Mohammed Salah’s Egypt in the group stage to finish as runners-up behind Uruguay. Then, in the second round, the Russians stunned the world by defeating Spain on penalties to reach the quarter-finals.
All that stood between them and a place in the final four was Croatia. And it looked like they too would be swept aside when Denis Cheryshev thumped home from 25-yards to give the hosts the lead. Croatia would battle back and equalise through Andrej Kramarić. The match finished 1-1 and went into extra time, and the visitors thought they had won it when Domagoj Vida gave them the lead.
But the Russians once again came steaming back and equalised with just four minutes to go courtesy of Mario Fernandes' bullet header, which took the tie to penalties. And it was there where the right back's ecstasy turned to agony. He missed Russia’s fifth and final spot kick which allowed Ivan Rakitic to slot home the decider and break Russian hearts.