Brazil are the favourites to win the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but after so many shock results could this be the year of the underdog? DEAN WORKMAN explores.
Out of the pre-tournament favourites, Germany were the first to exit, after suffering a group stage departure for the first time in their illustrious history, and they were quickly followed by Argentina, Portugal and Spain, who all lost their last-16 games.
Argentina lost out to France after never really impressing in Russia. Portugal lost to a well-drilled and impressive Uruguay. While it was Spain who offered the biggest shock, losing to hosts Russia in a penalty shoot-out.
Now out of those who were thought to have the pedigree to reign supreme in Russia, only Brazil, Belgium and France remain.
All three of those star-studded teams are joined by Uruguay in the one side of the draw. Didier Deschamps’s France will do battle against Oscar Tabarez’s Uruguay team for a semi-final berth against the winner of the mouth-watering clash between Tite’s Brazil and Roberto Martinez’s Belgium.
With only one of these teams able to reach the final, we will certainly see more disappointment for some of the pre-tournament favourites.
The team who comes out trumps in that half of the draw will come up against a side who probably would only have dreamed of making the final when the tournament kicked off last month.
Left in the second half of the draw are England, Sweden, Croatia and Russia.
Gareth Southgate’s England overcame their penalty shoot-out hoodoo to win their first knockout game in 12 years and that has sparked the belief in the camp. They will come up against a well-drilled and organised Sweden who will be in the quarter-finals for the first time since 1994.
In the other game, Croatia will face hosts Russia. Zlatko Dalić’s Croatian side have impressed throughout the World Cup, cruising through the group stages before showing nerve to win a penalty shoot-out against Denmark. While Stanislav Cherchesov’s Russian side have defied all the odds to reach the quarter-finals after all the pre-tournament form suggested they would find it difficult. Instead, they have risen to the occasion and backed by the home crowds, have begun to dream of glory.
Out of those four teams, only England have ever won the World Cup, and that was all the way back in 1966.
Whichever side progresses through this side of the draw, know they will face a top-quality side in the final. But in a World Cup which has offered shocks, surprises and drama galore on a daily basis, can we really rule out another one in the final?
This might just be the year of the underdog.