World Cup: The surprise packages from the last two tournaments

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World Cup: The surprise packages from the last two tournaments

The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar is now upon us. Football’s greatest spectacle is one of the few times where the world stands still, with billions upon billions of people all watching the same event, and over the next month, that will be a daily occurrence.

Didier Deschamps led France to glory four years ago in Russia, defeating Belgium, Uruguay and Argentina en route to the final, where they would meet and defeat Croatia in Moscow.

On that rainy evening in the Russian capital, the French lifted the famous gold trophy for the second time. Exactly 20 years prior, they went all the way on home turf, famously defeating Brazil in the Parisian showpiece courtesy of a Zinedine Zidane double.

OddsChecker, which compares odds and provides free bets on the World Cup, has made Les Bleus one of the favourites for glory once again this time around.

If they were to lift the trophy again inside the 80,000-capacity Lusail Stadium on December 17th, they would become the first nation since Pele’s Brazil to successfully defend the trophy by winning back-to-back tournaments.

You have to go all the way back to 1962 for the last time that happened. And it is the Selecao that have been earmarked as the favourites this winter.

Their archrivals Argentina may have something to say about that, however. The Albicelestes are the reigning champions of South America, an honour they earned when they defeated Brazil in the Maracana in last year's Copa America final.

Lionel Messi finally bagged his first-ever international winner's medal at that tournament, and 18 months on from his most famous success, he will be featuring at the FIFA World Cup for the fifth and final time. His teammates will be hoping to send him bowing out from the international game at the very top.

Every year, there are surprises that we never see coming. The Argentinians stunned everyone four years ago for all the wrong reasons, as did Germany when they were eliminated in the group stage. But who have been the surprise packages for the right reasons?

Four years ago, there was a similar feeling toward the host nation as there is in 2022. Believe it or not, however, this year's hosts are ranked 15 places higher than their predecessors in 2018.

Yes, that’s right, Russia were considered the 65th-best team in the world, heading into their own World Cup, the lowest ranking of all 32 qualified nations. They hadn’t picked up a victory in their last seven fixtures and expectations couldn’t have been any lower.

That was all forgotten in the tournament's opening game in Moscow however. The hosts thumped Saudi Arabia 5-0 in front of 78,000 fans at the Luzhniki Stadium. And from there, they never looked back.

Target man Artem Dzyuba was at his menacing best in their second group game against Egypt. He scored one the second in a 3-1 victory over Mohammed Salah and co.

They fell to defeat in their third and final group game against Uruguay which meant they finished as runners-up to the South Americans in Group A, setting up a tie with Spain in the last 16.

The 2010 winners had topped Group B ahead of rivals Portugal however, their performances were anything but vintage.

Regardless, many expected Las Rojas to progress at the hosts’ expense, and those predictions looked set to be proved to be correct when Sergio Ramos and Sergei Ignasevich’s tussle resulted in the ball ending up in the Russian net.

Despite trailing, the hosts fought back and were awarded a penalty shortly before halftime for a controversial handball call against Gerard Pique.

The unflappable Dzyuba converted the scores and remained 1-1 until the end of extra time, resulting in a penalty shootout.

The Spanish had won their last three penalty shootouts however they hadn’t banked on the heroics of CSKA Moscow’s Igor Akinfeev. The Russian number one saved brilliantly from Koke and Iago Aspas to send his nation to the last eight against all odds.

That proved to be one step too far, however, despite further heroics. The sensational Denis Cheryshev gave the Russians an early lead in the quarterfinal in Sochi, but the Croatians came storming back.

Andrej Kramaric equalised for the visitors before Domagoj Vida gave them the lead in extra time. The Russian carnival wasn’t over just yet though, and Mario Fernandes somehow found a last-gasp equaliser to send the tie to penalties.

The right-back went from hero to villain, however. He missed his spot kick which gave Ivan Rakitic the chance to end the hosts’ run, and he didn’t disappoint, sending Akinfeev the wrong way to dissolve the Russians into tears.

A staple of the FIFA World Cup for many a year has been the daunted group of death. In Brazil eight years ago, that group contained England, Italy, Uruguay, and lowly Costa Rica.

Experts the world over didn't give the Central Americans any hope at all. But they announced their arrival on the world stage in blistering fashion.

On the opening weekend of the tournament, they came back from 1-0 down against Uruguay with three second-half goals giving them a 3-1 victory.

England and Italy celebrated that victory, but not for long. The Azzurri beat the Three Lions as that pair squared off in their opening game of the tournament.

Then, a Luis Suarez double stunned England, consigning them to another defeat, before Costa Rica were up to their old tricks again.

Former Fulham man Bryan Ruiz scored the only goal of the game when his side squared off with Italy in their second game, miraculously giving them top spot in the group.

And they weren’t finished there. They would go on to defeat Greece on penalties in the second round, before taking the Netherlands to penalties in the last eight.

They didn’t bank on the ace up Louis van Gaal’s sleeve, however. He substituted off his goalkeeper Jesper Cillessen in the last minute of extra time and brought on Tim Krul in his place, a specialist at saving penalties.

The Dutchman would save from Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umana, sending the Oranje to the semifinals and the Costa Ricans home with their heads held high.

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