Is this the most open World Cup for a generation?

Even if you’re not glued to the television like the large majority of the nation, chances are that you’ve had a sneaky look at how the 2018 World Cup is progressing in Russia. With Germany failing to reach the knockout stages of the competition for the first time in 80 years after a 2-0 defeat to South Korea, many are now remarking that this is the most difficult to predict World Cup in years. But are they right and, if so, why is this the case?

It’s worth pointing out that as defending champions, Germany’s fate looked to be sealed before a ball was even kicked. Since a unified Germany managed to make it to the quarter-final stage in 1994 after West Germany’s Italia 90 triumph, no defending champion from the European continent has managed to escape the group stage of the competition – France, Italy and Spain have all succumbed to the same fate in recent years and were arguably much more fancied in their respective tournaments than the Germans were in Russia this year.

One of the best indicators of just how open this year’s tournament is lies in odds relating to the outright winner of the tournament. When scanning through FIFA World Cup betting advice on Betfair for example, it’s easy to see that bookmakers see teams as much of a muchness, re-enforcing most people’s opinions that this year’s tournament contains no standout team, with Brazil and Spain sitting on similar odds. In addition to this, footballing superpowers such as Uruguay and Argentina find themselves behind teams such as Croatia and England in the betting pecking order, which further signifies that the engravers may have to wait until the final whistle before they start etching the name of the winner onto the iconic Jules Rimet trophy.

If there’s one thing has become evident after watching the final group games of this year’s tournament, it’s that good defending is at a premium – the fact that Uruguay have showed the most defensive steel speaks volumes about just how bad everyone else has been at the back. From Egyptian defender Ahmed Fahti slicing home a quite comical own goal against the Russians, to Colombia’s Carlos Sanchez earning a straight red card for the sort of handled goal-line clearance Gordon Banks would be proud of, there have been plenty of moments which wouldn’t look out of place on a footballing gaffes DVD. Perhaps we’re missing the Azzuri more than we thought after all? Come back Italy – all is forgiven.

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If there’s one thing that is certain about this world cup, it’s that the winners will certainly know how to put the ball in the back of the net. With messrs Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar, Suarez and Kane (amongst others) all still left in the tournament, goalkeepers may have to get used to picking the ball out of the net but at least they can have a swig of water when they do so, in what look to be fairly sweltering conditions. Nevertheless, it’s been an interesting tournament so far and with the phrase “We’re gonna score one more than you” seemingly more relevant than ever, “vindaloo” may well be getting some hammer over the summer after England bring the trophy home. Well, maybe not actually.

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