2018 FIFA World Cup Team Preview: Analysing Portugal's Chances at the Tournament

Two years on from Portugal’s Euro 2016 win, it’s still difficult to know what to think of it. 

On the one hand, they won the tournament, and that’s all that matters. They beat the hosts in the final, Cristiano Ronaldo finally got his hands on a major international trophy, and ​nobody in Portugal cares how they did it.

But Portugal were more than a little fortunate to lift the Henri Delaunay trophy. They won only one match in normal time, drew all three of their group matches despite a very favourable draw, and didn’t face one of the main competitors until the final. And if Ronaldo thought that winning the trophy would end the Lionel Messi comparisons, he was sorely mistaken.

Still, it was an impressive achievement after their ignominious early exit from the 2014 World Cup. Since reaching the semi finals in 2006 Portugal have only beaten North Korea and Ghana at the World Cup, and they still seem to rely very heavily on one tactic: give it to Ronaldo and pray. Not a bad tactic, to be fair.

Ronaldo is 33 now and the World Cup is the only major honour which still eludes him. After Messi finally shone at a major finals in 2014, the pressure is on his nemesis to do the same this summer. The clock is ticking.


How They Qualified

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For most of their qualifying campaign, it looked like Portugal would need a playoff to decide their World Cup fate for a third consecutive tournament.

After losing their opening game to Switzerland, Portugal won their next eight matches – but so did the Swiss. It all came down to the reverse fixture between the two in Lisbon, where Portugal won 2-0 to advance to the finals on goal difference.

It would have been harsh if Portugal hadn’t qualified. They scored 32 goals in their group, a number eclipsed only by Germany, Spain and Belgium. Cristiano Ronaldo scored 15 of those goals – only Poland’s Robert Lewandowski netted more in the European section.

Portugal also conceded just four goals; only Spain and England let in fewer. The group might not have been the hardest, but it shows that Fernando Santos’ team has quality at both ends of the field.


Group Stage Games


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Despite being seeded for the draw, Portugal ended up in the same group as Iberian neighbours Spain – and their campaign begins against Julen Lopetegui’s side in Sochi on 15 June. Spain’s last two World Cups have begun with a defeat, so Portugal will hope to capitalise on another slow start.

The second game takes Portugal to Moscow for what many people think will be the decisive game in the group against Morocco. Defeat to Spain in the opening match coupled with a Morocco win over Iran would leave Portugal needing a win to keep their fate in their own hands.

It’s likely to come down to the final game against Iran in Saransk on 25 June. The familiar face of Carlos Queiroz awaits in the Iran dugout, but even his in-depth knowledge of Portugal is unlikely to save Iran. Portugal should win that one, and hopefully that will be enough.


Possible Route to the Final

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Group B is a good group of qualify from, as it guarantees a last 16 clash with a side from the weak Group A.

The most likely outcome is that Portugal will finish 2nd in their group to set up a second round meeting with Uruguay. This would be a very evenly-matched affair but Portugal showed in 2016 that they know how to navigate a tight knockout match.

Win there, and you’re looking at a Euro 2016 rematch against France in the quarter finals. Two years on, a hardened French side are unlikely to make the same mistakes and that will be probably be the end of the road for Portugal.

If they do get through to the semis, Brazil are the most likely opponents followed by Argentina, Spain or Germany in the final. Anyone for a Ronaldo vs Messi showdown?


Squad List

Portugal v Egypt - International Friendly

Fernando Santos has named his 23 man squad for the World Cup. Euro 2016 final goalscorer Eder and young player of the tournament Renato Sanches are among those who miss out.


Goalkeepers: Anthony Lopes, Beto, Rui Patricio

Defenders: Bruno Alves, Cedric Soares, Jose Fonte, Mario Rui, Pepe, Raphael Guerreiro, Ricardo Pereira, Ruben Dias

Midfielders: Adrien Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Joao Mario, Joao Moutinho, Manuel Fernandes, William Carvalho

Forwards: Andre Silva, Bernardo Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gelson Martins, Goncalo Guedes, Ricardo Quaresma


Predicted Lineup

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(4-4-2) Rui Patricio; Raphael Guerreiro, Pepe, Jose Fonte, Cedric Soares; Joao Mario, William Carvalho, Joao Moutinho, Bernardo Silva; Cristiano Ronaldo, Andre Silva


Prediction

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One man teams don’t win major tournaments. Ronaldo went off after 25 minutes of the Euro 2016 final and Portugal went on to win, so clearly they can survive without him. But…

A lot will depend on Portugal’s talisman. If he’s on it from the word go then Portugal could even top their group, and a last 16 meeting with Egypt or Russia would be much more winnable than one against Uruguay. And once you reach the quarter finals – with Ronaldo in form – who knows?

On the other hand, if Ronaldo goes missing for the first two games like he did at the Euros and the last World Cup, Portugal could already be out by the time he comes to the party. Because if he doesn’t get the goals, who will? Probable strike partner Andre Silva only scored twice in 24 Serie A appearances for Milan this season.

The most likely outcome is that Portugal will go out in the last 16 or the quarter finals. If Uruguay don’t eliminate them, then France or Argentina will. Despite winning Euro 2016 they remain outside that elite group of nations, and nobody is really expecting them to challenge for the trophy.

Mind you, we’ve said that before.

We Need to Enjoy the 2018 World Cup as Much as We Can – Because It's All Change From 2022

​The St. George’s flags are starting to be unfurled, dusty old vintage 1998 England tops taken out of the cupboard, Baddiel and Skinner loaded up on Spotify…World Cup fever is almost upon us.

With all major domestic club issues save for the small matter of the Champions League final now settled, thoughts are inevitably turning towards the opening game in Russia, now just less than two weeks away.

This fervent build up is all part and parcel of the experience for football fans from all nations, yet the giddiness for the most famous competition in world sport to begin is somewhat soured this time around by the feeling that this may be the last ‘classic’ World Cup we ever experience.

The controversy and issues surrounding the 2022 edition to take place in Qatar are so well-documented that they barely need going over. A seemingly totally corrupt bidding process has been followed by shocking human rights abuses where a staggering 1200 workers have allegedly lost their lives during construction work on the sites. 

Surely it is already the most controversial World Cup of all time, and we still have four years to go before it even takes place. Will we really be able to get as excited about the competition as we usually do? It would seem almost immoral to do so.

2022 will also be the first time that the World Cup is held in winter, with it still being unclear how this is going to affect domestic club football. The World Cup and summer go together like chalk and cheese, and it will be a big and alien adjustment to make, both for fans and players.

Forget a sunny beers garden with your mates, it is more likely you’ll be huddled around a TV with the central heating on full blast, not exactly the image you associate with supporting the Three Lions at an international tournament. 

Looking forward, it is still unclear where the competition will take place four years afterwards in 2026, although Morocco has been rumoured as an intriguing potential destination. This edition of the competition, however, will be the first in which 48 teams participate – a ridiculously high number which will surely lead to low quality matches and poor crowd attendances.

Sure, there will inevitably be some boring games in Russia this year, and it is unlikely that you will be rushing home from work to watch Japan vs Senegal, but the proposed new system of 16 groups of three teams, with the top two going through, will surely lead to so many dead rubber matches that the unique spirit and competitiveness of the tournament will be in jeopardy. 

Plus, won’t somebody think of the Panini sticker collections? You’d need to re-mortgage your house to finish it all.

Further in the future than that, who knows what could happen. With FIFA in the state it currently is – dysfunctional, corrupt and shamelessly money obsessed – nothing would be surprising. What new gimmick will they come up with for World Cup 2030? The first competition to take place on the moon, perhaps? It would probably still have a better atmosphere than Qatar will.

So this is quite possibly the last time we will enjoy a World Cup in its current format: 32 nations battling it out in by-and-large fiercely contested matches, in a country that, while not perfect, at least offers some footballing heritage and history. Soak up every minute of the beautiful game at its very best, because future versions of the event could very well become hugely disappointing. 

Suddenly Switzerland vs Costa Rica doesn’t look so unappealing after all. 

In Profile: Assessing Whether Man City Should Press Ahead With a Deal to Sign Inter's Milan Škriniar

​Manchester City stormed to the Premier League title in 2017/18 and ended up winning with a 19 point cushion, suggesting on the face of it that there isn’t even any need to sign new players this summer.

Realistically that is a naïve way to assess the situation, because rival teams will be clamouring to strengthen in a bid to close the gap at the top.

FC Internazionale v Bologna FC - Serie A

The season has only just ended and so far the Citizens have been linked with moves for a number of players – with Jorginho and Riyad Mahrez expected to be the first names through the door.

Jorginho is a player said to be nearing a move to the Etihad, especially following his agent’s recent comments, but Internazionale defender Milan Škriniar is definitely another Serie A star Pep Guardiola should be keeping his eye on.

Hailing from Žiar nad Hronom, Slovakia, Škriniar joined the youth setup of MŠK Žilina at the age of 12, and made his senior debut for the club shortly after turning 17.

In 2016 he managed to impress enough in his homeland for the scouts of Sampdoria to come knocking with an offer. He signed, and completed one full season at Stadio Luigi Ferraris before getting his big break with Italian giants Inter, where he seriously caught the eye in 2017/18.

So much so, that ​Manchester City have seemingly now earmarked the youngster as a potential summer signing, even while other clubs – ​such as Barcelona – are the ones being linked of late.

Škriniar would, in theory, represent a good long-term investment given his young age of 23. He’s physically ideal, too – at 6ft 2in. He isn’t so small that centre forwards can out-leap him, but not too tall in that his manoeuvrability is badly affected. He isn’t fast per se, but he isn’t clumsy like a lot of lanky defenders you see today. Also, his passing success was an impressive 91%.

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He was one of Inter’s most consistent performers in 2017/18. The Nerazzurri finished the season with the joint-second best defensive record in Serie A and only lost six times in the division, with two of those defeats coming in the final three games as the concentration slipped.

Škriniar’s ever-present influence at the back and his partnership with Miranda turned Inter into a very tricky side to beat, and helped to successfully aid their bid to be in next season’s Champions League.

FC Basel v Manchester City - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg

He seems to have developed at a rapid rate which is always going to alert the big clubs. With Vincent Kompany ageing, City can be forgiven for being excited about this player, but they also need to be wary.

Despite a promising start to his career, Škriniar only has ten months’ worth of experience in a top five league and may find the Premier League much tougher going that the notoriously slower-paced Italian league. 

Stoke City v Manchester City - Premier League

Then there’s also John Stones and Aymeric Laporte to consider, and how their playing time and development specifically could be affected. Having three young centre-backs at the club could  mean at least one slows down and/or ends up becoming frustrated. That said, Pep Guardiola always has the option of playing three at the back, but that means taking out a midfielder or a forward.

In fairness though Guardiola did an excellent job of sharing the workload last season, ensuring he rotated his side when he needed to, and all of the younger players got decent game time.

Ultimately though, Škriniar is a Guardiola player. He’s a ball-player and has a good footballing brain, capable of being moulded into a great one. There’s a reason he’s also being linked with Barcelona. A reason why he was named in the U21s Euro 2017 Team of the Tournament. A reason why he is already a regular for the Slovakian national team.​

Relief for Switzerland as Granit Xhaka Knee Injury Proves Less Serious Than Feared

​Granit Xhaka’s place at the 2018 World Cup has been thrown into doubt after he suffered a knee injury in training for Switzerland on Thursday.

Swiss news outlet ​RTS broke the story that the ​Arsenal midfielder suffered the injury to his left knee from a collision with teammate Valon Behrami during a rain-soaked training session in Lugano.

Images have emerged showing Xhaka being helped off the pitch, and he was taken to hospital for further scans to determine the severity of the injury.


He will definitely miss Switzerland’s penultimate warm up match against Spain on Sunday and may face a race against time to be fit for his team’s opening game of the World Cup against Brazil in Rostov on 17 June.


It would be a cruel blow for Xhaka, who enjoyed a clean bill of health for the whole of the 2017/18 season as he featured in every league game for Arsenal.

Xhaka has scored 9 goals in 61 appearances for Switzerland since making his international debut in 2011. One of these came at the last World Cup when he scored in a 5-2 group stage defeat against France.


After the Spain friendly, Switzerland face Japan in Italy next Friday before travelling to their World Cup base in Togliatti.

After the opener against Brazil, Switzerland’s remaining group games are against Serbia in Kaliningrad on 22 June and Costa Rica in Nizhny Novgorod on 27 June.

Granit Xhaka's World Cup Participation in Doubt After Being Taken to Hospital With Knee Injury

​Granit Xhaka’s place at the 2018 World Cup has been thrown into doubt after he suffered a knee injury in training for Switzerland on Thursday.

Swiss news outlet ​RTS broke the story that the ​Arsenal midfielder suffered the injury to his left knee from a collision with teammate Valon Behrami during a rain-soaked training session in Lugano.

Images have emerged showing Xhaka being helped off the pitch, and he was taken to hospital for further scans to determine the severity of the injury.


He will definitely miss Switzerland’s penultimate warm up match against Spain on Sunday and may face a race against time to be fit for his team’s opening game of the World Cup against Brazil in Rostov on 17 June.


It would be a cruel blow for Xhaka, who enjoyed a clean bill of health for the whole of the 2017/18 season as he featured in every league game for Arsenal.

Xhaka has scored 9 goals in 61 appearances for Switzerland since making his international debut in 2011. One of these came at the last World Cup when he scored in a 5-2 group stage defeat against France.


After the Spain friendly, Switzerland face Japan in Italy next Friday before travelling to their World Cup base in Togliatti.

After the opener against Brazil, Switzerland’s remaining group games are against Serbia in Kaliningrad on 22 June and Costa Rica in Nizhny Novgorod on 27 June.

7 of the Most Euphoric Moments in World Cup History

​There simply is no tournament like it. The World Cup elevates every emotion to it’s zenith. Even the simplest of goals can cause millions to feel euphoria like never before; when your nation’s chances of world domination are on the line, every tiny detail feels like a decisive one. 

Throughout the tournament’s existence since 1930, it’s safe to say that almost every corner of the world has felt some sort of ecstasy while seeing their team compete in the famous competition. 

Having said that, let’s take a look at eight of the most euphoric moments in World Cup history…


Andrés Iniesta’s World Cup Winning Extra Time Goal  

Spain's midfielder Andrés Iniesta (R) sh

“Everything stops, we are alone, just the ball and me.”

With just four minutes to go in extra time of the 2010 World Cup final, everybody fretting over the potentiality of a penalty shootout, Andres Iniesta sent Spain into frenzy. 

The Barcelona maestro expertly drilled the ball past Maartin Stekelenburg to spark scenes of joy, and truly showed his class by dedicating his strike to the late Dani Jarque; an Espanyol defender who had died of a heart attack. 

Classy even in the most frantic of moments. 


Dennis Berkgamp’s Exquisite Quarter Final Goal Against Argentina

Dutch forward Dennis Bergkamp kicks the ball past

“You’re in that moment. That’s the feeling. After the first two touches…that moment! It’s like your life has led up to this moment.”

Dennis Bergkamp famously said that after his first two touches, he knew it couldn’t go wrong. And right he was. After plucking Frank de Boer’s long ball out of the sky with ease, the Arsenal legend poked the ball home to send Holland into the World Cup semi finals.


Raheem Sterling’s Ghost Goal 

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To the annoyance of every Englishman soon after the realised it hadn’t quite gone in, Raheem Sterling’s, erm, wonder strike did fill the entire nation with euphoria at first. 

The then Liverpool forward let rip against the Italians from 30 yards out, where his shot then rippled the side netting as if to look like it had found the back of the net. 

Even the scoreline changed to 1-0; the nation was euphoric, but then felt rather silly. 


17-Year-Old Pele Wins the World Cup 


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It’s a story that will probably never happen again. A 17-year-old leading his county to World Cup glory. 

Pele’s brace in the final against Sweden sparked wild scenes after the final whistle; it is believed that the teenager even fainted in disbelief. If that’s not a euphoric moment, you don’t know what is. 


Mario Gotze’s Extra Time Strike in the 2014 Final

Germany v Argentina: 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final

With just seven minutes of extra time left to play, substitute Mario Gotze took the World Cup final by the scruff of the neck. 

The Germans had been quaking in fear just at the sight of Lionel Messi potentially penetrating their defence, so the Bayern Munich man’s goal took a huge weight off their shoulders and sent them into euphoria. 


Fabio Grosso Sparks Scenes With Semi Final Goal Against Germany 

Italian defender Fabio Grosso (R) celebr

With the score tied at 0-0 in extra time, both Italy and Germany must’ve been filled with nerves. So, when Fabio Grosso curled home a beautiful opener, the jubilant scenes were understandable; even Gianluigi Buffon ran up from his goal to get involved. 

The resulting celebrations are up there with the most joyous scenes in World Cup history, and the Italians took full advantage by going all the way in the final to secure the trophy. 


Marco Tardelli’s Disbelieving Celebration in the 1982 Final 

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​​When Marco Tardelli doubled the Italian’s lead against West Germany in the 1982 final, his celebration captured the heart of millions. 

The look on his face, one of sheer, uncontrollable emotion, perhaps created the most euphoric moment in World Cup history. 

“The joy of scoring in a World Cup final was immense, something I dreamed about as a kid. My celebration was a release after that dream”, said Tardelli after the event, and boy did it show. 


7 of the Best Celebrations in World Cup History

​The World Cup is the pinnacle of all sporting events for so many reasons, but one of them is surely the unforgettable celebrations it has provoked over the years. There is simply no other celebration like a World Cup celebration. 

From the sheer importance the goal holds, to the opportunity any score represents to showcase an individual’s unique flair and talent, the tournament has always inspired something special in all its goalscorers. 

In that regard, here are seven of the best celebrations in World Cup history…


Roger Milla – Cameroon v Colombia 1990

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Roger Milla’s infamous corner flag dancing routine at Italia ’90 was one of the highlights of the whole tournament itself. 

His four goals at the age of 38 helped Cameroon become the first African team to reach the World Cup quarter finals, but it was his reaction to the scores that captured the world’s imagination.

In many ways, his exuberance pioneered the age of wacky, wonderful celebrations that proceeded him, and for that the footballing world must be eternally grateful.


Marco Tardelli – Italy v Brazil 1982 World Cup Final

Italians defenders Antonio Cabrini (top,

“Marco Tardelli, expressing what it’s like to score in a World Cup final,” croons the English commentator after Italy’s second goal in the 1982 World Cup final against Brazil. 

And that’s why it’s such an iconic celebration – because it displayed one of the most authentic instances of true footballing passion. Running with two fists aloft, shaking his head side to side with simultaneous disbelief and unbridled joy – it’s the kind of reaction a fan would elicit if they were put in the same situation.

In many ways it is the antithesis of Milla’s choreographed routine – but it’s equally as memorable. 


Papa Bouba Diop – Senegal v France 2002

Members of the Senegal team celebrate after midfie

A return to the more scripted exhibitions of jubilation, Senegal’s collaborative effort against France in 2002 was innovative to the extreme.

Having poked in from his own rebound, Papa Bouba Diop set off towards the corner flag and removed his shirt. He then proceeded to place it on the ground, gather his teammates in a circle around the shirt, and perform a quasi ceremonial dance around it. 

The circle was eventually broken as several players then broke into a jig. Definitely wonderful. 


Julius Aghahowa – Nigeria v Sweden 2002

Nigerian Julius Aghahowa (L) jubilates in front of

A much adored category of celebration, the acrobatic back-flip/cartwheel/front-flip is always impressive. 

However, there were perhaps none better at the feat than Nigeria’s Julius Aghahowa, who displayed all of his gymnastic exploits at the 2002 World Cup against Sweden. The fact that it came after scoring Nigeria’s only game of the tournament made it even more momentous. 


Bebeto – Brazil v Holland 1994

Brazilian forward Bebeto (R), imitated by Leonardo

One of the more sentimental celebrations that have been created at the World Cup, Bebeto’s tribute to his newborn baby was an iconic addition to the lexicon. Brazil’s sixth highest scorer of all time collected three goals in the 1994 tournament, helping Brazil to glory. 

While it may have been over-used in the years since its inauguration, there’s no denying the joy it brought at the time.


Fabio Grosso – Italy v Germany 2006

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Another Italian celebration, another example of pure ecstasy. Fabio Grosso’s celebration following his goal against Germany in the semi final of 2006 was admittedly made all the better by the quality of the goal itself.

In a moment of pure Andrea Pirlo poetry, the midfielder collected the ball from a corner, feigned to shoot, and then played in Grosso with a gorgeously incisive reverse pass, for Grosso to score first time. 

In scenes reminiscent of Tardelli 24 years earlier, the left- back wheeled away with pure delight, closely followed by all of his equally euphoric teammates.


Pablo Armero – Colombia v Greece 2014

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Colombia’s performances as a whole lit up the 2014 World Cup, but their group dance routines were the stuff of celebratory dreams. 

After scoring his country’s first goal of the tournament, Pablo Armero peeled away with elation, before suddenly remembering the predetermined routine. What made this particular routine transcend its dancing rivals, was the gusto with which the whole squad performed the piece.

Even bench players and assistants got in on the act, as they bounced from side to side with patriotic glee. 

6 Teams Who Have Been Dragged Over the Finishing Line by Their World Cup Fans

When a side’s players have exhausted all their efforts, given their all for the cause, they require a lift to get them over the line. That’s when the fans can become a 12th man, quite literally. Some supporters give off such positive energy that they can genuinely spur their side over the line, enabling them to find that second wind needed to progress closer to glory.

Usually, the host nation’s fans light up the city, which can motivate the players to do the whole country proud by swatting aside the opposition. It has been seen before, and it will most likely be seen again. 

Having said that, let’s take a look at a few teams who have been dragged to World Cup success…


England – 1966 


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The host nation went all the way to glory back in 1966, largely thanks to their fans. In fairness to the team alone, they made light work of getting to the final against West Germany, but it was in the showpiece event that they needed their fans. 

With the score at 2-1 heading towards the end of the game, the Three Lions looked set for the trophy but for an 89th equaliser from Wolfgang Weber. That looked certain to knock the stuffing out of the English, but their fans rallied behind them to spur them back onto the path of glory. 

England scored two goals in extra time to snatch the win by four goals to two, but they may not have done it without their valiant supporters. 


Argentina – 1978

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The tournament famous for it’s ticker tape littered pitches, the atmosphere created by La Albiceleste’s fans played a huge part in their nation’s World Cup win.

The final against Holland, in particular, needed the fans to be on their best form. Argentina found themselves level after 90 minutes with the Netherlands, meaning they would have to endure the hard slog that is extra time.

It was there that Argentina’s fans got them over the line in every sense of the phrase. On the ticker tape covered pitch, Diego Maradona’s Argentina prospered by three goals to one to win the trophy on home soil.


Republic of Ireland – 1994

Republic of Ireland fans

Not backed as huge favourites before the tournament started, the Republic of Ireland side entered the World Cup in the US with little pressure.

That non-existent pressure was emphasised by their passionate fans in the stands, who were simply just there to have a good time with little expectation.

A win against Italy in the group stage contributed to their progression to the round of 16, where Holland awaited them. Ireland played well but succumbed to a 2-0 defeat to a vastly talented Dutch side. Not much was expected of Ireland, but thanks to their fans, they performed above themselves.


France – 1998

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After staggering through the round of 16 and the quarter finals against Paraguay and Italy respectively, France’s excellent World Cup campaign looked to be running out of steam. However, the host nation had the backing of the entire country behind them. 

Streets littered in red, white and blue inspired Les Bleus, reinvigorating their tournament significantly. With an entire nation carrying them, France dispatched Croatia in the semi finals before swatting Brazil aside in the final with a 3-0 win.


Iceland – 2018 Qualifying


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Even after their impressive Euro 2016 exploits, not many expected Iceland to take their place at the World Cup in Russia. Many thought that may be a step too far for such a little nation to qualify, but qualify they did. 

A solid unit combined with some excellent individual players, Iceland’s playing style worked wonders. However, their fans got them to believe they were good enough. The Iceland fans’ famous viking clap and vociferous support has put them and their side on the map; can they repeat their European Championship form in Russia?


Panama – 2018 Qualifying  

Wales vs Panama - International Friendly

Panama qualified for their first ever World Cup after a gruellingly lengthy process of qualification. At times, with such a small squad with few players of real talent, this organised unit of a side must’ve wondered if they could realise their World Cup dream. 

Of course, Hernan Dario Gomez used all of his experience to calm his side, but the Panama fans arguably played just as big a part. They rallied behind their country to send them to their first ever World Cup finals, and they deserve every bit of the phenomenal experience they will have in Russia.


5 Times Home Support Seriously Counted at the World Cup

When an entire football stadium is behind the home team, you often hear that their support is like having a “12th man” – so imagine having a whole country behind you!

Home advantage at the World Cup has more often been a blessing than a curse. South Africa in 2010 were the only hosts not to make it out of their group, while six different nations have won the World Cup on home soil.

Russia will probably be one of the weakest teams ever to represent a home nation at this summer’s World Cup, so they’ll need all the help they can get.

Here are five times when home support made the crucial difference at a World Cup.


1966 – England

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As the home of football, it should be no surprise that England set new records for average attendances when they hosted the World Cup in 1966.


With all of England’s games held at Wembley, support for the home side was deafening and made the difference in all three tight knockout matches. The 98,270 fans in attendance for England’s group game against France remains the highest ever number for a World Cup match in Europe.


In the final against West Germany, England were leading 2-1 until a last minute equaliser sent the game into extra time. It would have been easy to lose heart, but Alf Ramsey’s words and the roar of the crowd helped them to roar back in extra time, when Geoff Hurst struck twice more to win the Jules Rimet trophy for the Three Lions.


1978 – Argentina

Argentinian fans throw rolls of paper al

The 1978 World Cup offered a rare chance of joy and national pride for the Argentinian people, who lived in fear of their malevolent dictator Jorge Rafael Videla.

This was a talented Argentina team containing the likes of Mario Kempes and Leopoldo Luque, but it might have been more than talent that got them to the final. Argentina needed to beat Peru by four or more goals and won 6-0. Claims of match-fixing have never gone away, but they’ve never been proven either.

By the final, Argentina’s fans were fully behind the team and the players wanted to give their people something to smile about too. In the tumultuous atmosphere of the Estadio Monumental, Argentina beat Netherlands 3-1 in extra time to win the most political World Cup ever.

1986 – Mexico

West Germany vs Mexico

Mexico had hosted the World Cup once before, in 1970, but they’d struggled to cope with the weight of expectation and were thrashed by Italy in the quarter finals after finishing second in a fairly easy group.

1986 gave them a chance at redemption, and this time they made no mistake, topping a group in which every game was played in front a six-figure crowd at the Estadio Azteca. The Azteca was also the venue for Mexico’s last 16 match, where they beat Bulgaria to win a World Cup knockout match for the first time ever.

They even pushed eventual finalists West Germany all the way to penalties in the quarter finals, but with just 41,000 behind them on this occasion they lost in the shoot-out. They’ll be hoping for similar effects if the World Cup returns to Mexico in 2026.

1998 – France

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The 1998 World Cup marked the first time that the hosts played their three group stage games at three different venues, travelling from Marseille to Saint-Denis to Lyon so that everyone could enjoy the rare sight of seeing their team at home in the World Cup.

From the quarter finals onwards, France played all of their games at the Stade de France. Les Bleus were made to sweat by Italy, who took them all the way to penalties, and by Croatia, who took the lead against the hosts.

But the home crowd propelled them through on both occasions before the attendance peaked at 80,000 in the final against Brazil. The South Americans, overwhelmed by the vociferous home support, caved in, and France won 3-0 to claim their first World Cup.


2002 – Japan/South Korea

FUSSBALL: WM 2002 in JAPAN und KOREA, KOR - ITA 2:1 n.V.

It was unconventional to have two nations hosting the World Cup, and even stranger that both should be fairly unimpressive footballing nations. Japan had never qualified before 1998, and South Korea hadn’t won a World Cup game in 14 previous attempts.

But an Asian World Cup was a bit of a culture shock to many of the conventional superpowers and both host nations thrived in front of their enthusiastic fans. Japan won two group games to finish top of their group before Turkey ended their ambitions in the last 16.

South Korea also topped their group, but that was just the beginning for them. They beat Italy and Spain in the knockout stages as the home supporters started to believe that they might witness a miracle. Sadly their hopes were dashed by Germany in the semi-finals, but the cultural impact of this World Cup was greater than almost any other.

7 of the Most Iconic National Team Fans From Around the World

What truly makes football special? The players? The stadiums? The managers? Not quite. As much as all of them play a big part, football’s magic is created solely by the fans. Fans make football. 

Whether it’s the drone of the vuvuzela from the 2010 World Cup, or the constant renditions of ‘Will Grigg’s on fire’ from the Northern Ireland fans, the atmosphere around the grounds can define a tournament on it’s own; or most certainly spur a nation on to glory. 

Some lesser footballing nations have become vastly well known and popular as a result of their fans’ undying passion, and have been partly responsible for their team’s success at international level in some ways. 

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the most iconic national teams fans from around the world…


Republic of Ireland

Denmark v Republic of Ireland - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-Off: First Leg

When the Irish aren’t vociferously backing their team in the stands, they’re lighting up the streets of whatever city is hosting their beloved national team. 

The Green Army supporters have been spotted all over Europe doing some crazy things, and what’s best about it is that none of it is aggressive or confrontational; it’s all good humoured fun whilst following their football team. 

One group of the Irish fans even helped an elderly couple change their tyre on the streets of France whilst at the European Championships. Good craic… 


Brazil

FBL-WC-2015-WOMEN-MATCH33-CRC-BRA

All over the world, the Brazilian fans are iconic for generating a party atmosphere inside as well as outside the stadium. The sea of yellow and green that they create at Brazil’s games must unnerve the opposition and push the Selecao on as if they had a twelfth man. 

Even after the infamous 7-1 defeat to Germany in 2014, the fans stayed and supported their side, even through tears. It is a country that lives and breathes football, and it feels like their unwavering support will never die. 


Iceland 

England v Iceland - Round of 16: UEFA Euro 2016


In addition to their incredible run to the Euro 2016 quarter finals, the Icelandic fans made just as many headlines as those did on the pitch thanks to their incredible support.

Football is such a big part of the nation that 8% of Iceland’s population travelled to Saint-Etienne to watch their side draw against Portugal at the European Championships, with 27,000 in attendance.

Whether it’s their thunderous viking chants or their commentator sounding like he’s about to hyperventilate after watching them score, the Icelandic fans are good fun. 


Netherlands

Dutch supporters wave national flags pri

Similar to Brazil’s fans, but orange. The Dutch decorate whatever venue their beloved Oranje side are playing in with vibrant orange colours, whilst you may also see a fair few dressed in lion costumes. 

Whatever the result or state of the national team, the Dutch faithful will always be there, creating a celebratory atmosphere in a bid to bring inspiration to those donning the shirt. 


Sweden 

Sweden v Germany - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier

One standout moment from the Sweden fans’ exploits at Euro 2016 was the hilarious rendition of ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’ with the Irish fans. 

The moment showed how friendly the Sweden fans are, and whilst their politeness is commendable, they also know how to get behind their team and spur them to a result. 

They travel all over the world in swarms of yellow to back their country; good on them. 


Mexico 

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Despite their domestic league not being the most well documented in football, the Primera División de México is still one of the top 10 most attended league in the world across all sports. If anything, that stat truly proves how much the Mexicans love their football, and it shows when the national team play their matches. 

The Mexican fans spurred their team on to an Olympic gold medal against heavy favourites Brazil back in 2012, and it is no surprise given their inspirational ability to back their nation. 

Oh, and they created the Mexican wave. They really know how to generate an atmosphere. 


Argentina 

Argentines Gather In Buenos Aires To Watch Country's World Cup Final Match Against Germany

Infamously, the fans notorious for littering the pitches of the 1978 World Cup finals with blue and white ticker tape know how to create an atmosphere. 

La Albiceleste’s faithful fans will always be remembered for their part in Argentina’s 1978 World Cup success, and their vocal support from the stands still rallies their nation to this very day.