Content Editor at Free Super Tips, Alex was born in the shadow of Old Trafford and is an avid Man Utd fan. After graduating from university he combined his love of football, writing and betting to join FST and now closely follows goings-on in all of the top European leagues.
After a month long festival of football the FIFA World Cup 2018 draws to a close on Sunday, and the eyes of the footballing world will tune in to watch France and Croatia face off at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. France may have been one of the frontrunners for the tournament from the off, but Croatia’s ageing golden generation were dark horses. Would a Croatia victory on Sunday yield the most unlikely World Cup winners in history?
Previous World Cup Shocks
There have certainly been many shock results in the World Cup over the years. Take Brazil’s 7-1 humiliation four years ago, for example, or South Korea’s fantastic win over Italy back in 2002. Netherlands brought an end to Spain’s golden age four years ago with a 5-1 hammering too.
However, there really haven’t been many surprises in terms of the eventual World Cup winner. It only takes a glance at the historical odds to see that the World Cup has generally been lifted by one of the pre-tournament favourites. In fact, the longest odds of any World Cup winner since 1986 were Italy in 2006, priced at 10/1 a month before Fabio Cannavaro led them to eternal glory.
Croatia are looking to buck this trend though. They were priced at a huge 28/1 to lift the trophy before kickoff in Russia, which already makes them the longest odds finalists in the last 30 years. Looking a bit further back into history does bring us some bigger shocks, but none of them are truly eye catching.
Brazil 1950 – Uruguay 2 – 1 Brazil
To say that Brazil were favourites for this match would be an understatement. They were so heavily favoured in Rio de Janeiro that newspapers had already printed out copies declaring them world champions. They had their reasons too – Brazil had completely dominated the World Cup so far and were facing a Uruguay side who had struggled against both Spain and Sweden in their previous two matches. A year before Brazil had won the Copa America on home soil too, scoring 46 goals in eight games. This included a 5-1 thrashing of Uruguay.
Over 200,000 people were packed into the Maracana Stadium, and unsurprisingly the vast majority of them were Brazilian. Uruguay had form and fans against them, and when they went 1-0 down to Friaca’s goal in the second half the scoreline was against them too. Against all the odds Uruguay equalised 20 minutes later through Juan Alberto Schiaffino, and 11 minutes from time Alcides Ghiggia netted the winner to stun the 200,000 fans into silence.
It was undoubtedly a shock, but you have to remember that this was a Uruguay side filled to the brim with talent. They were one of the pre-tournament favourites, and it was only due to the dominance of Brazil throughout the tournament that they were touted as such huge underdogs.
Switzerland 1954 – West Germany 3 – 2 Hungary
Hungary’s legendary team went into 1954 World Cup as favourites to lift the trophy. The Might Magyars had remained unbeaten for 31 consecutive games and had talents such as Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis, and Zoltan Czibor at their disposal. In addition, manager Gusztav Sebes had ripped up the traditional tactical blueprint and employed a wonderfully flexible 2-3-3-2 formation that allowed his star players the freedom they desired.
They used it to magnificent effect too. They hammered a talented England side 6-3 in London and followed that six months later with a 7-1 thrashing of the Three Lions in Budapest. In the 1954 World Cup they battered South Korea 9-0 and beat both of the 1950 finalists Brazil and Uruguay 4-2. Not only that, but they even smashed finalists West Germany 8-3 in the group stages. West Germany weren’t given much of a chance against the best team in the world.
They were given even less of a chance after Hungary went 2-0 up within the first eight minutes, but Puskas and Czibor doing the honours and putting Hungary on track for a well deserved World Cup win. Max Morlock had other ideas though, equalising just two minutes later to bring West Germany back into the game. By the 20th minute it was 2-2, and while Hungary controlled the game after that Helmut Rahn managed to grab his second goal six minutes from time after wrong footing the Hungarian back line.
Given Hungary’s dominance of the tournament this was a huge shock, but once again it’s important to remember the talents of the West Germany squad. Fritz Walter and Helmut Rahn were two of the best players in the world at that moment.
Croatia’s Emergence in World Football
On the 3rd July 1992 Croatia played their first official football match against Australia after the disbandment of Yugoslavia. This fact in itself is enough to illustrate just how far the nation has come in footballing terms. They are a nation officially under 30 years old, and here they are in a World Cup Final.
Admittedly there has always been a strong footballing presence in what is now Croatia. They have qualified for five of the six World Cups since their declaration of independence, and even came 3rd in their first ever entry back in 1998. As you might remember, France won the tournament that year, knocking out none other than Croatia in the semi-final.
That first entry has never been bettered though, until this year that is. Croatia’s last three World Cup entries have seen them exit the tournament in the group stage, and with their star players ageing this was touted as their last chance of success for the foreseeable future. Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric, Danijel Subasic, and Mario Mandzukic are all the wrong side of 30 already, and the likes of Ivan Perisic, Dejan Lovren, and Andrej Kramaric will all be on the decline in four years time.
This Croatia side has long been touted as the one to end this spell of group stage disappointment. They undoubtedly have one of the best midfield setups in world football, with the central duo of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic taking the majority of the plaudits. It’s the former of these, Modric, who will be hailed as the turner of Croatia’s tides.
Luke Modric: Croatian Captain’s Difficult Youth
Prior to the England game large portions of the media revved up England’s chances, largely focusing Croatian tiredness after the team was taken to extra time in each of their previous knockout matches. Luka Modric, alongside a number of his compatriots, have suffered far worse than back to back 120 minute marathons in their time.
Modric was six when the Balkan War broke out. His family had to survive the cruelty of numerous Serbian invasions, and after he saw his grandfather shot dead Modric and his family moved to a refugee camp. He grew up surrounded by the sounds of grenades and bullets and had to keep a keen eye out for landmines when walking the streets.
This trauma would damage many people for life, but Modric used it to make himself stronger. This extra determination has served him well in his footballing career, and the Croatia captain knows that his teammates are just as determined. Every member of this Croatia squad knows at least some hardship from the Balkan War, and while Croatian football is currently ravaged with controversy you can be certain that this entire squad are drawing on their collective past hardships to drive them on on Sunday.
Only eight nations have won the FIFA World Cup trophy, but can Croatia make it an unlikely nine on Sunday?
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