World Cup Betting Strategy, Stats & History

FIFA 2018 World Cup Match BallThe men’s football World Cup is quite probably the biggest sporting event in existence. Football is a truly global game and the World Cup is the pinnacle of the sport, held once every four years… and anticipated for three years and 11 months in between tournaments.

Given that football is the most gambled upon sport, it is no surprise that bookmakers take betting on the World Cup very seriously. All over the planet people love to have a bet on the global showpiece, be they seasoned punters or those that just make occasional bets for a bit of fun.

Our guide to this football feast offers betting strategies to help you pick some winners. We also have a brief look at each and every World Cup, as well as some trivia, information on how it all began.

World Cup Betting Strategy & How to Find Value

Friends Cheering Watching Football on TV

We’ve got loads and loads of great information spread over various areas of the site to help you choose winning bets. We would recommend checking out our general guide to sports betting, as well as our slightly more specific football betting strategy piece.

We also have specific guides for all the major football tournaments, from the FA Cup to the Champions League, and the Championship to the Nations League. Much of our advice applies to all these tournaments, although our guide to the Euros perhaps has the most crossover with betting on the World Cup.

As we have said in each and every piece, when it comes to betting, value is the key. Value can exist at 5,000/1 and it can also exist at 1/1000. Value is not about the size of the odds alone, nor is it purely about the likelihood of a bet winning in isolation. A wager can have a 75% chance of winning and be bad value, or it can have a 0.7% chance of success and represent excellent value.

That might seem strange but that’s because value is about the relationship between the odds on a selection and that pick’s chance of success.

Football Pitch on SmartphoneQuite simply, when the odds are higher than they ‘should’ be, based on the probability of the bet winning, you have a value bet. So, a coin toss at odds above evens is a value bet.

Picking what number a die will land on is a value bet if you can find odds greater than 5/1. To translate that into the world of sport, if you assess a striker has 60% chance of scoring in a game, odds of above 67/100 (in reality with fractional odds this would be above 4/6) would make it a value bet.

Finding value is not easy and it is actually harder than finding winners. If you want to find winners, backing lots of very short odds selections will probably result in, over time, a good number of winning bets. What it won’t necessarily deliver, though, is a positive return.

To find value, usually you have to uncover some piece of information that the bookies or market have missed. You might think that Brazil will win the World Cup because they have a great record, amazing players, good form and excellent strength in depth but the problem is that everyone else knows that too. Thus, Brazil are invariably among the favourites when it comes to picking the winner of the World Cup.

We can’t provide a fool proof way to uncovering value. If we could, we’d be selling it for a six-figure sum! However, the following ideas and strategies, specific to the World Cup, might just give you some food for thought and areas and concepts at which to take a closer look.

The Latest Rule Changes & the FIFA Technical Report

Referee's Whistle and Cards

These are two separate points but we have grouped them together because they are looked at more closely in our Euros guide. After every World Cup the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) produces a brilliant and in-depth technical report on the tournament.

This includes all sorts of stats and information about the tournament, including when and how goals were scored and any innovation that was witnessed. By analysing these reports, as well as those for preceding big events (technical reports are produced for the Euros, as well as other big competitions such as the Champions League), you might find ideas for value bets.

In our guide to the European Championship we also looked at how rules are often changed at major tournaments, or new interpretations are applied or new technology is introduced. For example, the use of VAR at the 2018 World Cup led to a huge number of penalties being awarded. Cunning punters who considered this before the penalties started being dished out could have won money with various spot kick-related bets.

Chart That Shows the Penalties Awarded and Scored in World Cups Between 2002 and 2018

Bet on Brazil

Following the 2018 World Cup tournament, Brazil had won 5 out of 21 World Cup. That’s a hugely impressive ratio and if scouring the internet studying masses of data and stats to uncover value sounds like a lot of hard work, simply backing Brazil to win the World Cup wouldn’t be the worst betting strategy.

Chart That Shows the FIFA World Cup Winning Nations Between 1930 and 2018

In fact, with Italy and Germany both winning four times, this trio of WC giants has won 13 out of 21 tournaments. Cover all three and you have, historically speaking, around a 62% chance of success.

Look Out for Cagey Games

Man Watching Football with Hands Behind Head

Many punters are used to betting on both teams to score or over 2.5 goals in the fast, frantic action of the Premier League, the Football League and La Liga. However, when the World Cup comes around, the value may often be on the other side of the bet.

World Cup games, especially in the knockout phase, can be very cagey affairs, with neither side keen to overcommit. The 2018 tournament was a little different in this regard but in general, backing low scoring games and going against the general market sentiment may be the best option.

Chart That Shows the Goals Scored Per Game in World Cup Between 1930 and 2018

World Cup Facts

Half Globe Half Football

That’s enough gambling and odds talk for now, let’s move on to something a little lighter. Here are 10 great facts about the World Cup and if these don’t win you a bet with friends, a pub quiz or at least a little respect, there’s something wrong with the world.

  1. First goal – France’s Lucien Laurent scored the first goal in World Cup finals history in 1930
  2. First fail – in 2010 South Africa became the first (and as of 2018 only) host nation to be eliminated in the first round
  3. First graduate – Milorad Arsenijević became the first person to both play at and manage at a World Cup, playing for Yugoslavia in 1930 before coaching them 20 years later
  4. First English finalist – the first Englishman to appear in a World Cup final was George Raynor who managed Sweden to the 1958 final, His next job was with Skegness Town
  5. Goals Galore – Just Fontaine scored 13 goals at the 1958 WC, a record for a single tournament
  6. Hat-trick hero – English players don’t hold many World Cup records but Geoff Hurst is the only man to have scored a hat-trick in a World Cup final, we’ll let you guess the year
  7. Own goals – Manuel Rosas scored the first ever World Cup own goal in 1930 and Noel Valladares’s (Honduras, but you knew that) own goal in 2014, in France’s favour, was the first ever goal of any kind awarded using goalline technology
  8. Assists Kings – the World Cup assist stats are owned by two of the all-time greats. Pele’s 10 assists make him the World Cup’s most prolific creator, whilst Lionel Messi’s record of assists at four different World Cups is also a record
  9. Penalty! – as alluded to above, 2018 was a record year for penalties, with 29 awarded, 22 scored and seven missed. All three of those stats are records for a single finals
  10. Shootout misery – Yes, England are bad at penalties and no team has lost more finals shootouts than the Three Pussycats. The good news is that Spain and Italy have also lost in the most agonising of ways three times, so it’s not JUST England who are rubbish

History of the World Cup Finals

The World Cup was first held in 1930, but international competition in the sport pre-dates that significantly. The first such tournament was played in 1884, as England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales met. However, here we can see some of the key dates of the World Cup’s birth and growth.

  • 1902 – Argentina and Uruguay play first international match outside British Isles
  • 1904 – FIFA is founded in Paris
  • 1906 – FIFA plan international tournament in Switzerland but it fails, due to various difficulties
  • 1908 – football becomes a part of the Olympics under the supervision of FIFA
  • 1909-1913 – non-European nations including South Africa and Argentina join FIFA
  • 1914-1918 – WWI disrupts football and advancement of FIFA
  • 1921 – Jules Rimet is appointed third chief of FIFA
  • 1924 – football at Paris Olympics is a huge success and features 24 teams, Uruguay beating Switzerland 3-0 in the final
  • 1928 – Uruguay are even more dominant and beat neighbours and rivals Argentina in the Netherlands Olympic final
  • 1928 – FIFA decides to hold a World Championship
  • 1929 – it is decided that Uruguay will host the inaugural World Cup
  • 1930 – on the 18th July the first World Cup kicks off at the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo, helping Uruguay celebrate 100 years of independence

Next we will look in brief detail at each of the 21 World Cup finals, noting the hosts, winners and key events.

1930 – Uruguay

Uruguay Flag

The first ever World Cup was held in Uruguay and was unusual in a number of ways.

It was held entirely in one city, Montevideo, over three venues, the largest of which was 90 times bigger than the smallest. Thirteen teams took part over 18 days in July before the hosts were crowned winners, beating local rivals Argentina 4-2 in the final.

Both sides had progressed to the showpiece by winning their semis 6-1 (Uruguay beating Yugoslavia and Argentina the USA), semi final scores we are unlikely to ever see repeated.

Winner – Uruguay

1934 – Italy

Italy Flag

Early World Cups usually rotated between South America and Europe, the two powerhouse confederations, and it was Italy who took the baton from Uruguay. They maintained the hosts 100% record in another final between two nations from the home continent. Italy needed extra time to see off Czechoslovakia 2-1 having made it 1-1 in the 81st minute.

The 1934 finals were shorter, running for 15 days from 27th May, but in most ways they expanded. Sixteen teams from four federations played a total of 17 games in eight cities around Italy. This was the first World Cup to have a qualification process, with 32 teams taking part.

Winner – Italy

1938 – France

France Flag

Europe once again played host and Italy made history by becoming the first team to defend the World Cup. They beat Hungary 4-2 in a thrilling final, with Brazil and Sweden finishing third and fourth. This was the last World Cup for some time, due to the Second World War, meaning Italy held the trophy from 1934 until 1950.

The decision to host this tournament in Europe was hugely unpopular with South American sides and both Argentina and Uruguay declined to participate, but overall the tournament was a success. The 1938 WC was notable for a number of reasons, being the first where the defending champions automatically qualified. It also saw just three countries from outside the home continent qualify: Brazil, Cuba and the Dutch East Indies.

Winner – Italy

1950 – Brazil

Brazil Flag

The tournaments scheduled for 1942 and 1946 were cancelled due to the war and when the greatest sporting event on the planet returned, it was an unusual affair. It shrunk to 13 teams from just three confederations but was held over 23 days and saw 22 matches. The most unusual feature of the tournament was that the winner was determined not by a knockout game but via a group system.

Sixteen teams had qualified for the finals but Scotland, India and Turkey ultimately withdrew. An initial group phase saw four sets of teams play each other once but the late withdrawals meant that whilst Groups 1 and 2 had four teams, there were only three in Group 3 and just Uruguay and Bolivia in Group 4.

Uruguay, Brazil, Sweden and Spain progressed as group winners and then played each other in the Final Round. Brazil won their opening two games 7-1 (Sweden) and 6-1 (Spain) to top the group ahead of a decider with Uruguay. The hosts were favourites but lost 2-1 having led after an hour and this wouldn’t be the last time Brazil would suffer on home soil.

Winner – Uruguay

1954 – Switzerland

Switzerland Flag

The 1954 tournament returned to a more standard format but was in many ways a remarkable World Cup. The 26 games saw a whopping 140 goals at an average of 5.38 per game and whilst this was West Germany’s first WC victory, football purists and romantics remember this as Hungary’s World Cup.

Sixteen teams took part, with games taking place in six venues across Switzerland. In their initial group, the Mighty Magyars, Hungary’s famed Golden Team won both their games by an aggregate of 17-3. That included thrashing West Germany 8-3 and South Korea 9-0.

This team, led by Ferenc Puskás and supported by the brilliance of Sándor Kocsis, Nándor Hidegkuti, Zoltán Czibor, József Bozsik and Gyula Grosic may have been the greatest side in the history of football. In 1953 they came to Wembley and put England, only ever beaten at home Ireland previously, to the sword, winning 6-3.

Hungary would ease past Brazil and Uruguay in the quarters and semis, winning both games 4-2, to set up a final against West Germany. In the final their revolutionary football saw them go 2-0 up after eight minutes and history was theirs for the making. However, the Miracle of Bern saw the underdogs somehow fight back and despite the Mighty Magyars recording 26 shots, 16 on target, they lost 3-2. Never write off the Germans.

Winner – West Germany

1958 – Sweden

Sweden Flag

This World Cup was once again held in Europe, again to the consternation of the sides from the Americas. The next 10 tournaments would alternate between Europe and North/South America but this World Cup is chiefly memorable for the arrival of Edson Arantes do Nascimento – Pele – onto the world stage.

Once more 16 teams took part, hosts Sweden spreading the 35 games over a huge 12 cities. Brazil thrashed Sweden 5-2 in Stockholm, the 17 year old Pele scoring twice against the hosts, who were managed by Englishman George Raynor at the time.

France’s Just Fontaine scored an amazing 13 goals in just six games but the tournament will be remembered for Pele. The iconic Brazilian won the Young Player of the Tournament award, scored six goals and would become a major part of Brazilian World Cup dominance over the next 12 years.

Winner – Brazil

1962 – Chile

Chile Flag

Chile hosted the World Cup for the first, and as of at least 2030, only, time in its history. Pele’s Brazil once again tasted glory and in doing so became the second side ever to retain the World Cup, although Pele himself picked up an injury early in the tournament. Just four different venues hosted the World Cup, with 16 nations competing in the finals over 19 days in May and June.

It was a relatively low scoring tournament for the era, with 2.78 goals per game but it was certainly entertaining – at least for those who like their football brutal. The Battle of Santiago saw the hosts and Italy play out a game that was remarkable for the level of violence. There were two sendings off and police were required to intervene four times in a game that saw several punches thrown. The game’s ref, Englishman Ken Ashton, would subsequently invent yellow and red cards, no doubt inspired by this game.

It was far from the only violent encounter at the 1962 World Cup though, in what was far from a vintage tournament. Ultimately Brazil would win, beating England in the quarters, Chile in the semis and the Czechs in the final.

Winner – Brazil

1966 – England

England Flag

Football came home in two ways in 1966 and as any English football fan knows, it was the hosts who finally tasted victory. This remains England’s only major tournament success at men’s senior level and has taken on a quasi-religious significance in England.

The tournament started on the 11th July, with England being held 0-0 by Uruguay at Wembley. That was one of eight stadia used, with the White City Stadium, built for the 1908 Olympics, another London venue. Old Trafford, Villa Park, Goodison Park, Hillsborough the no longer existing North East duo of Roker Park and Ayresome Park completed the set.

The 1966 tournament saw a number of notable incidents, from the pre-tournament theft and rediscovery of the WC trophy to the scoring of a hat-trick in the final. It also set a new record for average attendance (though this was eclipsed at the next World Cup), had an all-European quarter finals line-up, a record number of entrants into the qualifying period and saw some major upsets, none bigger than North Korea’s 1-0 win over Italy.

England recovered from their shaky start to beat both Mexico and France 2-0, thus topping Group 1. In Group 2, West Germany and Argentina progressed with identical records to England as the pair drew with each other and also recorded two wins. Group 3 saw Eusebio’s Portugal win all three games, whilst Hungary relegated Brazil, the two-time defending champions into third, thus eliminating them. In Group 4 the Soviet Union also won all their games whilst North Korea qualified for the quarters ahead of Italy and Chile.

Pos. Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
1 England West Germany Portugal Soviet Union
2 Uruguay Argentina Hungary North Korea
3 Mexico Spain Brazil Italy
4 France Switzerland Bulgaria Chile

The quarter finals were most notable for the game between North Korea and WC debutants Portugal. The Koreans surged into a 3-0 lead at Goodison Park after just 22 minutes. Sadly it was not to be, as the sensational Benfica legend Eusebio scored four as Portugal won 5-3.

Elsewhere England beat Argentina 1-0, Germany thrashed Uruguay 4-0 and the Soviet Union got the better of Hungary. In the semis Bobby Charlton scored two to put England through against Portugal. Eusebio, who was the tournament’s top scorer with nine goals and undoubtedly one of the stars of ’66, got a late consolation but England held on. In the other semi the scoring followed the same pattern, West Germany edging out the Soviet Union 2-1.

Round England West Germany
Quarter-finals Argentina Won 1-0 Uruguay Won 4-0
Semi-finals Portugal Won 2-1 Soviet Union Won 2-1

The England v Germany Final

England 1966 World Cup Memorabilia

By David in Lisburn, flickr

And so the scene was set, with the Second World War still very much in the consciousness of both England, Germany and indeed the wider world, it was an England versus West Germany final.

Germany scored first before Geoff Hurst equalised in the 18th minute. In the 78th minute it seemed West Ham’s Martin Peters had scored the winner but agonisingly Germany equalised in the 89th minute. The blow to England’s morale was huge but manager Sir Alf Ramsey urged them not to show any tiredness or distress and uttered the famous words, “You’ve won it once. Now you’ll have to go out there and win it again.”

And that’s just what England did. With a little help from Tofiq Bahramov, better known as “the Russian linesman” (despite being from Azerbaijan in the then-USSR!), Hurst scored two more, the last, to make it 4-2, banged in late on to the immortal words of Kenneth Wolstenholme: “And here comes Hurst. He’s got… some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over. It is now! It’s four!”

England Score West Germany
0-1 Helmut Haller 12th minute
Geoff Hurst 18th minute 1-1
Martin Peters 78th minute 2-1
2-2 Wolfgang Weber 89th minute
Extra Time
Geoff Hurst 101st minute 3-2
Geoff Hurst 120th minute 4-2

England would go on to dominate world football for the next 60 years… or something like that.

Winner – England

1970 – Mexico

Mexico Flag

Brazil beat Italy in the 1970 World Cup final, winning 4-1 in Mexico City to claim their third title in four World Cups. This is fitting reward for arguably the greatest team and player in the history of the game. The Brazil side of 1970 is often held up alongside the Mighty Magyars, Real Madrid’s side of the 1950s, Barcelona’s 2009 team and Spain’s side that won three consecutive major tournaments and rightly so.

The 22-day tournament saw almost three goals per game and some great football, despite the altitude and high temperatures. Germany’s Gerd Muller was the top scorer with 10 goals as his side finished third but really this World Cup was all about the side of Pele, Tostao, Gerson, Jairzinho, Rivellino and co.

Brazil won all their qualifying games, as well as all six matches at the finals. They won four of their six games by two goals or more, Bobby Moore’s England pushing them closest in a 1-0 defeat in the group phase that many saw as the tournament’s final come much too soon. In claiming the World Cup for a fourth side Brazil earned the right to keep the Jules Rimet Trophy permanently.

Winner – Brazil

1974 – West Germany

Germany Flag

A new trophy was made for the 1974 World Cup, the FIFA World Cup Trophy, designed by Italian sculptor Silvio Gazzaniga. The tournament was held West Germany and won by the hosts themselves, despite many feeling that Johan Cruyff’s Netherlands were the team of the tournament.

This World Cup saw a double group stage, with four groups of four reduced to a second round with two groups of four. In the second phase, Netherlands, playing Ajax’s total football, won all three games to make the final. West Germany did likewise before just about getting the better of Netherlands 2-1 in Munich.

Winner – West Germany

1978 – Argentina

Argentina Flag

It was another home win at Argentina ’78 and another runners-up medal for Netherlands. The great Dutch team of Johan Neeskens, Johnny Rep and co were again denied, losing 3-1 after extra time in Buenos Aires. The hosts Mario Kempes was named player of the tournament and his six goals, including one in the final, were key to his nation’s success.

This was the first World Cup triumph for Argentina, who made it through their initial group second behind Italy, before topping the second round group ahead of Brazil to book their spot in the final. This was the last World Cup to feature just 16 sides.

Winner – Argentina

1982 – Spain

Spain Flag

This was the first World Cup where sides from six different federations made the finals, as the tournament expanded to 24 teams. It was a longer tournament too, lasting 29 days, with a total of 52 matches. Paulo Rossi scored six goals to help Italy to glory, with West Germany finishing runners-up.

Some interesting facts about ’82 include that it saw the first ever penalty shoot-out at a WC, saw the joint largest win (Hungary beat El Salvador 10-1) and also saw the finals debuts of New Zealand, Cameroon, Algeria, Kuwait and Honduras.

As with Argentina four years prior, Italy were second in their initial group, Poland pipping them. The second group phase saw four pots of three sides, with Italy eliminating Brazil and Argentina. The eventual winners then got revenge against Poland, beating them 2-0 in the semis before seeing off West Gemrany 3-1 at the Bernabeu in Madrid.

Winner – Italy

1986 – Mexico

Mexico Flag

We once more saw 24 teams head to the finals but with no side from the Oceanian zone there were just five confederations represented. Argentina beat West Germany in the final to claim their second title, with many arguing that player of the tournament Diego Maradona effectively won the World Cup single-handedly.

Gary Lineker was the top scorer, with half of his six goals coming against Poland in the group phase. The tournament used a last 16 knockout, rather than a second group phase, and Argentina scraped past Uruguay 1-0 to set up a quarter final with England. Given the Falklands War had taken place just four years earlier, there was a lot of hostility, especially on the Argentine side but the quarter final in the Azteca was memorable purely for on-pitch incidents.

Maradona did indeed single-handedly vanquish England, first with his hand, or as he put it, “un poco con la cabeza de Maradona y otro poco con la mano de Dios” (a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God). However, his second goal was very much with that magical left foot of his. The Napoli maestro, inside his own half, surged away from Peter Beardsley and Peter Reid, beat Terry Butcher and Terry Fenwick and put Peter Shilton on his back before slotting home.

Another brace from the controversial great beat Belgium 2-0 before he inspired his men to a 3-2 victory in the final. Argentina were not a one man team but it’s hard to argue Maradona’s was not the greatest performance at a World Cup.

Winner – Argentina

1990 – Italy

Italy Flag

Italy became the first European country to host a second World Cup in 1990 after Mexico had held its second four years earlier. The hosts would beat England in a third place play-off, with a repeat of the final from four years prior but a different outcome, as West Germany claimed their third title by denying Argentina their own hat-trick.

Italia ’90 is remembered fondly by fans of a certain age, with Luciano Pavarotti belting out the iconic theme, England doing unusually well and one or two top games. However, many view it as one of the worst tournaments ever, with just 2.2 goals per game, defensive and aggressive tactics that saw a then-record 16 red cards and a number of matches where both nations appeared to play for penalties.

Ultimately West Germany, one of the few attacking and exciting teams, triumphed, topping Group D before seeing off Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, England (on penalties, of course) and Argentina.

Winner – West Germany

1994 – USA

USA Flag

Despite the USA’s lack of playing pedigree, USA ’94 was a huge success, with record attendances, excellent atmospheres and organisation and some good football. Brazil claimed a fourth title, beating Italy on penalties after a 0-0 game, the first time this method had decided the world champions.

Romario and Oleg Salenko were top scorers, the latter getting five of his six tournament goals in a single game. Brazil’s Romario was voted the best player and the goal average rebounded from Italia 90 to a much more enjoyable 2.71. Another notable thing about this WC is that it was the first for Russia and the first since 1938 for a unified Germany.

Winner – Brazil

1998 – France

France Flag

France 1998 was won by the hosts, as Zinedine Zidane powered his nation to glory. This was the first World Cup with 32 nations at the finals and lasted more than a month, with 10 cities around the country hosting matches.

France’s 3-0 win over Brazil in the final was the sixth victory for hosts, as France also became the third nation to hold the tournament for a second time. Croatia, making their World Cup debut, finished third, thanks to the goals of tournament top scorer Davor Suker.

From an English perspective ’98 will be remembered for Michael Owen’s wonder goal against Argentina in the last 16, as well as David Beckham’s sending off in the same game, which was ultimately lost on penalties.

Winner – France

2002 – South Korea and Japan

South Korea and Japan Flags

The first Asian World Cup had twin hosts, with South Korea and Japan doing the honours in a first for the tournament. A huge 20 different venues and cities were used for the 64 games, with Brazil’s Ronaldo the top scorer with eight goals as his side won yet another World Cup.

Brazil put the pain of defeat four years earlier behind them to bounce back and they beat Germany 2-0 in the final thanks to a Ronaldo brace, the former Barca, Inter and Real Madrid star also scoring in the semi final 1-0 win over Turkey.

This was another tournament of “what if” for England as in the quarters they had led Brazil heading into half time and looked the better side. Ultimately a goal in first half stoppage time and a “was it a shot, was it a cross” Ronaldinho free kick put paid to England’s hopes as another Golden Generation were made to look distinctly lacklustre.

Winner – Brazil

2006 – Germany

Germany Flag

Germany were a disappointing third on home soil, as Italy defied the odds to win their fourth WC, beating Italy in the final. In many ways this was one of the biggest World Cups ever, with 198 teams entering qualifying and all six confederations represented at the 32-team finals.

There were very few goals in this World Cup, especially in the knockout phase, with no hat-tricks overall and just five goals enough for Miroslav Klose to claim the Golden Boot. Bookings, however, and red cards, were plentiful, with 345 yellows and 28 reds, including an unfortunate incident where English ref Graham Poll gave three yellows to Josip Šimunić!

More card controversy followed in the final, as Zinedine Zidane, who had opened the scoring, was dismissed for head butting Marco Materazzi (who coincidentally had equalised) in the chest. The final finished 1-1 after extra time, before Italy won 5-3 on penalties.

Winner – Italy 

2010 – South Africa

South Africa Flag

The first African World Cup was something of a disaster for the hosts, with South Africa becoming the first home country to be eliminated in the first round. They were in decent company though, as 2006 finalists Italy and France also exited at this stage. In a good piece of WC trivia, the only unbeaten side of the tournament were also knocked out in the first round, with New Zealand’s three draws insufficient for them to progress.

Spain became the first European nation to win a WC outside of their home continent by beating Netherlands 1-0 after extra time. It was a very bad-tempered final and another World Cup game where an English ref didn’t cover themselves in glory. Howard Webb handed out 14 yellow cards and a red.

In a World Cup where goals were in short supply and cards were being thrown out like confetti, this was very much the final 2010 deserved. In another unsavoury incident, Luis Suarez’s deliberate handball almost certainly stopped Ghana from being the first African side to make a WC semi final and this was not a tournament to be remembered too fondly.

Winner – Spain

2014 – Brazil

Brazil Flag

Hosts Brazil will certainly not want to remember 2014, at least not the semi final. Brazil, with Neymar the poster boy, were well fancied to claim a sixth title, seemingly having a fine blend of steel, skill and pragmatism. However, in an unforgettable game – annoyingly if you are Brazilian – Germany demolished the hosts 7-1 in the semi final.

The Germans would go on to win the tournament, once more playing Argentina in a final and once more, Lionel Messi having to leave a major tournament with nothing but tears. This edition of the WC was illuminated by moments of magic from top scorer James Rodriguez and the odd flash of brilliance from Messi. However, for the hosts it was akin to a national crisis, not least because there had been a lot of controversy over the costs of staging the tournament when many in the country live in such poverty.

Winner – Germany

2018 – Russia

Russia Flag

Russia was also a controversial host due to its politics, human rights issues, seemingly poor football team, hooliganism and attitudes towards minorities but Russia 2018 surprised us all. Apart from my dad, who correctly predicted France would win. The French, led by World Cup winning former player Didier Deschamps, beat Croatia in the final to cap a tournament that was often a delight and one where the hosts produced some great excitement.

Overall we saw 2.64 goals per game, that total boosted by the introduction of VAR (video assistant referee) which led to a record number of penalties being awarded. VAR caused lots of talking points but by and large it improved decision-making and helped clamp down on penalty area grappling.

England’s Harry Kane won the Golden Boot but many feel this tournament was about the handing of the baton from Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to France’s electric Kylian Mbappe. Mbappe’s pace, power, skill and verve made him a joy to watch, whilst Messi was once again a forlorn figure in the blue and white of Argentina.

England and the waist-coated Gareth Southgate got the nation dreaming again but ultimately they were out-passed and outthought by Luka Modric’s Croatia. Modric was the player of the tournament but France’s physicality and greater strength in depth ultimately won the day, as France won a remarkable final 4-2. Four-two eh? That’s got to be an omen!

Winner – France