There’s been one favourite since the books first opened on the 2022 World Cup winner. Then we had three favourites in the space of seven gloriously mad hours as long-standing frontrunners Brazil crashed out to Croatia on penalties, sending France briefly top of the pile, before Argentina took over favouritism after winning a shootout of their own against the Netherlands.
Here’s how the six teams left in Qatar’s chances are rated, according to the best odds currently available at oddschecker.com
Messi’s Last Chance at the Big Dance. Argentina have a formidable squad that blends youth and experience perfectly, and hadn’t lost a game since the 2019 Copa America before they came a cropper against Saudi Arabia. Mercifully for La Albiceleste, they bounced back to beat Mexico, even if it was all a bit frantic and then dominated a Poland side more interested in avoiding bookings than scoring goals.
The upshot is that without ever being thoroughly convincing Argentina safely went through and importantly in the Group C winners’ section of the draw. It matters. Instead of a last-16 clash with France they faced a brave but ultimately limited Australia and then a Netherlands team who somehow took them to penalties. Now Croatia await in the semi-finals.
The first change at the top came with France assuming favouritism thanks to Croatia going magnificently, absurdly Full Croatia to dump long-time jollies Brazil out of the tournament. Cheers Neymar’s crying. Nice one. Toppled by Argentina’s win obviously, but France will be back out in front when/if they sort England out on Saturday.
After briefly looking like they might be about to go a little bit France by falling behind to an Australia side seemingly made up entirely of Scottish Premiership and former Scottish Premiership players, Kylian Mbappe then happened and Didier Deschamps’ side absolutely sauntered to a 4-1 win. Then Mbappe turned it on again to down Denmark.
We’re still not sure France are a side we’d want to be backing when they’re particularly well fancied, and while the half-arsed defeat to Tunisia in the final group game was barely a wrinkle in the grand scheme, it did rather threaten our own previously stated claim that France’s second team would have a good crack at winning this whole thing. And it saw them slip from second to third-favourites with the bookies. But then back up again when they sauntered past Poland at the last-16 stage thanks to the wondrous Mbappe. Have we mentioned that Mbappe is quite good?
An almighty leap from sixth favourites on Monday night to third favourites by Tuesday evening, but then landing a shock quarter-final opponent before a 6-1 last-16 win over the usually obdurate Swiss will do that. It was the first time Portugal have convinced all tournament and, definitely by pure coincidence, the first time Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t start a knockout game for his country since the Euro 2000 semi-final.
They might well look at a quarter-final against Morocco and deduce that they have landed themselves the kindest draw possible, but then Spain probably thought that before proving they had absolutely not completed Luis Enrique’s homework to take 1,000 penalties ahead of the tournament. It will be interesting to see if this newly irresistible attacking force fares better against that apparently immovable object.
There is a strange sort of powerful ‘Southgate’s England’ about the fact a result that almost certainly put them into the last 16 of the World Cup – they would have to have been absolutely battered by Wales to miss out – came from a performance that sapped all the energy and excitement from that giddy 6-2 thrashing of Iran a whole *checks notes* four days earlier.
But now England are back…after a 3-0 win over Wales that was all the things that game against the USA was not. And then a last-16 clash with Senegal was faced and conquered with the minimum of fuss. They are the tournament’s joint top scorers, which feels a bit weird. So why are they only fourth favourites? Because France are next.
The team that made it into the last 16 on account of Romelu Lukaku’s repeated failure to hit a massive great cow’s arse with a banjo beat Japan in the first knockout round by virtue of their goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic saving what were for 24 hours at least some of the tamest penalties in World Cup history.
Luka Modric et al. looked out on their collective arses for quite a lot of the penalty shootout win over Japan and again against Brazil but it has long since ceased being worthwhile to try and understand Croatia by conventional methods. Croatia are inevitable. And also still underrated, sitting as they do below three teams who aren’t even in the semi-finals yet and at least one of which obviously won’t be because maths.
Yet to concede a goal scored by an opposition player at this World Cup, which is a neat party trick, and reaching the final six is good, isn’t it? The fourth African quarter-finalists at a World Cup. The other three – Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010 – all took their ties to extra-time at least. That does not feel like a feat beyond Walid Regragui and the lads, particularly after their heroics against Spain. But a hell of a lot needs to go perfectly for Morocco to fulfil Samuel Eto’o’s pre-tournament prediction of them as finalists. And on recent evidence we would absolutely not like to disagree with Samuel Eto’o.
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