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The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia is arguably the most open tournament in the modern era. Second and third favourites Germany and Spain are both out, while Lionel Messi’s Argentina and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal are also heading home. And all this before the quarter-finals have kicked off.

Who wants to be favourites?

France’s stunning 4-3 victory over Argentina was a statement result. Bookmakers have subsequently installed the 1998 champions as the joint favourites at 7/2 to lift the trophy. Brazil are touted at the same odds, but unlike the French they still have a tricky last-16 tie to navigate against Mexico at 16:00 on Monday. Belgium are in action against Japan in the evening kickoff and are seen at 6/1.

Spain’s penalty heartbreak continues

Prior to the shootout against the host nation on Sunday, Spain had won just one of three shootouts in their World Cup history. That record got no better as Koke and Iago Aspas both missed their spot-kicks against Russia. Spain are no longer the force they were from 2008 through 2012 when they won three major tournaments, including the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The sacking of Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the World Cup clearly destabilised a squad in need of rebuilding.

Russia rock ‘n roll

The team that hosts the World Cup is often buoyed by the home crowd. Russia is no different and have exceeded all expectations to reach the last eight, where they will face Croatia – and will fancy repeating South Korea’s 2002 feat of defying the odds to reach the semi-finals. And with so many big teams out, other sides – not least Belgium, England and Colombia can see clear paths to go deep into the tournament.

Modric makes amends

Luka Modric has been the standout midfielder of the tournament, a performance made all the more remarkable by him being something of a throwback footballer who focused more on nuance, footwork, vision – instead of speed and power. The Croatia number 10 played a sumptuous through ball that resulted in Croatia winning a penalty deep into extra-time against Denmark. Modric was the man who took the penalty, but Kasper Schmeichel guessed right to deny Croatia’s playmaker. Penalties were the result and Modric converted his penalty in the shootout to earn redemption, while neutrals across the world will rejoice that Croatia are through, and are now 11/2 to win the title.  

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