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How Real Madrid’s Champions League win reflects what will happen at the World Cup

Friday 1st June 2018

Football can be unpredictable. Sometimes the unexpected happens. Minnows can beat giants and leave the world stunned. When it comes to the World Cup, Korea/Japan 2002 quickly comes to mind. Senegal did the unthinkable in the tournament when they beat the defending champions, France, in the opening match. It was the West Africans’ first appearance in the competition. The holders were knocked out in the group stage as a result. they had a solitary point from three matches and did not score a single goal.

France’ performance was a record on its own; the worst by a defending champion in the World Cup. Uruguay was another member of the group that was eliminated as Denmark and Senegal qualified. That meant the two teams tipped to qualify from the group were dumped out. Such are the kind of surprises that the game can provide. But not for too long...

After overcoming Sweden 2-1 in the Round of 16, the Terenga Lions bowed out in the quarterfinal losing 1-0 to Turkey. It was considered an overachievement. In the semi-finals, things were returning to normal. Both Germany and Brazil scaled hurdles to meet in the final where Brazil triumphed; 2-0 was the final score.

The World Cup and the Champions League share similarities. It’s a world of the haves and the have-nots. Isn’t it amazing that 20 World Cup tournaments have been held over 80 years, yet only three countries have won almost 75% (13) of them?

Real Madrid has dominated the Champions League in just about the same way. The Merengues have won more Champions League trophies than a whole host of elite European sides put together.

Some other top clubs like Atletico Madrid, Arsenal, Roma, Bayer Leverkusen, Monaco, and Valencia have only been able to make the final but still failed to win it; further showing just how difficult it is to lift the great trophy. Winning it once certainly makes it easier to repeat the feat, though, it's the natural order of things.

That order has been in Real Madrid’s favour in Europe. AC Milan comes in at second place with seven Champions League titles. Experience in the competition matters, particularly if you're taking on a side that hasn't tasted European glory. That’s just the way it is. Roses are red, violets are blue. Don't ask me why.

The same logic applies to the World Cup. The three most successful countries in the competition are Brazil with five trophies, while Germany and Italy follow with four titles each (although the latter won't be taking part in Russia). But just as it has become simpler for Madrid to win the Champions League, it will also be more natural for any of the first two to win the World Cup. Of course, that is not guaranteed. Any other nation can still win it like France did in 1998; when they took full advantage of playing before its home crowd. Uruguay, Italy, England, and Argentina all tasted success in a similar manner.

It’s unlikely though that Russia can follow that pattern. A new arrangement has formed. A few countries now dominate the turf. You have to go through them to win it. As a newcomer, even if you succeed in wading through Brazil, Germany, and in-form Spain and France, you still have other past winners to contend with; that stacks the odds against any first-time winner.

Like Real Madrid against Liverpool, more experienced sides in the competition can employ uncommon tactics to win. The Sergio Ramos/ Mohamed Salah episode is bound to repeat in Russia. Only this time around in different ways, with players wearing different colours, representing different countries and even bearing different names.

Emmanuel Odey

Emmanuel is a freelance journalist who lives and breathes the round leather game. He is a contributor on several platforms. You can follow him on Twitter for more.

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