Four years have passed since a famous night in Moscow when one of European football’s heavyweights reclaimed their place as the kings of the world.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia was memorable for a whole host of reasons. It was hailed in many quarters as the best edition of the tournament yet.
Whether it was the stunning goals, the sublime skills, or the passion in the stands — not least from Russia’s fans, as the hosts made a shock run to the quarterfinals — there were moments that will live long in the memory.
But for one nation in particular, it was also about a return to the history books.
WORLD CUP 2022 GROUP BREAKDOWNS:
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Who won the 2018 World Cup?
France marched to glory at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, as Didier Deschamps’ side silenced their doubters in emphatic style after their quarterfinal exit in 2014.
Deschamps seemingly still had questions to answer when his side edged into the knockout stages as Group C winners in solid, but unspectacular fashion.
However, despite having managed just three goals in the group, France hit their stride in the last 16, with a Kylian Mbappe inspired 4-3 win over Argentina setting them on their way.
They reverted back to type to battle past Uruguay and Belgium in the following rounds, but the brilliance of Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba shone out in their 4-2 final win over Croatia, to clinch them a first world title since 1998.
2018 World Cup Final — Mbappe shines in Moscow
The final itself was mainly about one man: Mbappe.
Deschamps’ confidence that his side could dig in where needed, due to the defensive solidity provided by Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane, allowed him to release the handbrake against first-time finalists Croatia, with the PSG forward leading that charge.
A manic opening half hour saw Mario Mandzukic head into his own goal before veteran winger Ivan Perisic equalised for Zlatko Dalic’s Croatia side.
Griezmann’s penalty before the break tipped the balance back France’s way, and a second half double blitz from Pogba and Mbappe put France out of sight, despite Hugo Lloris’ error gifting Mandzukic a late goal.
Which countries have defended their World Cup title?
The list of countries able to defend their World Cup title stands at just two heading into Qatar 2022, with Italy and Brazil setting the benchmark.
Italy clinched the 1934 World Cup in Rome, mirroring the achievement of the first-ever tournament hosts and winners, Uruguay, in 1930.
However, Vittorio Pozzo’s side went one better in 1938, as they beat Hungary in Paris for back-to-back titles.
That feat was matched by the incredible Brazil side more than two decades later, with Pele scoring twice in their 5-2 final win over hosts Sweden in Stockholm in 1958 before they beat Czechoslovakia 2-1 in the 1962 final in Chile, despite the notable absence of the injured Pele for that showpiece.
No side has ever won the World Cup three times in a row, with Brazil’s title taken by England in 1966 before the Selecao won again in 1970, as part of the most successful combined streak in World Cup history.
How champions have fared in World Cups
With Italy and Brazil the only sides to defend a World Cup title, the record of defending champions has been mixed across the years, with some spectacular failures in recent times.
|Year||Defending Champion||Stage Eliminated||Results (W-L-D)||Goal Scored||Goals Against|
|1954||Uruguay||Third Place Match (Lost)||3-2-2||16||9|
|1958||West Germany||Third Place Match (Lost)||2-1-2||12||14|
|1974||Brazil||Third Place Match (Lost)||3-2-2||6||4|
|1978||West Germany||Second Group Stage||1-1-4||10||5|
|1982||Argentina||Second Group Stage||2-3-0||8||7|
|1986||Italy||Round of 16||1-1-2||5||6|
Do World Cup champions automatically qualify for the next tournament?
Under previous FIFA rules, the defending World Cup champions received an automatic spot in the following competition, as part of a tradition spanning from 1938 to 2002.
That rule was changed in advance of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, with defending champions Brazil required to qualify via their CONEMBOL route.