Playing as the local team in a match is significant, not just in football but in every sport. Feeling the support of the fans has no equal, which has proven to generate an emotional stimulus that pushes the sportsmen throughout the competition. For that reason, this article will examine the impact of being local in the World Cup, that so far has been quite a blessing for some and a curse for others.
Russia, the 2018 surprise
Russia’s national team has been the surprise of this World Cup so far: two victories in the first two matches with 8 goals scored and just 1 conceded. Locals are astonished by the team’s performance due to the fact that, before the competition, Russians played 7 friendly matches since October of last year and won none of them, with 3 draws and 4 losses.
Cheryshev celebrating one of his two goals against Saudi Arabia.
Now, there’s no tangible explanation for this improvement besides the idea of representing your nation at home in front of a frenetic crowd. To sustain this, here are some facts. First, 30% of the World Cups have been won by the local team. Second, there has just been two World Cups outside America and Europe, and no African or Asian team has ever won any. Last but not least, only South Africa as a host wasn’t able to go through on the groups stage. We can see that being the local team has an impact, that’s for sure.
With that in mind, here are some nations that were crowned as champions and partied like it was 1999 for winning the World Cup at home.
Hosts that reached the ultimate glory
The first host that became champion of the World Cup was Uruguay in 1930. The ‘Charruas’ were the revelation of football in the 1920’s, having won the Olympics gold medal in 1924 and in 1928. Considering this brilliant football moment and Europe’s political situation, Uruguay was given the responsibility of hosting the first ever FIFA World Cup.
The Alibceleste had a brilliant start in the tournament, playing the majority of their matches at the stadium ‘El Centenario’ with Cea, Iriarte and Dorado leading the offense of this legendary team. Then, Uruguay won the final 4-2 against their biggest rivals at that time, Argentina, by disputing a match with a lot of controversy.
Other hosts became champions as years went by: Italy in 1934, England in 1966, Germany in 1974 and Argentina in 1978. The last team that was able to celebrate at home was France in 1998. Les Bleus, captained by Didier Deschamps, were not the favorites against a very fascinating Brazil commanded by Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Bebeto. Nevertheless, with the help of an electrifying crowd, France managed to win the final 3-0 at the Stade de France with two headers from Zidane and great goal from Petit.
Old and new ‘Maracanazo’
Not every host has a happy story to tell. Brazil, who has given us the privilege of seeing what many consider the best team in history (Brazil in 1970), has also showed us how the great may fall at home. The most commonly known example is the Maracanazo, the saddest day on the history of Brazilian football.
Brazil was hosting the World Cup for the first time in history, constructing plenty of stadiums for the occasion. Among all of them, the most predominant one was the Maracaná. This venue, with a capacity of 150,000 people, was always crowded with Brazilians in every fixture, ready to see their team win. Ademir, Chico and Augusto were the leaders of a Brazil team that was already crowned as champions by the local paper ‘O Mundo’, even before playing the decisive match against Uruguay.
Mundo Esportivo’s article the ‘Football tragedy’ five days after the match.
Uruguayans were already resigned and people in Brazil were almost celebrating on the streets. The thing is, the unthinkable happened. On the 16th of July of 1950, Uruguay defeated Brazil 1-2 with goals from Schiaffino and Ghiggia to became World Champions. There were suicides, homicides and crimes that day, all reflecting the depressing moment the nation was facing.
The other case is the most recent scenario where Brazil hosted the WC in 2014. Being one of the favorites, the verdeamarela coached by Scolari lost against Germany 1-7 in the same Maracaná stadium. The whole nation considered it an humiliation and a dramatic repetition of what Brazilians saw more than 50 years ago. Abhorrent situations were seen that day.
Tales without a trophy that have a happy ending
On the other hand, Russia is not the first team that had no expectations and ended up doing marvelously: South Korea is a great example. The first World Cup appearance for the Asian side was in 1950 where they were the worst team of the tournament, losing all the matches while conceding 16 goals and scoring 0. Subsequently, they couldn’t qualify to the WC until Argentina in 1986, where they had a poor performance with one tie and two losses in groups stage. In 1990, 1994 and 1998 they also played atrociously, until they hosted the World Cup with Japan in 2002.
As hosts, South Korea had a different mentality. They were first of their group with 7 points of 9 possible, eliminating Portugal and Poland. Then, as it hasn’t been enough, they eliminated Italy 2-1 on the second round and Spain 1-0 on the quarter-finals. People cheered every match more than the last with unmeasured effusiveness, helping the South Korean players to give their everything in all the fixtures. Sadly, the dream ended against the Germans in the semi-finals with a 1-0 loss. Despite of losing, South Koreans were proud of the effort made by the team.
And, about this World Cup…
We’ll not get tired of saying this, but we’re in no man’s land. The World Cup is a place where anything could happen, like perhaps that the underdog wins the competition. We now have in mind that there have been good stories, bad anecdotes and tales of heroic performances starred by the host teams. We’ll see how Russia plays the following matches, but so far, so good.