Three thrilling group-stage matches from past World Cups | inside World Soccer

Three thrilling group-stage matches from past World Cups

Thursday, December 1, 2022

With the 2022 World Cup getting underway in Qatar, it's an exciting time for football fans all around the world. Yes, there are some controversial elements to this, but that should not detract from the action on the pitch.

The group stage of any World Cup can often throw up the best matches. Teams are eager to make a good early start, and the pragmatism of the knockout rounds hasn't set in yet. That helps to explain why we've seen some real crackers in the group stage at past World Cups.

As excited fans eagerly examine the World Cup betting at, let's take a look at some of the most memorable group-stage encounters from recent tournaments.

2018: Portugal 3-3 Spain

The 2018 World Cup threw two heavyweights together in the group stage, with Spain and Portugal drawn in the same group. Spain were on a mission to make amends for their crushing group-stage exit four years earlier, while Portugal were eager to build on their Euro 2016 triumph with a strong showing at the World Cup.

It was Portugal who made the faster start, with Cristiano Ronaldo converting a fourth-minute penalty to give them the lead in Sochi. However, their Iberian rivals struck back soon after, with Diego Costa firing past Rui Patricio.

Ronaldo again put Portugal in front before half-time, with his low shot slipping through the hands of David de Gea, but Costa was again on hand to level the scores after the break, finishing from close range.

Then came the drama. Nacho's sensational strike looked to have won the match for Spain, but Ronaldo was having none of it, the Portuguese star's 88th-minute free-kick completing his hat-trick and ensuring the spoils were shared.

2014: Spain 1-5 Netherlands

Spain were involved in another World Cup group stage cracker four years earlier, in a repeat of the 2010 final against the Netherlands. It all started so well for the defending champions, with Xabi Alonso scoring an early penalty to give Spain the lead.

However, Vicente del Bosque's men didn't reckon against a rip-roaring Dutch comeback. Robin van Persie's incredible diving header meant the score was 1-1 at half time, and after the break, the Netherlands went into turbo mode.

A brace from Arjen Robben, along with a second for Van Persie and a goal from Stefan de Vrij meant the Spanish were humbled in Salvador. After Spain's dominance of international football, winning three successive major tournaments, this was a result that sent shockwaves rippling through the sporting world.

2010: Slovakia 3-2 Italy

Heading into their final group game at the 2010 World Cup, Italy's task was clear. Successive 1-1 draws against Paraguay and New Zealand had left the defending champions needing nothing less than a win over Slovakia to secure progression to the last 16.

The Slovaks weren't there to make up the numbers though. Robert Vittek's first-half goal gave the underdogs the lead, before the former Lille man doubled Slovakia's advantage with just over 15 minutes to play.

Italy hit back through Antonio Di Natale, kicking off a frantic finish to the match. Kamil Kopunek netted a third for Slovakia to seemingly kill off the Italians, before Fabio Quagliarella's gorgeous chipped effort brought touch of class to the end of the game.

There was no way back for Italy though. Their World Cup defence had come crumbling down.

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