How might the defences determine the winner? Messi and Mbappe have been magnificent in Brazil’s brilliant onslaught.

But disappointment appears to be in store for everyone who believes that this FIFA World Cup’s outstanding forwards will decide the tournament’s outcome.

After all, history teaches us that we should really be concentrating on the other end of the pitch. When evaluating the most exciting title candidates.

The evidence is quite conclusive in that regard. The most powerful and successful teams rarely win the World Cup. If they did, Belgium, not France, would be the current champions. On the other hand, meek defenses are what make champions.

The most frequently cited example comes from Spain in 2010, who won each of their four knockout games by a score of 1-0. A more thorough examination reveals that 17 of the 24 knockout games played. By the six most recent World Cup champions ended with a clean sheet being kept.


Group-stage goals conceded: 2 Knockout goals conceded: 1

Arguments in favor of the defense: Okay, so losing the first game wasn’t a great start. Both of Saudi Arabia’s goals in the second half could have been stopped. This is for the first in especially, the Argentina center-backs appeared clumsy.

But the Albiceleste defenders have recovered admirably from that shocking defeat, much like the team as a whole. In the team’s last-16 victory over Australia, Nicolas Otamendi and Cristian Romero were singled out by Lionel Messi as the team’s best players. If not for Craig Goodwin’s speculative, off-target shot, they would have advanced to the final eight with three straight clean sheets.


Group-stage goals conceded: 1 Knockout goal conceded: 1

Brazil hasn’t given up a goal at this World Cup that actually matters, it may be legitimately said. Yes, their defense against Cameroon underwhelmed, as did the rest of the team defences, and particularly appeared weak to crosses. But Tite rested his first-choice back four because a spot in the round of 16 was already guaranteed.

It would be excessively unfair to criticize Thiago Silva and company for a 30-yard rocket in the round of 16, where they gave up after leading 4-0 and were cruising. Paik Seungho’s piledriver, however, might be categorized as unstoppable.