This year’s FIFA World Cup has gotten off to a super exciting start. From Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat trick against Spain, to Iceland’s shocking draw against Lionel Messi and Argentina, to Mexico’s stunning victory over the defending champion Germany, there has been no shortage of instant classic games. One of the most notable results from this first slate of games is that Russia, the host country for this year’s iteration of the event, blitzed Saudi Arabia in a 5-0 win to open the tournament and followed it up with a convincing 3-1 win against Egypt. Could home field advantage have played big a role in this result and if so, could it mean bigger things are to come for this Russian side?
Since the World Cup began in 1930, the host nations, who get an automatic bid into the tournament, have always had lots of success. In fact, only one country who hosted the event, South Africa, who did so in 2010, failed to make it past the initial group stage. Hosts nations have won the whole event 6 times, in 1930 (Uruguay), 1934 (Italy), 1966 (England), 1974 (West Germany), 1978 (Argentina), and 1998 (France), good for about 29% of the time. Additionally, the hosts have made at least the semis six additional times, proving that there is a huge advantage involved in playing on your home turf.
However, since France won the Cup in 1998, host nations have not had quite the same level of success, with the best finishes by hosts being Germany coming in 3rd in 2006 and Brazil matching that result in 2014, although they were humiliated by Germany in the semi-finals, losing 7-1. Part of this may be that while in the past the host nations have been soccer powerhouses, as every team that has won the World Cup has hosted the event at some point. But recently countries with less historical success at soccer have played the role of host. In 2002, Japan and South Korea were co-hosts while South Africa hosted in 2010. Russia follows along with this lineage and with Qatar set to host the 2022 addition, this trend of nations with less historical soccer success may continue, and also lead to less success by host nations in terms of their tournament finish.
The good news regarding the past success of World Cup hosts is that the USA just won the bid to joint host the 2026 tournament, cohosting it with Mexico and Canada, with the bulk of the games, 60 out of 80, to be played in the US. While host nations have had less success in the recent years, there is still very little precedent for them struggling badly so this could be important for the country making a deep run in 2026. Additionally, at a time where US soccer is reeling after shockingly missing out on qualification for this year’s World Cup, being host will most likely reinvigorate interest in the sport amongst young fans. Because there are so many options of sports to play in the US, like football, baseball, and basketball, many top athletes opt not to play soccer, which has in part prevented the US from becoming a powerhouse. But being a host nation, and potentially pairing it with a strong showing, will surely get many young fans interested in the game.
While Russia only has the 12th best odds at winning the World Cup, making them relative long shots, their opening game win shows that they may have what it takes to go all the way. Playing host certainly will help; there is less travel involved, they can sometimes sleep in their own beds, they can eat familiar foods, and, most importantly, the crowd will always be on their side. But if you are a fan unable to make the trip to Russia, FanWide can help you find game watch parties to watch the game with other fans. And if you think the US not being part of this year’s cup will deter the fun, the early returns would show otherwise. Additionally, you can read up on other teams you can root for here.