With the 2018 World Cup less than 30 hours away, all the up to date information, as well as the official squads ↗, are now at our fingertips – so this is the best moment to take a quick look at what to expect over the next month from a betting perspective.
Will Brazil win the World Cup?
No. Brazil (odds 5.00) is the favorite according to every bookmaker out there (Germany a close second) but, as it is always the case with the Selecao, they are overrated ahead of the World Cup.
The stats might be on their side (one loss in the previous 21 games) and the projected lineup is top class, but this doesn`t look like a World Cup winning team to me. It is a team filled with technically gifted forwards, and the defense is rock solid, but the midfield (Paulinho, Casemiro, Fernandinho) lacks creativity and that is always a big no-no. The likes of Neymar will not get as many good balls up front as they would like and, speaking of Neymar, will he be at his best after his injury? There`s also some lack of depth in the squad (again, especially in midfield), and most notably the team is devoid of a real leader. In fact, Brazil is one of the only teams in the World Cup which at this moment doesn`t have a designated captain. Brazil hasn`t played a major final since 2007, when they won Copa America, and does not have the winning DNA it once had. Look for the Selecao to be vulnerable against more direct and ‘no-nonsense’ kind of teams like Germany.
Can Germany repeat as World Cup champions?
Germany (odds 5.50) is rated as a close second favorite to lift the trophy behind Brazil, and you have to feel Die Mannschaft has a chance of winning a second World Cup in a row. They have the best depth and chemistry in the competition and, although their recent results in friendlies have been poor, they haven`t lost an official match since the 0-2 defeat to France in the Euro 2016 semifinals.
Germany`s fast, physical and direct approach is the way modern football should be played, and the Germans will hope that works to their benefit. However, Germany will be aware that no team has won two World Cups in a row since Brazil in 1962.
The other favorites
Spain is priced as the third favorite, but the Golden Generation of 2008 – 2012 has aged, and this is a flawed team. While still a force to be reckoned with, Spain seems a bit old and slow, while also lacking a clinical goalscorer (Morata and Costa neither seem to be in good form). But most importantly Spain has just fired coach Julien Lopetegui (as this article is being written), so this could have a bad impact on the team. All in all, there are too many questionmarks about Spain for them to be worth any kind of outright bet. In fact, placing bets against them might be a good idea, at least until the public and the bookies react to Lopetegui’s firing.
France enters the tournament as the 4th favorite and for good reason, as their squad is filled with quality players in their prime. They have the experience of reaching the final at Euro 2016 and head coach Didier Deschamps has been in charge for a long time, so the French will definitely be dangerous in this tournament, although odds 7.50 on them to win it all might be a bit low.
Argentina has one big problem – they are (by far) the oldest team in the World Cup, and that is never good news. What’s more, the players are mostly the same ones that failed time and time again to win a major trophy, only older. While this may be Messi’s last chance to win a World Cup, and he can never be written out, there’s not much reason for optimism regarding Argentina ahead of this tournament, and no logical reason to expect them to win it all.
Player for player Belgium can match any team in the World Cup, and they seem to be a more mature, cohesive unit under Roberto Martinez, who only lost one match from 20 served as head coach of Belgium – his first one. While the Belgians are yet to deliver on the big stage, many are blaming that on former coach Marc Wilmots. If you think Belgium has improved in terms of mental strength and chemistry, backing them to win the entire thing at odds 12.00 could be a good choice.
England is not much changed compared to the team that went out in the quarterfinals at Euro 2016 against Iceland, when there was the same excitement about this current generation of players. With an unproven defensive setup, the English might suffer yet another disappointing exit before the semifinals.
At odds 26.00 to win the entire thing, Portugal seems more like a dark horse in this World Cup, but their triumph at Euro 2016, Cristiano Ronaldo and Spain’s current issues give them legitimacy as a potential title contender, especially if they can win their group over Spain. Still, Portugal does not ooze with quality, and even their fairy tale run at Euro 2016 was rather lucky – as they won a single game in regular time in the entire tournament. It would be an upset to see them beyond the QF`s.
Russia, Uruguay, Croatia, Poland and Colombia are other teams which could make some noise in this World Cup according to the bookmakers’ odds. Poland and Colombia (both in Group H alongside Japan & Senegal) will probably face England and Belgium in the next round. The same difficult task will await Croatia (likely to play France), and Uruguay (likely to play Portugal or Spain). As for the Russians, they will first have to get out of a group with Uruguay and Egypt before thinking about a potential Round 16 meeting with Spain or Portugal. All in all, the dark horses might not pose much of a threat here, Uruguay being the only team likely to reach at least the quarterfinals.
Other group stage bets
Egypt might be worth a shot to advance from Group A, as Russia has been far from impressive both long term and short term. The Russians have home court advantage, but are weakened by injuries. Meanwhile, Egypt could have Salah fit for the opening game against Uruguay, and he certainly should be fit for their game against Russia.
Iceland are still viewed as minnows despite proving their worth over two qualifying campaigns and an Euro 2016 tournament. They are legitimately one of the best teams in Europe and even if their group is very difficult (Argentina, Croatia, Nigeria), they should at the very least get the third place ahead of the African side.
Group G might be the most predictable, with Belgium and England having a clear advantage over Tunisia and Panama. While the two minnows will likely put up a fight, it`s hard to see any one of them getting close to qualification over the big boys – even with England being traditional underachievers in the big tournaments. Belgium first and England second seems like a potentially profitable option here.
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