Saturday's WCup Tips
June 20, 2014
By Toby Maxtone-Smith
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Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Nigeria (ESPN, 6:00 p.m. ET)
It may seem strange to say it, but undoubtedly the most important match on Saturday sees Nigeria play Bosnia-Herzegovina at the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba. The match will most likely decide who qualifies from Group F, with Argentina set to walk the group and Iran clearly the weakest side.
Bosnia put in a spirited performance on their World Cup debut as they went down to a 2-1 defeat by Argentina. Having started with a 4-2-3-1 formation, Bosnia switched to the 4-4-2 they had employed in qualifying. It yielded much better results, and there is a good chance Safet Susic's men will employ a more attacking initial approach against Nigeria.
The Super Eagles took part in the worst match of the opening round of group stage games: a turgid 0-0 draw with an unambitious, but resolute Iran side. There was a desperate lack of creativity in the Nigeria side. Jon Obi Mikel, used as a deep midfield stopper for Chelsea, is their most creative player, which says a lot. Their defence was largely untested by Iran, but this is a match Nigeria have to win, and their attack will have to do miles better than last time out.
Nigeria have several selection problems. Impressive centre-back Godfrey Oboabona is out with an ankle injury, while Kenneth Omeruo, pacy winger Ahmed Musa, and midfielder Reuben Gabriel could all miss out.
Bosnia, who were around the evens (+100) mark to win this game before the tournament started, are now at 37/50 to win with sportsbook.ag. Even though the price has shortened, given what we have learned about the two teams, it seems a good bet. Bosnia ran up 30 goals in 10 games in qualifying, while their defence exceeded expectations against Argentina. Nigeria are available at 15/4, with a draw chalked up at 11/4.
Nigeria were so limited going forward, and in goal Bosnia have an excellent stopper in Stoke City's Asmir Begovic, that I don't mind Bosnia keeping a clean sheet at 7/5. Over 2.5 goals is 91/100, while under 2.5 is 83/100.
In the first goalscorer market, it's Edin Dzeko leads the way at 7/2, but a better option may be his 5/1 strike partner Vedad Ibisevic. Ibisevic scored eight in qualifying, and came off the bench to score Bosnia's goal against Argentina. He is less well-known than Dzeko, but his goalscoring stats compare respectably to his partner.
Leading the line for Nigeria is Fenerbahce target-man Emmanuel Emenike, who is available at 7/1. He looked marooned for long periods against Iran, who stopped the supply lines to Emenike well. He is a relatively late developed: at the age of 27 he has only played 24 times for his country, but has notched up nine goals in that time. Transfer-listed Chelsea winger Victor Moses is 11/1 to break the deadlock.
Top Bets: Bosnia-Herzegovina to win at 37/50, Vedad Ibisevic to score first at 5/1
Argentina vs. Iran (ESPN, 12:00 p.m. ET)
The first game of the day sees possibly the biggest mismatch of the group stages, as Argentina meet Iran. Argentina had a dreadful first half against Bosnia, but with the introduction of an extra attacker in Gonzalo Higuain, they were much more dangerous after the break and won the game 2-1. Iran showed little attacking threat, but were resolute in a 0-0 draw with Nigeria which, unless Nigeria beat Bosnia, will mean that Carlos Queiroz's Iranians are bound to have something to play for in the last round of games.
Argentina are the overwhelming favourites at 11/100, with a draw at 17/2 and an Iran win, which would possibly constitute the biggest World Cup shock ever, is out at 23/2. Frankly, there isn't a lot of appeal in these prices. Argentina's favouritism is best summed up by the 21/20 available on them winning by 3 or more goals.
The best place to look for value is the first goalscorer market, where Gonzalo Higuain looks the best option at 4/1. His international goalscoring record, 20 in 36 games, is comparable to Messi and Aguero who are both at shorter prices, despite Higuain generally playing closer to the opposition goal.
Top Bet: Gonzalo Higuain to score first at 4/1
Germany vs. Ghana (ESPN, 3:00 p.m. ET)
The second game of the day is the third match in Group G. Germany, who thrashed Portugal 4-0, face Ghana who, despite having the best of their match against USA, went down to a damaging 2-1 defeat. They need a result here to keep up any realistic chances of progress to the last 16 for the third consecutive tournament.
Punters had avoided Germany in the run-up to the tournament, but Joachim Low's side delivered the perfect response to that scepticism with a dominant opening win. They are heavy favourites here at 13/50, while Ghana are 19/2. A draw is 5/1.
It may well be that Ghana have been underrated here. They have the best team ethic of all the African sides, and have the weapons to hurt a slightly suspect German defence. The fact that Portugal spent much of that game with ten men should not be forgotten when talking about Germany's win. Ghana were the most impressive team in African qualifying, and should be backed in the handicap market at 10/11 +1.5
Top Bet: Ghana +1.5 at 10/11
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