World Cup Best Bets
June 8, 2018
By Toby Maxtone-Smith
World Cup 2018 Outright Betting Preview
European club football seems unassailable. The elite clubs pile up more and more superstars, and the quality of the action in the latter stages of the Champions League is unmatched. But there is still nothing quite like the World Cup to excite fans around the world and leave those not involved jealously looking on.
This year’s betting market is dominated by a big four, and once again it could be Spain who reign supreme at the final in Moscow on July 15. At 6/1 they look the best value of the front-runners and have a good case to be favourites.
Spanish club sides have been absurdly dominant in recent years, winning all the last five Champions Leagues four of the last five Europa Leagues. And it is more than just Real Madrid and Barcelona - Sevilla and Atletico Madrid have proven that Spanish football has far more depth to it than previously thought.
They have the best goalkeeper in the competition in David de Gea. Their defence of Cesar Azpilicueta, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Piqué and Jordi Alba also looks superior to every other backline. They are still the passing masters in midfield despite the loss through age of Xavi and Xabi Alonso.
Coach Julen Lopategui has taken a slightly more cavalier approach with this team than the conservative Vicente del Bosque, who used possession as a defensive tool as much as an attacking one. They have more direct options in Koke and Marco Asensio, while Isco and David Silva will also be crucial. Up front they have varied options in Diego Costa, Iago Aspas and Rodrigo. The one possible weakness may be the decline of Sergio Busquets, but as a whole this team has fewer flaws than any other in Russia.
Joining them in the final may well be Brazil, the 9/2 favourites to win the tournament. The Seleção have been transformed under new manager Tite, who took over two years after the 7-1 disaster against Germany.
Before that, Brazil had made the crazy decision to rehire Dunga, and halfway through qualifying it looked as though Brazil might lose their produ record of qualiying for every World Cup. After Tite’s appointment it became a complete breeze.
Their strengths are obvious: an incredible array of talent in attack, led by Neymar on whom they are less dependent than before. Marcelo is the best attacking full-back in the world, and Tite’s approach has made them more compact and harder to play against.
The one doubt is their recent record against top European teams in major tournaments. Remember that five of the last six finalists at the World Cup have been European.
This leads us onto Germany, the third favourites at 5/1. Germany have topped every World Cup group they have ever played in, and have a knack of finding their best form at tournaments.
There are few weaknesses in this team, with balance across the pitch. This is another team with a strong winning mentality.
But recent results do not bode well. They have not won any of their last five friendlies, drawing with England, France and Spain and losing to Brazil and Austria. Admittedly most of these results are hardly disastrous, but there is a sense that this team has declined a bit, and that Joachim Löw is too loyal to ageing players.
One team certainly not in decline are France, the 13/2 fourth favourites. In terms of depth this is one of the strongest squads in the competition. So far, the glittering cast of Kylian Mbappé, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembélé and Paul Pogba have delivered more on paper than on the pitch for Les Bleus. They were mugged in the Euro 2016 final by an average Portugal side, but were themselves lucky to win their semi-final against Germany.
Adding balance is the unselfishness of N’golo Kanté and Blaise Matuidi, while Didier Deschamps is likely to stay loyal to Olivier Giroud up front. One of the best hold-up players in the competition, he will be useful in a group where all three teams are likely to defend deep against France.
However the 4-3-3 system will shift Antoine Griezmann out wide, not making the most of his talents. There is also a lack of genuine creativity in midfield with Kante, Matuidi and Pogba. They are about the right price.
Coming next are 10/1 Argentina, who are easily passed over. They look like a shambles, without any clear identity, a sluggish defence and with countless players who keep underperforming for the national team.
However the mere presence of Lionel Messi, who is often worth as much as a goal start, means they should be forgotten.
Then we come to the second-tier of the European teams. First are Belgium at 11/1 - no longer the dark horses. They are stacked with talent, but Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard have never quite captured their club form with their country. There are also questions over whether manager Roberto Martinez is tactically smart enough to navigate the latter stages. Quarter-finals.
England look promising at 16/1, and are likely to be bolder and more attacking than at previous tournaments. A 3-4-3 formation gets the best out of a talented forward line, but they are likely to get overrun in the centre of midfield against the best teams.
Portugal may be dour, but defending deep and funnelling the ball to your superstar has been an effective tournament tactic in the past.
Cristiano Ronaldo is less mobile than before and has effectively converted into a centre-forward. They have talented centre-midfielders but there is a general lack of speed in this team. And apart from Ronaldo, where are the goals going to come from? 25/1 looks about right. One team who could make a mockery of big quotes are Uruguay at 28/1.
They have been handed an incredibly easy draw, with dismal hosts Russia, a potentially Salah-less Egypt and a limited Saudi Arabia team. They should top the group easily.
Coach Oscar Washington Tabárez is one of the smartest men in the game. He has managed Uruguay for 12 years, overseeing a complete overhaul of the way football in the country is run.
For most of Tabárez’s tenure, Uruguay have focused on being as difficult to beat as possible. They would defend deep, play two guard dogs in the centre of midfield, two hard-working wide midfielders and would leave the spark up to Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani up front. Now, however, a new generation of talented midfielders have come through the ranks. 20 year-old Rodrigo Bentancur of Juventus looks a real talent, as does right winger Nahitan Nandez.
In defence they are blessed with Atletico Madrid’s centre-back partnership of Diego Godin and Luis Jimenez. All this combines with a fantastic togetherness and a never-say-die attitude. They could go very far indeed.
Spain at 6/1
Uruguay at 28/1
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