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Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 14:03 PM

World Cup Groups - Week 2

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The first helping of World Cup action didn’t disappoint, unless you were hoping that heavyweights would impose their will. Argentina drew with first-time finalist Iceland, the smallest country in the tournament. The betting favorite to win it all, Brazil, was denied three points by Switzerland after a 1-1 result.

Those ties each paid better than 3-to-1 at the window, while Mexico’s stunning 1-0 Group F upset of Germany paid at least 6-to-1. If you got in on those, kudos.

Playing contrarian against the highest-ranked team in Europe paid off, albeit as a fluke given how awful Mexico looked leading up to the World Cup. That turned around in the Group F opener as the underdog CONCACAF winners played inspired ball and a German side that lacked intensity had no answers.

A few hours later on Sunday, Brazil wasn’t awarded what looked like a clear penalty and missed numerous opportunities in the closing stages. The payday on the draw with the Swiss didn’t come without some major sweating.

There was a huge pay day (+775 at Westgate) to be claimed in backing the Swiss to tie CONMEBOL’s top qualifier by winning the final 45 minutes and a nice hit on the Mexicans to hold on to their lead over the defending champs in the second half via draw (+250).

Of the five teams with the best odds to win the World Cup entering the tournament, only France (6/1) won its first match. Brazil (7/2), Spain (6/1) and Argentina (8/1) all picked up a single point via draws while Germany (4/1) came up empty. The French need an own goal with less than 10 minutes remaining to squeeze past Australia, which looks likely to bring up the rear in Group C.

In light of all of this, many observers have declared this tournament wide open. That’s not entirely accurate, but the early theme has seen established powers struggle to hit the ground running in this World Cup. Despite this, favorites have actually pulled off wins in most matches despite a pair of Group H surprises closing out the first installment of action.

There had only been two outright upsets entering Tuesday, when the final teams to debut in this World Cup took the pitch. Colombia lost key defensive midfielder Carlos Sanchez to a red card just three minutes in, losing to Japan (+450) 2-1 in the second-biggest surprise thus far. Senegal (+250) took down Poland 2-1, but we won’t see bigger upsets than Mexico (+600) over Germany and Iran (+300) over Morocco until later in the week, if at all.

Riding the ‘under’ in the first half has been profitable thus far since multiple goals have been scored in only five of the first 17 matches. Eight of the contests have actually gone to the break scoreless. That’s a theme that should continue as the second installment of group play begins. Russia-Egypt featured no goals in the first half and four after the break.

For you in-game bettors, don’t be shy about backing scoring even as the minutes tick down. Harry Kane’s stoppage-time winner in England’s 2-1 victory over Tunisia on Monday was the 10th goal scored after 70 minutes of action. Three more were scored on Tuesday, one in each contest.

As teams grow more desperate to pick up results, this should continue.

VAR, video assistance referee, has helped lead to a pair of penalties that would’ve otherwise gone unnoticed, so there’s a good chance we’ll continue to see more goals as a result. Thus far, there has yet to be a scoreless draw. Iran and Morocco came closest, but a late own goal gave Team Melli only its second World Cup win in 13 lifetime matches. Penalty kicks have also been a popular prop to play since eight have been scored – coming through nearly half the time at a +200 clip. There have been five own goals and no scoreless contests.

The Iranians are by far the biggest surprise since they came into the World Cup at 500-to-1 to win it all and find themselves ahead of both Spain and Portugal in Group B. Those Iberian powers put together the game of the tournament thus far, finishing 3-3 after Cristiano Ronaldo completed a hat trick with a hero 88th-minute free kick to rescue a point after the Portuguese twice blew leads.

Wednesday will see both take the pitch as heavy favorites, so considering that another draw would put them in serious jeopardy of missing out on the Round of 16, Portugal and Spain are definitely worth backing as favorites against Iran and Morocco.

The Spaniards are laying nearly two goals and are an astronomical favorite (-600 or higher) at most books, so you’re going to want to either lay the goals straight up or add them into an accumulator parlay since a loss is virtually impossible. Iran is close to +2000 to win and a draw is in the +650 range, but I wouldn’t get any ideas about taking a shot. Not gonna happen.

The fact Morocco came into the World Cup as a dangerous threat has Portugal as just a -160 favorite, which is partially because a draw (+275) wouldn’t be a terrible result. If Spain handles its business against Iran, the Portuguese would still be able to control its destiny against Iran in the final game of the group.

There are a couple of ways to bet Group B, from parlaying both favorites to a doing so with a Spain/Portugal-Morocco draw. Make a full day of it by throwing heavily favored Uruguay (-800) in against the most overmatched team in the event, a Saudi Arabia squad that lost to host Russia 5-0 to kick things off and then had a travel scare getting to Rostov-on-Don for its next contest.

Betting Portugal, Spain and Uruguay gives you a return of a little better than even money. Betting the Portugal/Morocco draw with those two heavy favorites gets you a return of nearly 4-to-1. Have fun deciding and sprinkle a little on both if you’re so inclined.

Serbia is a surprise leader in Group E and can seal its passage into the Round of 16 with a win over Switzerland on Friday, but the other sure thing you can count on this week is Brazil (-600) taking aim at Costa Rica in a must-win. Considering how unlucky the World Cup favorite was in not taking all three points against the talented Swiss, you should expect them to be on the war path against the Central Americans known as Los Ticos.

A parlay backing Spain, Uruguay, Brazil and England (-600), which plays Sunday morning against Panama, would go off at roughly -130 and is certainly worth considering since I don’t see any of those teams not prevailing by multiple goals, which means you wouldn’t even have to sweat any stoppage time strikes.

Group favorites Germany and Colombia, which go into their second game without a point, are in must-win situations against solid competition in Sweden and Poland, so if you’re still bullish on their chances, the odds won’t be astronomical.

Neymar is expected to toil for Brazil after leaving practice with a limp on Tuesday, while James Rodriguez should return to the lineup for Colombia after serving as a substitute due to a calf issue. Be sure to be aware of injuries and yellow card accumulation as the tournament continues, because those variables are often what helps swing a World Cup.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA

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