A five week football frenzy begins on Thursday when the 2018 World Cup begins in Russia. 32 leading nations in the world of football descend on the country looking to outlast the rest and become champions of the world.
Germany claimed the crown in Brazil four years ago and have made it through to the finals once again but there is a serious list of countries looking to beat them to the trophy in what should be a wonderful showcase of the beautiful game.
2014 – Germany
2010 – Spain
2006 – Italy
2002 – Brazil
1998 – France
1994 – Brazil
1990 – West Germany
1986 – Argentina
1982 – Italy
1978 – Argentina
One of the good things about the World Cup is the format of it is pretty simple. The 32 sides are split into eight groups of four with each playing the other teams in their group once. At the end of all that the top two from each table go into the knockout stage where the tournament is a straight knockout from the last 16 onwards. Matches that are level after 90 minutes have a full 30 minutes of extra time and if they are still level penalties will decide the outcome.
The rules are all the same as four years ago apart from one major change. That is the use of VAR for the first time which means all goals, penalty shouts, mistaken identities and major incidents will be checked by a video referee.
Brazil were hosts four years ago but saw their own party end in shambolic fashion so they will be looking to make up for that this year. They are the 9/2 favourites to win the competition and having qualified on top of the South American table they are worthy favourites. In Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho they have a front three to be envied by most. You do have to go back to 1958 for the last time they won the competition on European soil though.
Defending champions Germany are the 5/1 second favourites. Not since Brazil in 1962 has this title been defended so that is a massive negative and I sense the Germans are only the price they are because of their tournament reputation. They did win the warm up competition in Russia last year and a positive has to be that they have enough talent they can leave Leroy Sane out of their squad. I just don’t feel them this year though I must say.
Spain won the title in South Africa in 2010 and go in search of a second World Cup crown in Russia. Their title defence ended at the first stage in Brazil and they weren’t a huge amount better in the Euros two years ago. They have changed coach since then and been very impressive in qualifying and if that counts for anything they will have every chance here. I’m uneasy about their forward line but certainly they should be tight enough at the other end.
France are the fourth side who are in the mix. The Euro 2016 finalists will want to get over the disappointment of failing to get the job done on their home turf by going on and being crowned world champions once again. This is one of the talented squads in the competition but I’ve never been a fan of boss Didier Deschamps and while they are a great set of individuals all too often they fail to blend as a team. At 13/2 I’ll pass on them.
Argentina were 90 minutes away from not being at the World Cup at all but they go into the tournament as 10/1 chances. With Lionel Messi in their ranks it would be foolish to completely write them off especially as they were finalists four years ago and have lost in two Copa America finals since then but they look a little too reliant on the Barcelona maestro for my liking.
Now should be the time for Belgium. Their golden generation arrive here in excellent form and with their major players all having plenty of game time and big seasons for their clubs they should be in a position to perform here. They have a peach of a draw to take advantage of their 11/1 odds but somewhere in the back of your mind if you back them you’ve got to put that nightmare against Wales two years ago behind them. I can’t do it myself.
Whisper it quietly but at 18/1 there is a chance that Gareth Southgate’s men could surprise a few in this tournament. I don’t see England winning the competition but they have every chance of making the quarter finals and from there anything can happen as we’ve seen in the past. If the draw opens up England could go further but I think if they were beaten by Germany or Brazil in the quarter final, putting up a fair challenge in the process, nobody will complain especially as Southgate has Euro2020 and the World Cup in Qatar in mind.
Portugal are the European champions and you can argue over how they won two years ago but the fact is they did and when you look at the options they have going forward you could argue they are a better side now. Whether they can draw their way through this competition like they did in France remains to be seen but if Cristiano Ronaldo lights up it is not out of question for Portugal to follow Spain of 2008 and 2010 and hold the European and World crowns at the same time.
Uruguay are the dark horses for many and I think that is perfectly understandable as they look to have a bye in the group stage. More important than the draw though is their ability in both boxes. In Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez they have the Atletico Madrid central defensive pairing while at the other end Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani could be the best strike duo in the tournament. There is no reason why they won’t go well.
Croatia are the other side being spoken about highly. They actually finished behind Iceland in qualifying which wasn’t ideal but they eased past Greece in the play-off to make it into this tournament and are expected to give a good account of themselves now they are here. Their midfield unit lays claims at being the best in the tournament and if they click early they’re another who could negotiate a few rounds.
If you are looking for the perfect team to back in this World Cup then let me save you the time. Don’t bother looking. There isn’t one. Every team in the competition has weaknesses that don’t need too much digging to find. The best way to play the outright market is to work out whose strengths are superior if backing one of the favourites or to throw some change at a couple of huge prices in the hope they get into the knockout stages and then you can look at securing some profit. I’m going to take both approaches.
I think Brazil are the best side in the competition and I expect them to go on and win it. They can be looked upon as weak defensively but they only conceded 11 goals in 18 matches in South American qualifying which is not bad at all. They have so much attacking quality it is untrue. Their options are so strong that Roberto Firmino and Douglas Costa are unlikely to be starters and in Neymar they have one of the standout men in the competition. Brazil certainly won’t lack for motivation after what happened four years ago and their attacking power combined with a nice steel in the middle of the park makes them the ones to beat in my eyes.
I’ve been steadily backing Peru throughout the course of 2018 and now that Paolo Guerrero has been given permission to play in the tournament I certainly can’t desert them now. They go into the tournament off the back of a 15 match unbeaten run and only Brazil and Chile have beaten since for a while. We know that they can handle the pressure of a big competition as they beat Brazil on their way to the knockout stages of the last Copa America having finished third in the previous one. Whether you take any notice of the FIFA rankings or not is subjective but they are eleventh on them. Peru are in a group they can get out of and if they do that who knows how far this solid South American outfit can go.
I must admit until recently I thought Brazil and Switzerland were shoe ins to qualify from Group E but the more I watch or Serbia the more I like about them and at a crazy three figure price I’ll have to have a little go on them even if a second round clash with Germany may not be able to be avoided. They have an on fire Aleksandar Mitrovic up front and three top class central midfielders. They are as experienced and as solid as anyone at the back and have a couple of classy wide men. They have the potential to be dark horses.
Back Brazil to win World Cup 2018 for a 3/10 stake at 5.50 with Boylesports (1/2 1-2)*
Back Peru to win World Cup 2018 (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 201.00 with Boylesports (1/2 1-2)*
*Free bet if either go out in the group stage
Back them here:
Back Serbia to win World Cup 2018 (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 201.00 with BetVictor (1/2 1-2)
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