It is now only a matter of days until the 2018 World Cup kicks off. As always, there will be numerous opportunities for punters during the five weeks, not just because there will be up to 3 games a day (all of them televised), but also because fans can wager on group standings, team progression, the top goal scorers, etc. It really is an incredibly exciting month for football fans and betting enthusiasts alike. This article will look at all eight groups and see who will be most likely to finish in the top two positions and progress to the first knockout round.
If they ever come up with a term for the opposite of the “group of death”, Group A would be it. Uruguay are the stand-out team, and the only one with quality players throughout their eleven. Suarez is still one of the most talented—and temperamental—strikers in the world, and if Oscar Tabarez can control that side of Suarez (and the team in general), first place should be a given. The second spot is not so clear-cut. It all depends on whether Russia (which was already a poor team, even before injuries took their toll) are galvanised by or buckle due to the immense pressure they will be under. Either way, my money is on a Mo Salah-inspired Egypt to sneak into second spot..
The first really mouth-watering tie of the 2018 World Cup comes on day three when Portugal and Spain go head-to-head. In all likelihood, that game will decide the ultimate winner of that group, as one cannot see either Iran or Morocco posing enough of a threat to either of the Iberian heavyweights over a full 90 minutes. A draw would then see the group decided by who scores the most in the remaining fixtures. Although neither side will want to lose the opening fixture, I feel they will not want to leave it in the hands of the “goals scored” column, especially against a resolute and very hard-to-break-down Moroccan side. I predict Spain to edge it, as they have—on paper—a stronger team in almost all positions.
Group C is where things get interesting. France are overwhelming favourites to win the group, and with good reason. They are my tip for the whole tournament, and the group really is theirs to lose. Unfortunately for Les Blues, as we have seen, they are more than capable of doing just that. That said, I predict they will top the group at a stroll. Second place is far less clear-cut. Australia have a number of players who had a good season in high-profile leagues, and as a result, they will be many people’s dark horses to grab second. Likewise, a Christian Eriksen-inspired Danish team also has some people tipping them. I, however, am going for Peru. They are managed by the extremely experienced Ricardo Gareca, who has assembled a team of very talented young players who play on the front foot and are very capable of causing an upset. I think they even have a good chance of progressing into the quarters.
Group D is perhaps the hardest to predict and also the one that represents the best value. Argentina are favourites, but they have really struggled as of late; and if they do so against Iceland in their first fixture, then you might see them falling away due to the mounting pressure. Iceland backed up their impressive Euro display by beating Croatia to top their qualifying group. Croatia themselves are strong, and Nigeria is the weakest team in the group, but are not pushovers by any means. A Croatia-Iceland top two is more likely than the odds suggest and is the best value bet for the first round.
Group E is somewhat easier. Brazil should win at a canter, with Serbia and Costa Rica fighting it out for the runner-up spot. In my opinion, Serbia will be too good and will claim second place by virtue of beating Costa Rica in their opening fixture. It is a similar situation in Group F. Germany should be too strong to finish anywhere other than at the top, with the other three sides scrapping for second. Of those, South Korea appear to be falling apart at just the wrong time, and, although solid, Sweden probably lack the spark needed to see them get enough points. That leaves Mexico (who were impressive in qualification) to claim second.
Group G is another bracket that looks to have the top two nailed down, with England and Belgium being the stand-out teams. Their final game against each other will (in all likelihood) determine who tops the group. I would predict that Belgium will sneak by, either by a tight victory over England or courtesy of more goals in the other two fixtures. Finally, we come to Group H. All four teams are fairly evenly-matched and will be relying on one or two of their star names to see them into the knockout stages. It is incredibly tight, but I would go for Poland first and Colombia second.