World Cup 2018 in Russia

world cup 2018 russiaThe longest wait in international football is over and on June 14 fans can rejoice as the 2018 World Cup gets underway. 32 of the world’s best teams will battle it out over a 4 week period to determine who is the best in the world, with 31 of those hoping they can take the title currently held by Germany and with the Germans keen to become only the third team to retain the World Cup trophy.

Russia are the hosts of this competition. That bodes well for some European teams (certainly more so than a South American World Cup did) and because the venues have been limited to European Russia (which means no Siberia) the total area will actually be smaller than Brazil, at 1.500.000 square miles.

Tournament Information

  • Location: Russia
  • Date: 14th June - 15th July 2018
  • Teams: 32
  • Groups: 8
  • Stadiums: 12

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World Cup 2018 Preview

There are two teams that will playing at the tournament for the first time (more on that later) and there are also some notable omissions, teams who didn’t quite make the cut, including:

  • Netherlands: A poor showing all round, including a loss to Bulgaria. They have been off the ball for a few years now.
  • Italy: Another big miss, the Italians have one of their worst teams in years, despite fielding some of their better star players.
  • Republic of Ireland: Should have qualified automatically but didn’t and then lost to Denmark in the play-offs.
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina: Struggled tactically and were overwhelmed, taking very few points from a succession of key games.
  • Turkey: Massive backroom problems caused huge unrest and meant they were doomed from the start.
  • Chile: One of the best teams in South America, they struggled in what was an unpredictable qualifying group, including a loss to Bolivia.
  • Ghana: Aging stars and terrible home form cost the Black Stars big.
  • Greece: Struggled in the group stage and then fell to pieces against Croatia in the play-offs.
  • Wales: Despite a great showing in the Euros, they have struggled to find their feet and quickly fell apart.

Those are the teams who missed out, but what about the ones that actually made it? Let’s take a look as we pick apart the groups, the teams and the odds to find the best tips for each group as well as some predictions on the tournament itself.

Group A

TeamTo Win the GroupTo Qualify from Group
Odds from Bet365
UruguayUruguay1.901.20
EgyptEgypt6.502.50
RussiaRussia2.501.33
Saudi ArabiaSaudi Arabia41.008.00

Russia

In the past, Russia have been every pundit’s dark horse because they have the potential and there are always a few world class players in their midst. But they have failed to impress time and time again. They often begin tournaments with a relatively short price considering how little success they have had, but they struggle to get out of the group stage.

In the 2017 Confederations Cup, they finished third in their group behind Mexico and Portugal; in Euro 2016 they finished last behind Wales, England and Slovakia; and in the 2014 World Cup they were beaten to the knockout stages by Belgium and Algeria.

Each time they qualified well and went in as the second favorite and each time they flopped. So what makes this World Cup different and why are they still being picked as a dark horse?

Well, for one thing they have home advantage, which is always key. They also have themselves a new manager in Stanislav Cherchesov and the former goalkeeper has shaken things up. He has made room for some talented youngsters who play in the Russian league. He has made them a more fluent, attacking team. And in Aleksei Miranchuk and Anton Miranchuk (twin brothers who play in midfield) as well as in-form striker Alan Dzagoev, they could be set to impress.

On the flip side, however, the new manager had a fallout with star defensive midfielder Igor Denisov, who likely won’t appear in the final squad. The 33 year old has won 54 caps at senior level and while he is not the sort of midfielder who contributes to the goal tally, he is the sort to keep things stable at the back. They might miss him, but at the same time, they might not need him. Only time will tell.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 41.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: The Miranchuk Twins

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia are one of the biggest underdogs and have been labelled as the lowest ranked qualifier. This is true, but you have to take the FIFA World Rankings with a pinch of salt and even if you did take those ranking as gospel then you have to consider that while low, Saudi Arabia are still only four places behind Russia in those rankings.

They are a tough team who play a good game in every tournament they enter. In the qualifiers they did what was expected of them, beating the teams below them and scraping points here and there where possible. In the World Cup Finals they will be expected to lose every game, so it will be interesting to see how they setup.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 1001.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Nawaf Al Abed

Egypt

Anyone who has watched the Premier League this season could be forgiven for thinking that Egypt would be explosive and all-out attacking. After all, they have Salah, the standout player of the year in Europe, and they also have Elneny, a very promising midfielder who plays an important role at the heart of Arsenal’s defense (he was struck down with injury, but he should be fit in time).

But that’s just not how they play. They are more akin to George Graham’s Arsenal team of the 1990s than the current Liverpool squad in that they like to sit behind the ball and hit on the counter. They are very tough to break down, they have quality on the counter and we know that this tactic can work. After all, it won Greece the European Championship and it helped Chelsea to a couple big titles, but there isn’t enough quality in-depth to replicate Chelsea and they don’t have the team spirit that Greece had.

They will be heavily reliant on Salah and while he does have some good midfielders behind him and wingers in support, I think he will struggle to replicate his Liverpool form.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 151.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Salah and Elneny

Uruguay

Uruguay battled through a very difficult qualifying campaign, finishing ahead of Argentina, Colombia and Peru, and helping to ensure that Chile and Paraguay didn’t make it to the finals. Brazil were the only team ahead of them, the only team with a more flawless campaign, although they did manage a draw against the South American giants.

They always have a solid team, but this time around they will look to some newer, attack-minded players like Real Madrid’s Valverde, currently on loan at Deportivo, and Inter’s Vecino.

They didn’t impress during recent friendlies, but there’s a lot of time for them to make changes before the competition.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 34.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Luis Suarez

Preview for Group A

This is a very tough group. Not quite enough to get the label “The Group of Death”, but enough to cause some intrigue amongst punters and tipsters alike. In Russia you have a side in the midst of an evolution, not to mention the hosts; in Saudi Arabia you have a capable, defiant team that opponents could underestimate; in Egypt you have a team that plays defensively, but has what could be the world’s best attacking player of 2018; and in Uruguay you have a team that is always one good performance—or bad controversy—away from capturing the headlines.

It doesn’t get much better than this.

Betting Tips

Egypt are going to be several peoples’ pick simply because of Salah, but while they will be a good contender for second, it’s hard to see how they could get the better of Uruguay. We can safely rule out Saudi Arabia and while Russia have home advantage, it’s probably not enough to see them over the line in first.

For me, this will be a Uruguay win, followed by Russia.

Bet on Uruguay to win the group, 1.90 @ Bet365

Group B

TeamTo Win the GroupTo Qualify from Group
Odds from Bet365
PortugalPortugal3.001.22
SpainSpain1.501.062
MoroccoMorocco17.005.00
IranIran34.006.50

Portugal

What Portugal did in 2016 was nothing short of outstanding. It’s true that they had an easier run than they might have expected, coming up against Poland and Wales, but those teams were on fire during that competition and not only did Portugal beat them, but they went on to beat everyone’s favorite, France.

They have a young team and are one of the few major teams happy to let go of the old guard. This has helped them immensely. They do still have some older, more expensive players, but they have one of the youngest midfields in the tournament and this is where the creativity, speed and flair comes from.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 26.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Ronaldo

Spain

Spain had a poor showing at the last few major tournaments, not making it past the group stage in the 2014 World Cup and the Round of 16 in the 2016 Euros. It wasn’t the end of Spain as a force, but it was the end of an era.

Most of the team is the same, but there are some tactical changes and some new additions that make them considerably better. These include Isco, who has cemented his place in the senior squad and David De Gea, who has grown into one of the world’s best goalkeepers.

They breezed through qualifying and went unbeaten in 2017, securing wins against France and Italy and then dominating Argentina in 2018. Could the old Spain be back?

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 7.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Isco

Morocco

Morocco have built their team on a backbone of solid defense. They qualified for this tournament without conceding a single goal, pipping the Ivory Coast to the post. There are players from many of Europe’s biggest leagues and the team is coming together nicely. There is still a long way to go if they are to become Africa’s best team, but this is the perfect stage for them to show their worth to the world.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 501.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Zivech

Iran

This is the first time that Iran have made it to two World Cups Finals in a row. They are managed by Carlos Queiroz, who Man Utd fans will recognize as the man who served as Alex Ferguson’s assistant for 2 terms and a total of 5 years, and they are solid defensively. They qualified by keeping a clean sheet in a dozen consequence games, including a 0-0 draw and a 1-0 win against South Korea, and 2 wins against Qatar.

This is a big step-up in class, but they they have been defensively sound even against bigger teams and will prove difficult for anyone to break down. They are not here to be the whipping boys.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 501.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Azmoun

Preview for Group B

Portugal were seeded first following their European Championship success and while they would have been happy with that, they would have been less than happy to see Spain’s name come out of the hat after theirs. The good news that that they avoided turning this into a Group of Death by landing relatively minor teams in Morocco and Iran, but the bad news is that those two teams can still play and one slip-up will spell disaster for both Portugal and Spain.

To make matters worse, they will play each other in the group’s opening game on Day 2 of the competition.

Betting Tips

If we focus on recent form, using the qualifiers as opposed to the last major competition, then Spain seem to be a be a class above Portugal. Spain have been unstoppable, Portugal scraped wins and were embarrassed by the Netherlands. Of course, we shouldn’t read too much into that. A win is a win (and scraping wins is what turned them into European champions) and a friendly is nothing more than a testing ground. But I still think that Spain will beat them comfortably, leaving Portugal to fight for second place.

And the problem with that is that it just takes one difficult game, one slip-up, and they could be out.

Bet on Spain to win the group, 1.50 @ Bet365
Portugal not to qualify, 4.33 @ Bet365

Group C

TeamTo Win the GroupTo Qualify from Group
Odds from Bet365
FranceFrance1.281.05
AustraliaAustralia21.004.33
PeruPeru11.003.25
DenmarkDenmark5.501.61

France

France were outstanding during the European Championships and they were very unlucky not to win the whole thing. They have some extraordinary players in Pogba, Dembele, Mbappé and Griezmann and they seem to be gelling well. However, there have been some worrying slips on the way and these raise a few questions about France’s ability.

They drew against Luxembourg and they lost to Sweden. The latter is forgivable, but the former is not. To make matters worse, they also dropped qualifying points against Belarus. These teams are on par with the likes of Peru and Australia, both of which will take hope from those results and believe they can also get something against France.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 7.50
  • Player(s) to Watch: Griezmann

Australia

Australia don’t have it easy when it comes to soccer. They are dominant in their own region, which is why they either won or finished as runners-up in the OFC Nations Cup from 1980 to 2004, but they struggle when it comes to qualifying for the World Cup because they need to beat teams in Asia to do it.

It’s a very long road for them, and the limited money it brings, combined with the lack of interest in soccer in Australia, means it is hard for this team to grow. They travelled more than anyone and played more games than anyone to get this far, so they won’t lie down, but they are a class below many of the teams they will face and it’s going to be a huge ask for them to even get a point.

At the time of writing, they also don’t have a manager, which is never a good sign.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 301.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Mooy

Peru

Peru have missed out on the last half dozen World Cups and will be glad to be back. They scraped through qualifying, only making it following a play-off win against New Zealand, but they have some good players to turn to (Christian Cueva and Jefferson Farfán included) and they also have nothing to lose.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 201.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Farfán

Denmark

Denmark have one of the strongest squads they have had for a long time, with Christian Eriksen being instrumental in their success. They have secured big wins against big teams, including a destruction of Poland, and they are more than ready to make their first major impact on the international scene for over twenty years.

If Eriksen is on form and gets the support he needs from fellow midfield man Delaney and from strikers Bendtner, Cornelius and Jorgensen, then they could prove to be a very capable threat.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 101.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Eriksen

Preview for Group C

France will be very happy with their group, but they can be guilty of being complacent in the early stages of major competitions and if that complacency is going to be their undoing then this is an ideal group for it.

This group also sees the reemergence of Denmark and Peru, who have been away from the major international scene for a while, as well as Australia, who rarely make it this far.

Betting Tips

There isn’t a great deal of value in this group, but it only takes one slip-up from France, who have made such slips in the recent past, for it to be thrown wide open. That’s what I’m going to go with here.

I’ll be putting a little money on Denmark winning the group, but there is nothing guaranteed here so it’s a longshot tip only.

Bet on Denmark to win the group, 5.50 @ Bet365

Group D

TeamTo Win the GroupTo Qualify from Group
Odds from Bet365
ArgentinaArgentina1.611.14
IcelandIceland13.003.75
CroatiaCroatia3.251.50
NigeriaNigeria11.003.25

Argentina

I think Argentina dodged a bullet. If they had swapped places with Germany or Portugal, they would struggle to escape the group. They have not been at the best these last couple years, they are still struggling to get the most from Messi and while they do have class in abundance, it just doesn’t come through like it should.

In 2017 they lost to Bolivia and Nigeria, they drew at home to Venezuela and Peru and in 2018 they were hammered by Spain. The problem is they lack young, star players. In the squad they called up for the Spain game there were just 6 players (out of 27) under the age of 25, but 12 over the age of 30. Spain, on the other hand, had just 5 players above the age of 30.

I have a feeling that a drought will be coming for Argentina and while it might not be as disastrous as the one that struck Spain following their domination in the early 2000s, it’s not going to be pretty. You also have to consider that Aguero could miss out due to injury and at best he will be ready but lacking in match fitness.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 10.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Messi

Iceland

This is Iceland’s first World Cup. They impressed during their last major tournament and will be hoping to repeat that here, but they are in a very tough group and will have to work hard out of the traps.

They have experienced players, a team that works well together, and the weight of the smallest qualifying nation behind them. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain, and it’s that attitude that saw them to surprise success during the European Championships when they beat England in the knockout stages.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 201.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Sigurdsson (slim chance he will miss out due to injury)

Croatia

Croatia only just made it through the qualifiers. They began well but then started losing. The man at the helm was then fired and with the decisive game just around the corner they hired a new manager in Zlatko Dalic. They won that game and they went onto topple Greece in the play-offs, earring their place in the finals, albeit with a lot more nail biting than their fans would have liked.

Modric is undoubtedly the star player, but they also have Everton’s Nikola Vlasic ready to impress. Croatia are usually a good shout for dark horse, but you get the feeling that this is one of the worst teams they have put out in a major tournament for years, a far cry from the headline-grabbing days of Suker and Co.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 34.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Modric

Nigeria

Nigeria got the better of some of Africa’s finest to qualify for this tournament, including Algeria and Cameroon. If you’re wondering why those top teams didn’t make it to this tournament, it’s because Nigeria proved to be too good for them.

And that’s a big surprise, because Nigeria have been struggling over the last decade. They have been too reliant on the old guard and they have been letdown as a result. Only when they decided to kick those players out and focus more on talented youngsters were they able to shine, and that’s the team they will be bringing to this tournament.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 201.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Victor Moses

Preview for Group D

This is one of the toughest groups in the tournament. It’s bad news for Iceland who are the outsiders and have a lot of work to do, but it’s good news for the neutrals as it means three sides will be trying to fit into two places while stopping Iceland from ruining their party.

Betting Tips

Nigeria will give Argentina a very good run for their money here. It’s going to be tough, but I can see Argentina dropping points against Croatia and Nigeria, which will leave Nigeria wide open to take the top spot. It’s a longshot, but an interesting one nonetheless.

There is a slim chance that Argentina will fall to bits like they did throughout most of qualifying and if that happens they might not make it through the group stage, but Croatia are more of a concern and I think the bigger bet is for them not to make it through.

Bet on Croatia to not qualify, 2.50 @ Bet365
Bet on Nigeria to win the group, 11.00 @ Bet365

Group E

TeamTo Win the GroupTo Qualify from Group
Odds from Bet365
BrazilBrazil1.281.062
SwitzerlandSwitzerland7.002.00
Costa RicaCosta Rica19.004.50
SerbiaSerbia9.002.20

Brazil

At the last World Cup it felt like we had seen the end of an era. Brazil crashed out in epic style to a demolition by Germany, even though they were the hosts. But a lot has changed since then. They have more stability in the backroom now and they have been steered in the right direction.

Jesus, Paulinho, Augusto, Willian, Firmino—they are all on form and they will all enter this tournament with the weight of expectation on their backs. They are the favorites for a reason and they have been breathtaking to watch at times, but there are also times when things aren’t going too well and frustration creeps in. If they can avoid that, they will be difficult for any team to beat at this World Cup.

Neymar has missed some football and could miss the tournament as well, but it’s looking like he will be fit and ready.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 5.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Firmino

Switzerland

Switzerland are always a good shout for dark horse. They have some very creative players, a solid defense and midfielders who know how to score. Arsenal’s Xhaka will be key, as will Shaqiri, Zuber and Lichtsteiner.

They are lacking in attacking prowess, but when you have midfielders and wingers with that level of ability, it’s not always necessary. It worked for Spain for many years, so why can’t it work for Switzerland?

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 101.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Xhaka

Costa Rica

Costa Rica were brilliant in the last World Cup, making it further than anyone could have predicted and shocking the footballing world in the process. This time around they are a different team altogether. They have a similar team, but a different backroom and the form just isn’t there.

Ruiz will be key again, but they will not be underestimated by anyone and up against the might of Brazil and the experience of Switzerland, they won’t be repeating their previous tournament’s success.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 501.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Keylor Navas

Serbia

Serbia have a strong team, but they struggle with qualification and this is their first tournament in seven years. However, they did it in style, losing only one match in what was a tough group.

They did lose their manager after this though and there is always a lot of backroom issues with the Serbia job, which is always ready to spill out onto the field. In Matic they have one of the best defensive playmakers in the world and he will be key, but I have a feeling that they will just not be good enough to get the better of either Switzerland or Brazil, with even Costa Rica giving them a tough time.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 201.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Matic

Preview for Group E

Brazil will be looking to undo the mess of the last World Cup and they have the players to do just that. Switzerland, however, are expecting to make it through to the last 16, even though Serbia are also expectant of success. And that’s before we even consider Costa Rica, a team that shocked everyone during the last World Cup, making it through to the quarter-finals and only losing following a penalty shootout.

This could get interesting.

Betting Tips

It’s hard to look past Brazil here, but there is a lot of competition elsewhere. Costa Rica impressed in the last World Cup, but they are a different team now and will struggle. It’s a battle between Switzerland and Serbia and I think the Swiss will win it.

Bet on Switzerland to qualify, 2.00 @ Bet365

Group F

TeamTo Win the GroupTo Qualify from Group
Odds from Bet365
GermanyGermany1.331.083
MexicoMexico6.002.10
SwedenSweden7.502.25
South KoreaSouth Korea17.003.50

Germany

Germany had a disappointing end to the European Championship in 2016, dropping out at the quarter-final stage despite many predicting that they would win the tournament. However, they came right back, winning 10 out of 10 games in qualifying and also taking the 2017 Confederations Cup. In the years since that 2016 semi-final loss, they have beaten England, Norway, Chile, Mexico and the Czech Republic (twice).

They are the in-form team of the tournament and will fancy their chances of retaining their status as champions of the world.

They have quality in-depth. The same can be said for many other teams, but with Germany we really mean it. They didn’t play any of their top players for the Confederations Cup, giving a chance to their promising hopefuls instead, and yet they still won. They have 40+ top players they can pick from and no matter which squad they choose, they will still be one of the favorites for this competition.

I would like to see Timo Werner and Leon Goretzka picked alongside players like Gündogan and Leroy Sane, both of whom have impressed in the Premier League. But really, any squad they choose will be capable of beating any team in this competition.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 5.50
  • Player(s) to Watch: Werner

Mexico

It’s hard to predict just what Mexico will do in this tournament. On the one hand, they did brilliantly well in the qualifiers and they have a succession of experienced players who can still cut it at this level, including Guardado and Chicharito. On the other hand, they didn’t have much competition in the qualifiers (finishing ahead of tournament outsiders Costa Rica and Panama) and when they have played against bigger teams they have struggled.

In 2017 they lost and drew to Jamaica, lost to Honduras and suffered a 4-1 capitulation against Germany, but they have also held Belgium to a draw and beaten Russia. It’s a mixed bag, as is so often the case, but based on that Confederations Cup game against Germany, and Mexico’s inability to handle their opponents, we can safely assume that history will repeat itself when these two teams meet in Russia.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 101.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Chicharito

Sweden

Sweden have undergone some big changes since the European Championships and we won’t be seeing Zlatan here (unless he comes out of retirement). The new squad is more than capable of making a name for themselves, but rather than haling from Europe’s biggest leagues, they ply their trade in more obscure leagues making them an unknown entity.

They are no longer a recognizable team with a handful of big name players, but the new setup is one that worked for Greece in the past and also did Iceland a good turn at the last big tournament, so Sweden are still a threat and a dark horse.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 151.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Emil Forsberg

South Korea

South Korea have made a good showing of themselves on the international stage in the past, but it’s hard to see them doing the same here. They scraped through the qualifiers and then lost their manager. Premier League fans will recognize Son Heung-Min from Spurs and Ki Sung-Yueng from Swansea, but other than that there isn’t a great deal of quality here.

They don’t have the best defense, they don’t have many options in attack and they will struggle to make an impression on this tournament.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 751.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Son Heung-Min

Preview for Group F

Germany are the current World Champions and many have picked them to retain their title. It is going to be a big ask though as this is one of the hardest groups, if not the hardest, in the competition. Germany are the favorites to win, but with the quality that Mexico have and the experience that Sweden have, it could go anywhere.

Betting Tips

The winner of this group will be Germany. We can be sure of that. They have what it takes to beat the others without much fuss. We can also be fairly sure that South Korea won’t be much trouble, with a defense that should capitulate under the strain of Mexico’s, Germany’s and Sweden’s attack.

Picking a winner from Mexico and Sweden, however, is a different matter. Only one can take the second spot, so who will it be?

Well, we’ve watched Mexico a lot this past couple years and while they have impressed in part, they lack a killer touch needed to get key results. Sweden, on the other hand, don’t, and they have won some big games already. Mexico may be getting the nod for many bookmakers, but we’re giving it to Sweden.

Bet on Sweden to qualify, 2.50 @ Bet365

Group G

TeamTo Win the GroupTo Qualify from Group
Odds from Bet365
BelgiumBelgium1.831.10
PanamaPanama41.0010.00
TunisiaTunisia15.005.00
EnglandEngland2.201.12

Belgium

I’ve been saying for years that this Belgium team is due a big title. Maybe this will be their year. They certainly have the players and under Martinez, they will have the leadership.

The problem with Belgium is that they don’t always play as you expect them to. They have players like Hazard, De Bruyne, Dembele, Tielemans, Lukaku, Origi and Batshuayi, yet they struggle to score many goals. What’s more, many of those players seem to fade into the background, even though they are used to standing in the spotlight for their respective clubs.

I really hope they can make it work this time because on paper they have one of the best three squads in the tournament. This group will be a good test for them and could propel them into the knockout stages on a high.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 12.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Eden Hazard

Panama

Panama are one of two teams making their first appearance at a World Cup final and they are the rank outsiders for the whole competition. That’s the bad news (or good news for England, Tunisia and Belgium fans). But don’t underestimate them.

They qualified ahead of Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States. They struggled against the US in their match-ups, but their fantastic performances against Costa Rica ensured they qualified in the final qualification spot.

Thy will go to the finals expecting nothing and hoping to be a fly in the ointment. In the past that sort of attitude has helped teams like Costa Rico and South Korea to progress deep, and it might happen here.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 1001.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Gomez

Tunisia

When you think of great African teams, you don’t really think of Tunisia. You might think of Egypt, Ivory Coast and Nigeria, who are always flying high, or of Algeria, who shocked England in their recent past, and South Africa, who impressed when staging their old World Cup.

Tunisia doesn’t immediately spring to mind, but it should. They breezed through their group, not losing a single game and finishing ahead of DR Congo. Again, not a team you will know much about, but to put that into perspective, DR Congo made it through to the Quarter-Finals of the 2017 African Nations, getting the better of Morocco, Ivory Coast and Togo, all in the same year they were beaten by Tunisia in WC qualifying.

This is another surprise package that could cause problems.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 751.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Naïm Sliti

England

England’s squad should be a mixture of Tottenham and Manchester City players for the most part, and with Kane, Dele Alli, Dier, Sterling, Walker and Henderson, it’s a squad that has a good backbone.

Pickford should get a spot in the 23, and it will be interesting to see how Southgate is able to choose between the likes of Vardy, Rashford and Lingard for the second striker spot. Oxlade-Chamberlain will miss the cut thanks to injury, and that’s a shame, while former stars like Joe Hart, Ashley Young, Welbeck, and Wilshere need to make themselves known if they are to be picked.

England are always an unknown entity. They have the players, but struggle to gel and tend to fall apart at the first sign of difficulty. This is a new team, one that is not reliant on players like Rooney and one that has some exciting attack-minded individuals, but I have my doubts.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 19.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Harry Kane

Preview for Group G

It’s all about England and Belgium in this group. Panama are the rank outsiders for the whole competition, Tunisia shouldn’t prove too much of a match, and it should be a battle between these two European giants for the top spot.

Of course, this is the World Cup and anything can happen. With the surprise factor that Panama can spring and the resilience that Tunisia can show combined with the fact that Belgium and England have a history of underperforming, there could be some shocks in store.

Betting Tips

Despite being an England supporter, I really don’t think that this is England’s year. Many of the standout players in the Premier League this season are not English and while there are some good players coming through the ranks, I don’t think we’re there yet. They will put up a good show and finish second, but it’ll be Belgium that take the victory.

I think that Panama will come close to snatching a point and might even do just that from Tunisia, but in the end I still see them finishing bottom.

Bet on Belgium to win, 1.83 @ Bet365
Bet on England to qualify, 1.12 @ Bet365

Group H

TeamTo Win the GroupTo Qualify from Group
Odds from Bet365
PolandPoland2.751.57
SenegalSenegal6.002.37
ColombiaColombia2.251.33
JapanJapan8.003.00

Poland

Poland are always a capable threat, but they are ever reliant on the goal scoring prowess of Robert Lewandowski, who bagged 16 goals in qualifying.

There have been some concerns raised about their defense, but they made a good show of themselves during the European Championships and could easily replicate that here. They also have some talented wingers, including Grosicki, who plays for Hull City, and will be looking to make Lewandowski the focus of their attack throughout.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 51.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Robert Lewandowski

Senegal

Senegal have always produced a string of super talented players but have never really played to their potential. On paper they are solid, with Sadio Mańe, Keita Baldé and M’Baye Niang in attack all capable of turning any game into a goal fest and annihilating any defense put in front of them.

They don’t have the best defense, however, but with an attack that good, maybe it won’t be needed. They will look to play open attacking football and to out-score their opponents. Sides like Poland, who tend to win games by single goals and rely on their defense, will be a big test for them, but they might enjoy playing against Colombia more.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 201.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Sadio Mańe

Colombia

Colombia have some exciting talent, but their great showing at the last Wold Cup actually hindered them. It meant that Rodriguez, Ospina and a few other stars were shipped off to big name European clubs, only to end up as substitutes or reserves. This lack of playing time for their big players meant they struggled through qualifying, only just making it.

They will now need to get as much play time as possible for the likes of Falcao, Rodriquez, Ospina and others, while also looking to players like Davinson Sanchez from Tottenham to secure their defense. I have watched him play several times this season and believe he can really make a difference for this Colombian side.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 41.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Davinson Sanchez

Japan

The current Japan side plays a little differently to the Japan teams of old, relying less on the possession style commonly used by teams like Manchester City and focusing more on counter attacking football. They got rid of their biggest names, Honda and Kagawa, both of whom were instrumental in their midfield, and they also don’t seem to be making room for Okazaki from Leicester City, although time will tell in that regard.

This is a team not afraid to reject its big name players if they don’t fit the style of play and that’s a good thing. Better to find players that fit than to force a style of play around them (the reason the Gerrard/Lampard problem persisted with England for so long).

That lack of experience may be telling though and if it all fails, the manager, Halihodzic, will have to answer to the public.

  • Odds of Winning World Cup 2018: 301.00
  • Player(s) to Watch: Yoshida

Preview for Group H

Poland are usually a good bet for dark horse, but my focus will be on Colombia and Senegal. Combined they have some enviable attacking force and if they get into their stride then they could set this group alight. When they meet, we could be in for the game of the group stages.

Betting Tips

This is a very tough group. They can breathe a sigh of relief at not having a big seed like Brazil, Spain, France or Belgium to play, but the rest of the teams are very evenly matched and it will make this group very interesting to watch.

I think that Poland will struggle. They have a style that Japan will try to exploit, a style that Colombia will peg back and one that Senegal will look to make a mockery of. They are the group’s second favorites for a reason, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that they won’t qualify, that Colombia will get the win and that Senegal will pip Poland to the post.

Bet on Colombia to win, 2.25 @ Bet365
Bet on Senegal to qualify, 2.37 @ Bet365
Bet on Poland to not qualify, 2.30 @ Bet365

World Cup 2018 Betting Tips: The Winner

I have a very good idea of who will win and who you should get your money on. But to show you how I got there, let’s go through a process of elimination. Here are nine of the ten favorites and why I don’t think they will win:

  1. Brazil: Great squad, but lacking in experience and always one defensive injury away from destruction. Will go far, but I think my pick will have the beating of them.
  2. Spain: A fantastic team that has fixed the attacking issues that plagued it in previous competitions, but only at the expense of a less experienced midfield and defense.
  3. France: Brilliant young team with a bright future. They will go far here, but they are flawed.
  4. Argentina: Too many issues in qualifying, too exposed. Bigger, in-form teams will tear them apart.
  5. Belgium: One of the best teams on paper, but they always struggle at the final hurdle. I am just not confident that they will hold their nerve if they make it to the final.
  6. England: Some young and exciting players, but nothing that comes close to their opponents.
  7. Portugal: They haven’t been great since their big win and they can be inconsistent.
  8. Croatia: It’s a surprise to see them ranked this highly considering how messy they were in qualifying.
  9. Uruguay: Good, but not that good. You can’t beat the world with a few top players and a team that only occasionally works together.

The astute amongst you will have noticed a glaring omission from that list: Germany. They are my pick to win this whole thing. I have a lot of good things to say about Spain and Belgium, and I’m sure that Switzerland, Nigeria, Senegal and Colombia will have an impact in some way as well, but when it comes to taking the highest prize in World Football, it’s hard to look beyond Germany.

They have more talent in depth than any other team, with the best strikers, midfielders and defenders in the world and one of the world’s best shot-stoppers (assuming he is fit in time) to top it off. They are the perfect team. And sure, the odds aren’t great, but what’s better, a 5.50 win or a 20.00 nearly win?

Germany to win World Cup 2018, 6.00 @ Unibet
Switzerland to reach quarter-finals, 6.00 @ Bet365

World Cup 2018 Betting Tips: Top Goalscorer

During the last World Cup I predicted that James Rodriguez would be voted as the best player and the highest scorer. I still get annoyed over losing the former (they like to hand that award to the player in person, which means they usually give it to someone who makes it to the final) but I was able to cash-in on considerable odds for the latter.

The method of calculation I used then is similar to the one I have used now to highlight Romelu Lukaku as the top goalscorer. Not only is he a key figure in the Belgium squad, but he’s a target man that never fails to score, he is on form, and once he gets that opening game out of the way against England he’ll have free run against Panama and Tunisia.

World Cup top goalscorers usually score between 4 and 8 goals. It’s not a huge total and we could easily see Lukaku emerge from the group well into that range, leaving him with a few games on which to improve it.

I’m dismissing Falcao because I don’t think Colombia will go far and I don’t think he’s good enough anymore. I’m dismissing Kane purely because I think England will fail to reach the final four and will be lucky to get that far. I can see Spain and France getting relatively small wins and having their goals shared by a number of scorers, so there goes Griezmann and Morata, and it’s a similar story with Neymar and Messi.

The biggest threat to Lukaku as far as I am concerned, is Timo Werner. But he has problems playing in big stadiums and he might not even be picked for all their games.

Romelu Lukaku to win the Golden Boot, 21.00 @ Bet365

World Cup 2018 Betting Tips: Best Player

Even after my frustration at the 2014 Finals I will happily take another punt at this. I think that Firmino, at 34.00, is in for a great chance. He is in fine form and Brazil will go far. Eden Hazard, at 29.00, is also a good shout for the same reasons. But it’s easy for Brazilian creative players to fade into the background and Eden Hazard isn’t very consistent for Belgium, so I won’t be following through with those tips.

Instead, my money will go on Isco. He is a top class player and Spain should go deep, so he’s a great shout for this award. You can find even higher odds at some other bookmakers like BetVictor for example.

Isco to win the Golden Ball, 21.00 @ Bet365

Schedule

Jun 14th
16:00Russia vs Saudi ArabiaGroup AMoscow
Jun 15th
13:00Egypt vs UruguayGroup AYekaterinburg
16:00Morocco vs IranGroup BSt Petersburg
19:00Portugal vs SpainGroup BSochi
Jun 16th
11:00France vs AustraliaGroup CKazan
14:00Argentina vs IcelandGroup DMoscow
17:00Peru vs DenmarkGroup CSaransk
20:00Croatia vs NigeriaGroup DKaliningrad
Jun 17th
13:00Costa Rica vs SerbiaGroup ESamara
16:00Germany vs MexicoGroup FMoscow
19:00Brazil vs SwitzerlandGroup ERostov-on-Don
Jun 18th
13:00Sweden vs South KoreaGroup FNizhny Novgorod
16:00Belgium vs PanamaGroup GSochi
19:00Tunisia vs EnglandGroup GVolgograd
Jun 19th
13:00Colombia vs JapanGroup HSaransk
16:00Poland vs SenegalGroup HMoscow
19:00Russia vs EgyptGroup ASt Petersburg
Jun 20th
13:00Portugal vs MoroccoGroup BMoscow
16:00Uruguay vs Saudi ArabiaGroup ARostov-on-Don
19:00Iran vs SpainGroup BKazan
Jun 21st
13:00Denmark vs AustraliaGroup CYekaterinburg
16:00France vs PeruGroup CSamara
19:00Argentina vs CroatiaGroup DNizhny Novgorod
Jun 22nd
13:00Brazil vs Costa RicaGroup ESt Petersburg
16:00Nigeria vs IcelandGroup DVolgograd
19:00Serbia vs SwitzerlandGroup EKaliningrad
Jun 23rd
13:00Belgium vs TunisiaGroup GMoscow
16:00South Korea vs MexicoGroup FRostov-on-Don
19:00Germany vs SwedenGroup FSochi
Jun 24th
13:00England vs PanamaGroup GNizhny Novgorod
16:00Japan vs SenegalGroup HYekaterinburg
19:00Poland vs ColombiaGroup HKazan
Jun 25th
15:00Saudi Arabia vs EgyptGroup AVolgograd
15:00Uruguay vs RussiaGroup ASamara
19:00Spain vs MoroccoGroup BKaliningrad
19:00Iran vs PortugalGroup BSaransk
Jun 26th
15:00Denmark vs FranceGroup CMoscow
15:00Australia vs PeruGroup CSochi
19:00Nigeria vs ArgentinaGroup DSt Petersburg
19:00Iceland vs CroatiaGroup DRostov-on-Don
Jun 27th
15:00South Korea vs GermanyGroup FKazan
15:00Mexico vs SwedenGroup FYekaterinburg
19:00Serbia vs BrazilGroup EMoscow
19:00Switzerland vs Costa RicaGroup ENizhny Novgorod
Jun 28th
15:00Japan vs PolandGroup HVolgograd
15:00Senegal vs ColombiaGroup HSamara
19:00England vs BelgiumGroup GKaliningrad
19:00Panama vs TunisiaGroup GSaransk
Jun 30th
15:001st Group C vs 2nd Group DRound Of 16Kazan
19:001st Group A vs 2nd Group BRound Of 16Sochi
Jul 1st
15:001st Group B vs 2nd Group ARound Of 16Moscow
19:001st Group D vs 2nd Group CRound Of 16Nizhny Novgorod
Jul 2nd
15:001st Group E vs 2nd Group FRound Of 16Samara
19:001st Group G vs 2nd Group HRound Of 16Rostov-on-Don
Jul 3rd
15:001st Group F vs 2nd Group ERound Of 16St Petersburg
19:001st Group H vs 2nd Group GRound Of 16Moscow
Jul 6th
15:00Quarter-final 1Quarter-finalsNizhny Novgorod
19:00Quarter-final 2Quarter-finalsKazan
Jul 7th
15:00Quarter-final 3Quarter-finalsSamara
19:00Quarter-final 4Quarter-finalsSochi
Jul 10th
19:00Semi-final 1Semi-finalsSt Petersburg
Jul 11th
19:00Semi-final 2Semi-finalsMoscow
Jul 14th
15:002nd Semi-final 1 vs 2nd Semi-final 2Bronze FinalSt Petersburg
Jul 15th
16:001st Semi-final 1 vs 1st Semi-final 2FinalMoscow

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