The 2018 World Cup kicks off June 14th and the odds on the favorites to win are pretty much set in stone at this point barring any last minute injuries or roster changes. Our soccer betting expert Marc Denis takes a look at his Top 5 Picks to win in 2018.
I will rank each team in order starting from the top favorite, to the other three semi-final teams (if the brackets fall into place as I expect). I will also discuss a few of the outside teams that have a chance to determine who is the 5th favorite for the World Cup and the team that can challenge the big four.
All odds courtesy of BetOnline as of June 7th
#1) Team Germany
Germany is the defending champion and deserve to go into this World Cup as favourites. As for betting, the favourite tag will go back and forth between Brazil and Germany who they will meet in the final. The German team is loaded with stars like Ozil, Muller and Kroos which is complemented by great young talent like Sane, Draxler and Kimmich. This is one of the few teams in this tournament which could have an injury to any starter and not lose a beat.
- Depth: A great balance between experience and youth at all positions across the park. The Germans, like the other top four teams, have a surplus of talent and are enjoying a rich vain of talent at the moment.
- Joachim Low: He has been a part of the national squad since 2004 and the head manager since 2006. He knows the players and the players know his system well. Low is in great demand by many clubs in Europe. He will want to win this Cup to exit on a high.
- Manuel Neuer: Marc-Andre Ter-Stegen, the Barcelona keeper is not a bad second option. However, even if Neuer has not had much playing time, Germany will start their number one man in goal.
- No Star Striker: This year, Germany do not have Klose up front and no clear number nine. Germany will still score goals from everywhere on the park and Muller should lead the charge.
Low will ensure the right players are in the right positions. He will solve the lack of a key main striker by playing with a false 9 or use Timo Werner in the attacking role, as he will suit the German system the best. This team should make to the finals and win their second consecutive World Cup. On BetOnline, Germany are the 2nd favourites at +440. This is a nice gift if you like them as most other sportsbooks have them as the top favorite at +400.
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#2) Team Brazil
This talented team is still playing to revenge their 7-1 semi-final loss to Germany on home soil in the last World Cup. Brazil, depending on what betting site you are on, are currently second favourite for this World Cup. This team like all the top four teams are loaded with talent, Neymar, Coutinho, Firmino and Jesus to name a few. This World Cup team is focused on the main prize and they won’t settle for anything less.
- Attacking Options: This team is loaded going forward lead by Neymar, Coutinho, Firmino and Jesus upfront. The only decision still to be made is who starts at centre forward, Jesus or Firmino. On form it should be Firmino but the manager prefers Jesus.
- Defence: This might be one of the strongest defensive teams Brazil has sent to a World Cup. They are strong in goal with either Alisson or Ederson as keeper. The defensive core includes solid d-men from the European leagues like Silva and Luis but has a bit of flare with Marcelo and Danilo at the backs.
- The Manager: Adenor Leonardo Bacchi, better known as Tite has a long history of managing teams not in the global spotlight. He has managed mainly in Brazil or Dubai domestic leagues with some success. He took over the national team in 2016 and managed a blistering qualifying campaign. Tite might freeze up under the pressure of the world stage but the biggest problem Brazil has is determining who is in charge. Is it Tite running the team or is it Neymar?
- Lack of Leadership: A rotating captain policy for each game does not inspire a team. Neymar is the default captain of this team but with his child like tantrums, he does not portray stability or leadership. From top to bottom, this squad does not have a true captain to rally the troops through tough situation. (Do we need to remind everyone again about the last semi-finals?).
This team is in Russia only to win the World Cup, anything else will be considered a failed tournament. Brazil need to win the tournament to stay ahead of Germany for most titles ever, if they lose to Germany in the finals, it will be a double blow to this nation. This team should make to the finals and face Germany for the title.
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#3) Team Spain
This is not the strongest Spanish team to reach the World Cup. However, Spain’s standard is a very high, compared to the other national teams. As with all the favourites, this team is loaded with talent, De Gea, Ramos, Koke, Isco and the great Iniesta in the middle of the park. Spain’s toughest game is up first against Portugal. If they can win that game, the semis will certainly be on the cards and the trophy – in reach.
- De Gea: In my view this guy is the best keeper in the world. If he had not been in goal at Manchester United this season, you could argue that they would not have finished in the top four. If Spain score first, this guy can shut down any team and any player. If De Gea is focus this year, Spain could take out one of the big two teams.
- Isco: He was the unsung hero for a very talented Real Madrid team all season. Arguably, their best and most consistent player. Isco, for some reason, gets overlooked by most but he is true star of this team and globally. Isco will need to be the main offensive focus for Spain to win.
- No Lead Attacker: I cannot remember the last time Spain did not go to a tournament with a talisman up front. They do have Diego Costa who can be brilliant but can also get a red card just as easy. With Morata not in the squad, this leaves a big question mark on Spain. Does Isco fill the role?
- Aging Midfield: This is hard to call a con, considering I am speaking about Iniesta, Silva and Busquets. These three players are superstars of the game and they are still playing at a high level. When they control the ball, they will dominate most teams. However, if they face a faster midfield like the Brazilian, German or Belgium ones, they could be in trouble. The luck of the draw might ensure they don’t have this problem until the semis.
Spain is still one of the stronger nations in global football who continue to produce stars. With an undefeated qualifying campaign behind them and their tiki-tack style of play, they will control many games. Spain will face a tough Quarter-Final opponent in Argentina, any team that has Messi in it will be hard to beat. Spain is still one of the world powers and they are still a contender for this trophy. Bovada has Spain third in the pecking order at +550.
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#4) Team France
This nation has had many great squads over the years. Arguably, this could be one of the better-balanced and talented teams they have ever sent to the World Cup. Lloris in goal, Varane and Umtiti on defence, a strong midfield with Kante, Matuidi and Pogba complimented upfront with Mbappe and Griezmann. France is very experienced in big tournaments and it feels that they can win this one on talent alone.
- Great Depth: France have so much talent at every position, the C squad that was left at home could challenge for the trophy. If you see the players France left behind like Martial, Lacazette and Rabiot, you start to get a feel for how strong this squad is.
- Scoring Options: France will not have a problem scoring goals. With Giroud, Mbappe, Fekir, Dembele, Lemar and Greizmann upfront, the main problem will be who does not play or start. One thing is sure, Greizmann will be one of the players up front and on the field scoring goals.
- Didier Deschamps: It has been said plenty of times that Didier is a good manager, but he is not the manager for this squad. He has all the talent in the world at his finger tips but does not seem to have a plan B when France struggles. With the talent on this team he should have a plan B, C, D.
- Which Pogba Will Show Up?: Paul Pogba has been very inconsistent since joining Manchester United, but France need him to be on his game. This tournament is his chance to show his doubters he is ready to lead this nation and get his career back on track. If Pogba does not play well, France will not come up short.
Final Thoughts on France
France will win their group easy but like Spain, they will have a tough Quarter-Final match. France will possibly face the European Champions, Portugal with Ronaldo who loves playing in the big games. Anything less then the trophy will be perceived a failure for France. Win or lose, Didier will not be the French manager after the World Cup as he now has the larger than life shadow Zinedine Zidane hanging over him. Bovada has France at a solid +600 as the fourth favourites to take the trophy home.
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#5) Team Argentina
All nations are here to win the World Cup, however there are only a few nations that can play with the big four and challenge them for this year’s trophy. The pretenders in this category would be England, Portugal and possibly Uruguay. They are all talented teams with some star power, but they are currently not playing at the same level as the big four.
Two teams that have the talent to mix with the big four would be Argentina and Belgium. The starting eleven for both these teams are star studded. In this tournament, depth and longevity is needed. Belgium struggles to find a formation that works and are still shaky when it comes to defence. If the brackets go as planned, they will face Brazil in the Quarter-Finals and it will be the end for them. Argentina is a talented squad led by the best player in the world, Messi. Having him on your team has you in contention for any tournament (Argentina were runners-up at the last Copa America in 2016).
Argentina are the only real contender to shake up the top 4 and they are a true 5th favourite to win.
- Messi: Lionel Messi, he will need to lead his nation as he leads his club Barcelona. He is the world’s best and this might be his last shot at the World Cup.
- Many Options Up Front: Attacking options include Messi, Aguero, Higuain and Di Maria. If all these players continue to score at the pace they do for their clubs, Argentina will get many goals in this year’s tournament.
- The Keeper: Number one goal keeper Romero was injured in training and will not be attending the World Cup. Caballero will most likely settle into the number role. It will be a big ask for him bring Argentina to the end.
- Defence: This defence is better than it has been, but that is all down to Otamendi who had a great season at Manchester City. The lack of support that he will receive is the issue. Argentina will need to rely on midfielder Mascherano to slot in beside him to give some stability to the back.
Final Thoughts on Argentina
This will be the last chance for the great Messi to win the World Cup. This Cup win is the only thing that is stopping him from being the best player ever, in some people’s eyes. If all goes to plan, Argentina will face Spain in the Quarter-finals and yes, they can beat them. If Argentina win that game, their confidence will increase and then they have a real shot at the trophy. Bovada has Argentina paying at +1000 for them to win the trophy.
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