A stunning Sunday witnessed an historic defeat of the German side by Mexico, along with a puzzling draw between the Swiss and Brazilians, finishing the first weekend of the 2018 World Cup with surprising results. Spain and Argentina, a pair of traditional football powers, struggled out of the gate as well.
Early in the group stage, World Cup 2018 odds favor clubs like Brazil, Germany and France. Given the troubles of some of the top dogs, space opens up for the next tier of contenders in Russia. Two of the previous five World Cups featured first-time champions – will a new king emerge from the shadows as a dominant dark horse this year?
World Cup Odds Courtesy Of CanadaSportsBetting.ca
Portugal – +1600
For most international sides, relying on the brilliance of a single player doesn’t work well over the span of a decade. Fortunately for Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo happens to be one of the very best in history, maintaining a stratospheric output as he ages gracefully into his Jesus year.
Now the oldest to net a World Cup hat-trick, Ronaldo started this tournament en fuego against Spain, becoming the first man to score three goals against the Spanish squad in a single match. He’s also emerged as a solid leader on-field, supplementing his superstar offensive skills by raising the quality of play on behalf of his teammates.
Football’s a team sport, of course, so Cristiano can’t do it all himself. A 3-3 draw after a Ronaldo hat-trick would be obscene in most circumstances, but this opener gives Portugal enough breathing space for the team to regain an improved defensive form which helped them lift the Euro a couple of years prior.
Iran and Morocco will not defeat Portugal, giving this side a shot at finishing atop their group by outscoring Spain during the group phase. Spain appears ready to unravel after firing their manager a couple of days before their World Cup debut.
In terms of the knockout round, Russia and Uruguay present matchups which Portugal should handle relatively well, although Uruguay’s a terrific sleeper candidate too. Late in the tournament, the biggest challenge in the top half of the bracket will be the French side. The Portuguese have beaten the French once in FIFA and UEFA competitions, during the 2016 Euro Finals.
Columbia – +4100
Will Columbia repeat their outstanding campaign from the 2014 World Cup? Does James Rodriguez have another Golden Boot performance waiting to be unleashed? These questions hang over the bottom quarter of the draw in 2018.
Columbia will likely win group H over Japan, Poland and Columbia. As usual, the level of difficulty spikes during the first knockout round, but neither England nor Belgium strike the same type of fear which Brazil or France create in their opposition. Columbia had a tough slog to qualify, squeezing into the tournament during the last qualifying match, but they possess the talent and experience to build a head of steam in the round robin.
Columbia will field a stronger side this time around, with striker Radamel Falcao joining the club after missing the entire 2014 World Cup due to knee issues. Midfielders like Rodriguez, Carlos Sanchez and Juan Cuadrado will spend less energy attempting to score with Falcao available to finish. Instead, the midfield will be able to focus on controlling pace and space.
Most eyes will fall on Rodriguez after his career-defining supergoal in Brazil, but the depth of Columbia will define their World Cup odyssey in 2018. If James’ compatriots play up to their talent, there’s a good chance that Columbia will remain in Russia after the first week of July.
Croatia – +2700
Even before they took the pitch for their first match, the Croatian team was gifted a strong start when Iceland fought the Argentinians to a draw. This simplifies the task of winning Group D for Croatia, which would greatly boost the odds of a deep World Cup run for the tiny eastern European country of about 4 million.
The Croats will need to put work in to defeat resilient Nigerian and Icelandic sides, both of whom present unique challenges. Nigeria will attempt to utilize team speed, while Iceland leverages elite teamwork to play far better than the sum of their roster.
Defeating these two lesser sides would create a scenario where Croatia requires only a draw against Messi and company to play against the runner-up in group C during the initial knockout round, instead of France. Despite the sublime talents of Lionel Messi, Argentina appears vulnerable due to a lack of depth and team cohesion.
Despite the small population, some of the finest club professionals hail from Croatia, including midfielders Modric and Rakitic, along with striker Mandzukic. In fact, the Croatian midfield will be their biggest strength, able to creatively push the pace of most matchups. Playing close to home, Croatia will enjoy a superb chance to work themselves deep into the tournament.
Uruguay – +2400
Uruguay should be leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of group A. Saudi Arabia doesn’t look like they belong in the tournament and Russian football isn’t as strong as their 5-0 result over the Saudis suggests. A tense first victory over Egypt was the start that the Uruguayans needed, setting them up for a clean sweep of the group stage.
If Luis Suarez avoids mastication and other poor conduct on the pitch, this team features one of the most devastating strikers over the past decade. Suarez remains capable of dominating matches given a couple of steps and a solid through ball, especially against mediocre defenders. Teams cannot ignore Edinson Cavani, who’s enjoyed superior production over the last half year.
One of the keys to a deep World Cup march will revolve around the quality of the Spanish side. Uruguay’s managed to pull off big World Cup wins in the past, but they’ve never defeated Spain in the big tourney. If the Spaniards continue flirting with mediocrity, Suarez and company will have a shot at avoiding or defeating La Roja.
Portugal will provide another challenge as a fellow dark horse candidate in the World Cup, but Uruguay gets to avoid France, Croatia and Argentina until the semis. If Uruguayan defenders play well and Suarez stays disciplined, sky’s the limit. Winners of two of the first four World Cups, Uruguay could repeat their upset victory in 1950 against the Brazilians.
England – +1300
If international football was a high school yearbook, England would be voted as most likely to underachieve by their classmates for every Euro and World Cup. This edition of the English squad features Harry Kane as their top striker, a considerable improvement over Wayne Rooney. Raheem Sterling’s another man to watch, netting 23 goals with Man City during the previous season.
However, the most important shift would be at midfield, as Dele Alli and Eric Dier hope to leverage their Hotspur chemistry into a strong World Cup showing. The forwards and midfielders will need to be excellent for England to proceed far, as perception of the English defense leaves much to be desired.
Good news for England – they’ll enjoy a relatively easy group stage, and the first knockout round will likely consist of a matchup against Colombia or Poland. Belgium’s considered a favorite over England, which makes their June 28th clash a useful measuring mark for the English squad.
Avoiding teams like Germany and Brazil until the semis will ease the burden on the club, allowing for this side to grow in confidence. Perhaps England will shake ghosts of World Cups past, earning respect on the international stage for the first time in decades.