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Five Genuine World Cup 2018 Dark Horses

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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.

Anthony DiMoro is the creator of Sports Rants and the CEO of Elite Rank Media and DiMoro Enterprises LLC. He is a former Contributor for Forbes and the Huffington Post where he covered sports, social media, and SEO. Anthony hosts the Anthony DiMoro Show podcast, and formerly hosted the 'Forbes SportsMoney Podcast'.

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Juventus Fans Arrested After Clash with Police

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Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League quarter-final clash between Juventus and Ajax has already been marred by violence and controversy, before the teams even took to the pitch.

According to Ansa, citing a report from De Telegraaf, dozens of fans were reportedly arrested in Amsterdam in the hours leading up to the game.

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini (h/t Football Italia) took to Facebook live video to state that “around 120” fans had been arrested.

Per the report from De Telegraaf, fans near the Johan Cruyff Arena were “in possession of knives, clubs, pepper spray and flares.” Also, dozens of Ajax supporters were reported to have clashed with riot police in separate incidents outside the stadium and were eventually dispersed with the use of tear gas and water cannons.

The Mirror posted the following images on their Twitter page:

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Man City forward Raheem Sterling Looking to Combat Racism on the Pitch

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Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling, who spoke out last month after being subjected to taunts during England’s game in Montenegro, is looking to take his fight against racism to the pitch, saying he would rather stay on the field than let racism force him to walk off of the pitch during a match.

Sterling’s manager Pep Guardiola, stated that he would support players walking off in protest if it happened again, in a strong statement that racism is simply not acceptable.

“I think everyone are entitled to their own opinions. My mum has taught me to be comfortable in my own skin and I am,” Sterling said, according to the Manchester Evening News.

“I wouldn’t personally agree with [walking off], to win the game would hurt them even more they’re only trying to get you down. If you walk off they win, to score or win would be better.

“Everyone’s different. Everyone has their own opinion, how they deal with things emotionally and you have to support everyone.”

Sterling opened up about the racism he has faced in his life, discussing when he first expereinced racism when he moved from North London up to the north-west back in 2010.

“I don’t think trying to make a difference or making a difference, it’s about speaking what you experience. Some people might shy away from it, if more players speak up that might be better.

“It’s offensive but growing up my mum always told me I’m a wonderful black child and I know this. When I hear it, it’s nothing new. I’m happy with it. I’m confident, I’m black and I’m proud. Some people can’t take it but my mum has always told me to love who I am.

“The first time I experienced racism is when I went up north to Liverpool – in London in schools and on a day-to-day basis you’re surrounded by a diverse community. Only a few occasions growing up in the academy in Liverpool, and then mainly in the last couple of years of being a professional.”

 

 

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Birmingham City Fan Jailed for 14 Days for Punching Aston Villa Player

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27-year old Paul Mitchel, a Birmingham City fan has been jailed for 14 days after he plead guilt to assaulting Aston Villa midfielder Jack Graelish during the derby on Sunday.

Mitchell rushed the pitch and took a swing at Graelish when the player’s back was turned at Birmingham City’s St. Andrew’s stadium during the Championship match on Sunday.

Mitchell admitted to invading the pitch and has been officially banned from attending any football match in the U.K. for up to 10 years, and was also ordered to pay £350 in total fines.

Graelish made a statement in which he described how he was “shocked and scared” by the attack.

“I cannot help but feel how lucky I was in this incident,” he said (h/t ESPN). “It could have been so much worse had the supporter had some sort of weapon.”

“He cannot explain what came over himself yesterday morning,” Mitchell’s lawyer, Vaughn Whistance, said on Monday.

“His initial foolish intention was to go onto the pitch to whip up the crowd. He is certainly remorseful today. He is a man with a partner, they have a 2-year-old together and they’re expecting their second child.”

“This weekend a line has been crossed in terms of fan behaviour,” said a spokesperson for the FA.

“On Sunday we saw two separate incidents, at Birmingham City and Arsenal, of individuals entering the field of play and assaulting players.

“Not only is it an offence to enter the pitch, which could result in a club ban and criminal charges for the individual, but it also puts the safety of the players at risk.

“This is entirely unacceptable and we strongly condemn both incidents.

“We will be working with the clubs, the leagues and the police to discuss what collectively needs to be done to protect players and officials on the pitch.

“In addition, we have written to both Birmingham City and Arsenal to seek their observations to examine the security measures they had in place.”

Birmingham City apologized to Grealish and Aston Villa and banned Mitchell for life.

“Birmingham City Football Club would like to apologise to Jack Grealish and Aston Villa Football Club for an incident in Sunday afternoon’s derby match,” a club statement said.

“We deplore the behaviour of the individual who committed this act and rest assured he will be banned from St. Andrew’s for life. The club will also support any further punishment this individual may face in the eyes of the law.

“The club will be working with the relevant authorities to investigate all the circumstances and we will be reviewing our stadium safety procedures.

“What happened has no place in football or society. Jack is a Birmingham lad and regardless of club allegiance should not have been subjected to this — there are no excuses.

“Again, we apologise to Jack and all at Aston Villa Football Club.”

 

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