World Cup group stage preview14th Jun 2018 |
Germany vs Mexico (Group F)
Germany are seeking to become the first nation to win two World Cups in a row since Brazil scooped the prize in 1958 and 1962, while Mexico will be desperate to end a run of six successive last-16 exits. Die Mannschaft are invariably there or thereabouts in international competitions and will almost certainly make it to the semi-finals at a minimum, with few teams in the tournament benefiting from the same mix of quality and balance. Mexico boss Juan Carlos Osorio always wants his side to go toe-to-toe with opponents, an approach which contributed to the infamous 7-0 defeat by Chile in the semi-finals of the Copa America Centenario in 2016. This could therefore be an open game, so consider backing over 3.5 goals at 39/20.
Sweden vs South Korea (Group F)
With Germany overwhelming favourites to top Group F, victory in this match would give either Sweden or South Korea an advantage in the three-team race for second spot. The Swedes had to come through a tough qualification campaign to make it this far, finishing ahead of the Netherlands in their group before overcoming Italy in a two-legged play-off. The fact they kept clean sheets against the Azzurri both home and away shows where their strength lies, and they will fancy their chances of another defensive shut-out against a South Korea side who are hugely reliant on Son Heung-min in attack. Back Sweden to win to nil at 39/20.
Belgium vs Panama (Group G)
Belgium are an intriguing case at this summer’s World Cup. Their starting XI is jam-packed with quality, including Thibaut Courtois in goal, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Vincent Kompany in defence, Kevin De Bruyne and Axel Witsel in midfield, and Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens and Romelu Lukaku as a formidable front three. Doubts remain, however, not least regarding the tactical set-up of the side under Roberto Martinez’s guidance. Such concerns will only come into play in the knockout phase, though, and the Red Devils should rack up the goals against an ageing and weak Panama defence. Stick some money on Belgium to win and score more than 3.5 times here – that’s available at a price of 31/20.
Tunisia vs England (Group G)
There is a growing optimism around this England team, and manager Gareth Southgate deserves great credit for restoring some youthful vibrancy to the national side. Supporters are not necessarily expecting the Three Lions to reach their first semi-final since 1990, but there is hope that they will at least do themselves justice in Russia this summer. This is a side who look more dangerous in transition, though, and the lack of midfield creativity could cause problems against a Tunisia team who will sit deep and pack men behind the ball. England may therefore have to remain patient, so consider a bet on no first-half goals at 17/10.
Colombia vs Japan (Group H)
Group H is the most interesting and open section of the first round, although Colombia are favourites to top the group. Jose Pekerman’s side made history by reaching the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but they have stalled a little since then and were not overly convincing in qualifying. The same can be said for Japan, though, who have recently returned to their more traditional passing style of play after Akira Nishino replaced Vahid Halilhodzic in April. The Samurai Blue can lack a cutting edge in the final third, however, and I expect that to be their undoing against more ruthless opposition. Back Colombia to get off to a winning start with a -1 handicap – a wager which is available in the sportsbook at 9/5.