World Cup group stage preview21st Jun 2018 |
Poland vs Colombia (Group H)
Even before a ball had been kicked in Russia, Group H looked like the most open and intriguing segment of the first round – and that sense was only heightened when the two favourites, Poland and Colombia, lost their opening encounters to Senegal and Japan respectively. The Poles were extremely disappointing in their 2-1 loss, lacking ideas in attack and struggling to deal with their opponents’ mobility and creativity at the other end of the field. Robert Lewandowski, meanwhile, was isolated throughout, with Poland unable to get their star man into the game. Colombia were undone by an early red card and ran out of energy in the second half, but I fancy them to collect an important three points here – odds of 6/5 on a win for Jose Pekerman’s men look generous.
Saudi Arabia vs Egypt (Group A)
Saudi Arabia and Egypt would both have hoped to be contesting this game with their hopes of progression still alive, but their fate has already been sealed after the two teams lost to Russia and Uruguay. Pride is therefore the only thing left for them to play for, but the lack of tension and pressure could result in a reasonably entertaining affair. Saudi Arabia were much improved in their last match against Uruguay, although they struggled to penetrate the South Americans’ sturdy defensive set-up. Egypt were disappointing again in their loss to Russia, but Mohamed Salah could make the difference against the Saudi defence. Back the Liverpool man to open the scoring at 16/5.
Uruguay vs Russia (Group A)
Uruguay and Russia have both already booked their place in the knockout rounds, but this contest will decide which of the two finishes on top of Group A. The host nation have been the surprise package of the tournament so far, playing with tremendous energy, cohesion and verve to confound the doubters who suggested they may struggle to win a single game. Uruguay have been less impressive in terms of performances, but you have to admire the grit, resilience and defensive organisation they continue to showcase under the guidance of long-serving manager Oscar Tabarez. Expect the Celeste to make this another scrappy affair – under 1.5 goals could be the way to go at odds of 33/20.
Iran vs Portugal (Group B)
Iran battled hard against Spain last time out, but they ultimately undone by a somewhat fortuitous Diego Costa goal early in the second half. A 1-0 win for La Roja was a fair result on the balance of play, even if Carlos Queiroz’s side did a fine job of denying the one-time world champions space in the final third in the first half. A similar approach is to be expected here despite the fact Iran realistically need to win to advance to the last 16, although Portugal are also more than happy to sit back and play reactive football. This is unlikely to be a thrilling encounter, then, and under 0.5 goals in the first half looks overpriced at 7/5.
Spain vs Morocco (Group B)
Spain have not had everything their own way so far in Russia, drawing 3-3 with Portugal and only narrowly overcoming Iran by a goal to nil. They have probably been the best-performing side of the major contenders to win the tournament thus far, though, with Isco and Diego Costa adding different dimensions to the side which flopped at Euro 2016. Morocco have given a good account of themselves in terms of their overall displays, but Herve Renard’s side have been blunt in front of goal and have yet to score in Russia. I expect that trend to continue here, which is why I recommend a Spain win to nil at 1/1.