World Cup group stage preview12th Jun 2018 |
Russia vs Saudi Arabia (Group A)
The 2018 World Cup gets under way with what looks like an underwhelming game on paper. Host nation Russia find themselves in disarray on the field having gone backwards ever since their run to the semi-finals of Euro 2008, while Saudi Arabia are one of the weakest teams in the competition and have had three different managers since the start of qualification. Curtain-raisers such as this tend to be low-scoring affairs, with both sides preoccupied with avoiding mistakes which could prove costly to their chances of progression. That, combined with the lack of attacking quality within both teams, makes under 1.5 goals look like good value at 19/10.
Egypt vs Uruguay (Group A)
Egypt’s chances both in this game and Group A as a whole depend heavily on the fitness of Mohamed Salah. The Liverpool star injured his shoulder in the Champions League final and will probably have to sit this match out, which makes Uruguay’s task a great deal more straightforward. La Celeste have evolved into more of a possession-based side in the last year or so, and they may need to demonstrate such qualities in a group where they are likely to dominate the ball in every game. Egypt’s attack is built around Salah, so his probable absence means a dogged Uruguayan defence featuring Atletico Madrid duo Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez should be able to keep a clean sheet. A win to nil is my tip here at odds of 23/20.
Morocco vs Iran (Group B)
With Portugal and Spain widely fancied to qualify from Group B, it is essential that neither Morocco or Iran lose this match. The North African nation did not concede a goal in the final stage of qualification (six games), while Carlos Queiroz’s side kept nine clean sheets in their 10 matches, only conceding when they had already booked their place in Russia. These are two teams who pride themselves on their defensive strength, and it would be a surprise if their meeting featured many goals. Morocco probably have more about them going forward and look the most likely to challenge Portugal for second spot, so my recommended wager in this one is Iran to fail to score at 21/20.
Portugal vs Spain (Group B)
The victor here will take control of Group B early on and, in theory, set themselves up for a more straightforward run to the quarter-finals. That is not to say Morocco and Iran should be written off completely, but collecting three points in this encounter would make Portugal or Spain heavy favourites to finish on top of this section. Julen Lopetegui’s side will look to dominate the ball and play on the front foot, with Cristiano Ronaldo and co. set to sit back and play on the counter. Portugal’s ageing defence is cause for concern, however, while they do not possess much natural width in their 4-4-2 system, which could make it difficult for them to break out in transition. With that in mind, I fancy Spain to win at 9/10.
France vs Australia (Group C)
France are among the favourites to win this summer’s World Cup, and it could be argued that they have the most talented set of players in the competition. The question mark surrounding Les Bleus is whether they can bring it all together in a well-functioning and coherent collective, but that will probably only be an issue in the latter stages and they should have little trouble breezing through Group C. It could be a case of damage limitation for Australia ahead of more significant clashes with Peru and Denmark, but I would consider putting some money on France winning a game featuring more than 2.5 goals at 17/20.