After last month’s correct prediction that Real Madrid would win the UEFA Champions League final in extra time after a 1-1 draw in regulation, it’s now time to offer my World Cup advice. I’ve reviewed the betting odds for the World Cup and have identified four bets to increase your bankroll by the end of this summer’s tournament.
Most of us come from nations that probably won’t win the World Cup, so a wager on an outright tournament winner gives us something to root for as well as favorable odds due to the unpredictable nature of a knockout tournament. Anything can happen at a World Cup but there are four teams that represent the overwhelming favorites to win: Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Spain. It wouldn’t surprise me to see any of the four win the tournament but I think only one team has all the necessary pieces to bring the trophy home.
Spain to win the World Cup: +650
Spain, the defending European and World champion. No team has been able to come close to the dominance Spain has enjoyed over the past six years. In the past two European Championships, Spain has conceded just one goal in 12 matches on their way to back to back continental crowns. Their 2010 World Cup winning performance was nearly as impressive, conceding just two goals in their seven matches in South Africa. For a team that has won everything, the motivation of the players is often questioned, with many critics speculating that manager Vicente Del Bosque won’t be able to spark his side to one more triumph on the global stage. What critics fail to mention is that this Spanish team is playing for more than just a trophy this year; they are playing for immortality and the right to be called the greatest national team in history.
Spain played without a center forward for much of Euro 2012, utilizing a false nine strategy that saw a central midfielder, often Cesc Fabregras, play as the furthest man up the pitch. La Furia Roja will almost certainly forego that approach this summer with the addition of Diego Costa, one of the most in-form forwards in the world. The soon-to-be Chelsea forward, who was born and raised in Brazil, played twice for his native country before declaring his allegiance for Spain in late 2013, much to the ire of Selecao boss Luiz Felipe Scolari and Brazilians everywhere. Atletico Madrid’s other center forward for this past campaign will represent the best alternative to Costa this summer and that is Spain’s all-time leading scorer David Villa. Although seeing a decline in form since suffering a broken leg at the 2011 FIFA Club World Cup, Villa represents a viable alternative to Costa and can make an impact as a substitute late in a game if Spain needs to find a goal.
Much is made of the harsh Brazilian climate but the smothering heat and humidity will play into the hands of Spain and their preferred style of play. The tiki-taka philosophy of quick passing and ball retention forces opponents to relentlessly chase the ball for much of a match. The added effect of the Brazilian weather will only expedite the tiring of opponents. This style of play has created problems for Spain’s opponents in the past, and one mistake is all they need to snatch a winner, as evidenced by their series of 1-0 victories the 2010 World Cup.
A potential issue for Spain is that they lie in Group B, while host nation and tournament favorites Brazil sit in Group A. If both sides win their group, or come in second, they will avoid each other until the final. However, a first place finish for Brazil and second place finish for Spain, or vice versa, will see the two sides meet in the round of 16. I envision both sides taking care of business in their group, setting up a Confederation Cup final rematch on July 13 at the Maracana in Rio.
Spain has an extremely experienced core in Xabi Alonso, Iker Casillas, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and Xavi but they’ve also rejuvenated their squad with in-form players like the Atletico trio of Koke, Juanfran and the aforementioned Costa. The combination of World Cup veterans and hungry newcomers will propel Spain heights no country has ever reached and it starts with the Netherlands on Friday.
Chile to qualify for the Round of 16: -105
Chile would be more than satisfied to come out of Group B in the second position, as Spain look the most likely to come in first. Australia looked respectable against Croatia in their most recent friendly, but with a squad that left out veteran goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, as well as veteran defenders Luke Wilkshire and Lucas Neill, they are a squad in transition that will struggle against the superior opposition in the group. I think back to a friendly in March of this year where Australia got off to a flying start against Ecuador, going 3-0 up inside the first hour. The match finished 4-3 to Ecuador and it’s that type of capitulation that makes it hard to think of the Socceroos as anything more than a fourth place team in Group B.
The Netherlands had a nightmare performance at Euro 2012 that resulted in three defeats, and no traces of that woeful display can resurface if they hope to escape one of the toughest groups of the tournament. They have an aging, but extremely formidable, attacking presence in Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder. The problem for the Dutch is their defense, which is comprised almost entirely of players who ply their trade in the Dutch Eredivsie. The league is one of the stronger in the world but the attacking players of Spain and Chile are significantly more skilled then what they’ve seen on a weekly basis for their clubs. The Netherlands will improve on their Euro 2012 campaign, but only slightly, as they will finish third in the group.
It would be unfair to call Chile a one-man squad, but Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal is unquestionably Chile’s most important player, and one they cannot afford to be without when their tournament begins on Friday against Australia. The Chilean camp remains optimistic that Vidal will be ready for that match, and provided he is healthy, he will play a massive part in their quest to advance. He will look to link up with Barcelona forward Alexis Sanchez, who is capable of producing a goal from nothing, his most recent being in the final game of the La Liga season that put Barcelona in front against Atletico Madrid. In a competition known for low scoring affairs, a moment of brilliance from Sanchez is all it may take for Chile to make a deep run in this competition.
Bosnia and Herzegovina to qualify for the Round of 16: -120
Like Chile in Group B, Bosnia and Herzegovina would be more than satisfied with a second place finish in Group F as Argentina look to be in excellent form and are contenders to win the whole tournament. Iran is coming off an encouraging 2-0 win in their final friendly against Trinidad and Tobago but will face a much tougher task at the World Cup. Iran has qualified for the tournament three times and each time has found them exiting in the first round. Iran has been organized defensively, keeping clean sheets in three of their final four friendlies, but the superior talent of their opponents in the group will be too much for them and they will finish last.
Nigeria were handled comfortably in a 2-1 defeat against the United States in their last friendly before the World Cup and recorded three draws in their prior matches against Greece, Scotland, and Mexico. The team is composed of players representing clubs from the top leagues in Europe and on paper have a chance to advance. However, their performances in their pre-tournament friendlies have shown nothing to indicate that they are capable of getting a result versus Argentina or Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nigeria won’t play well enough as a squad to advance, which is why they will finish third.
Bosnia and Herzegovina are led by Manchester City hit man Edin Dzeko, who is coming off his finest season since making his move from the German side Wolfsburg. He scored an impressive 10 goals in his nation’s first ever successful World Cup qualification campaign but will need to replicate that form on the world’s biggest stage if Bosnia hopes to advance. While Bosnia and Herzegovina may not have the overall midfield talent that Dzeko is used to playing with at Manchester City, his teammate Miralem Pjanic is coming off a fantastic season at AS Roma and looks to be one of the best young midfielders in the world. A technical player who can play in the perfect ball to his teammates, he and Dzeko will form a dangerous partnership that can break through even the stingiest of defenses. The Dragons are also anchored by Stoke City goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, who is regularly tested by some of the best club teams in the world on a weekly basis in the Premier League. Bosnia and Herzegovina are not strong enough to finish ahead of Argentina, but they will find a way to qualify for the knockout rounds in their first ever World Cup.
Belgium eliminated in the group stage: +450
Belgium is this year’s trendy dark horse pick to make a deep run in the tournament and on paper they have one of the strongest sides in the field. The problem for Belgium is that while their players have experience in the top club competitions in the world, not a single player on the Belgian team has played at the European Championships or the World Cup. Much like Manchester City in the Champions League in recent years, the lack of experience on the big stage will be their downfall despite the tremendous talent they possess. The difference between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Belgium is public expectation. I expect Belgium to fail to live up to the hype this summer and finish third in the group behind Russia and South Korea.
For those of you who are curious, here are the rest of my pre-tournament predictions. Click on the image for an expanded view.
As always, bet responsibly and good luck.