I am not a soccer fan by any means but I love the World Cup. This is a weird year as 4-time World Cup champ Italy are not in the field for the first time since 1958. The United States will also not be competing as well as World Cup regular, Chile. The field this year is wide open with as many as 10 teams that you could make a strong case for winning. Defending champion Germany and Brazil have been essentially co-favorites at around +450 with Spain and France following at around +650 and Argentina at +950.
My general strategy with World Cup betting is to have a couple of plays in each group where I see value. I like to look at underpriced teams that I think have a real shot to qualify for the knockout stage or win the group outright at a plus price. I also like group forecast bets as they can give you a great price if you can pick who will finish first and second, in order. It can be hard to find, but some books will even allow you to pick first and last. I also will have a play on least goals scored, top goal scorer and a few futures wagers. For each group below I will list the best bet and then a burn money bet. The burn money bet is a longshot at great odds that I think has a good chance of hitting. If we win 2 or 3 of the 8 burn money bets then we are in the positive.
Uruguay -125, Russia +180, Egypt +600, Saudi Arabia +4000
Uruguay – They win this group easily and I love the blend of youth and experience on this team. They also have 2 excellent strikers in Suarez and Cavani. This team is on a short list of my picks to win it all. I like their draw as they play 2nd place from Group B in the round of 16 and that will be Portugal or Morocco. Either way, I like Uruguay to advance and then they most likely get the weakest of the top 4 in France. France is immensely talented but they do not play a team game.
Russia – This is the biggest misprice of the entire tournament as Russia is not a good team at all. They disappointed at the 2016 Euros and 2017 Confederations Cup and now they are without their best striker, Aleksandr Kokorin. I will be looking to play against Russia in every match and also have a burn money bet on Russia to finish last in the group.
Egypt – We have great value because of Russia being the 2nd favorite in this group and I will take the free money and side with Egypt to qualify out of this group with Uruguay. Mohamad Salah was fantastic for Liverpool this year in their run to the Champions League final and it looks like he will be able to play in the World Cup. This team is built on stout defense as they only surrendered 5 goals in 8 Wolrd Cup qualifying matches and are one of 2 African nations I have advancing out of the group stage.
Saudi Arabia – Not much to say here as there is really no chance they come out of the group and I also don’t like them to finish last as I think there is a good possibility Russia can take that honor.
Best Bet: Uruguay Over 6.5 Points -115
Burn Money: Group Forecast – Uruguay 1st/Egypt 2nd +550
Spain -200, Portugal +200, Morocco +1600, Iran +3000
Spain – Spain should win this group as they are one of the best teams in the world. They are very talented and play as a team. Undefeated since Euro 2016, La Roja went on an incredible run in qualifying outscoring their opponents 36-3.
Portugal – At 33 years old this should be the last run for one of the greatest players of this generation in Ronaldo. Portugal captured the Euro 2016 title and a year lost to Chile and twice to Mexico en route to placing third in the Confederations Cup. The defense is getting old as the combined age of center backs Alves, Fonte and Pepe is 105. Portugal probably will finish second in Group B but I would not be shocked if Morocco advanced and I might sprinkle a little on Spain/Morocco finishing first and second.
Morocco – Legendary French coach Herve Renard took over the Atlas Lions in 2016 and the results have been better than expected. Morocco cruised through a tough qualifying group that included the Ivory Coast and did not surrender a goal across 6 games. Outside of Africa, the results have been optimistic as well as they beat Serbia 2-1 and lost 2-1 to the Netherlands.
Iran – This is a better version of Iranian football than what we saw in 2014 but Iran will finish last. This team is built on defense and I don’t expect them to score much. It took Iran until the 82nd minute of their final group game in 2014 to score a goal.
Best Bet: To Finish Bottom – Iran -135
Burn Money: Group Forecast – Spain 1st/Morocco 2nd +650
France -350, Denmark +450, Peru +1000, Australia +2000
France – Les Blues are probably the most talented team in the tournament but they lack consistency and do not usually play as a team. There are questions if Didier Deschamps is the right man to lead this talented bunch back to a World Cup title. At the 2016 Euros, they lost on home soil in the championship match to Portugal. While I don’t see France winning the Cup they shouldn’t have any problem winning this group.
Denmark – Denmark is another inconsistent team as they displayed in qualifying. From one game to the next you can get a completely different team and that is what makes this group one of the more difficult to handicap. It all comes down to the match with Peru for second place. If Peru can neutralize Christian Eriksen, then Peru can pull the mild upset and advance. But Denmark is big and athletic and play a direct style that might overwhelm the smaller Peruvian defenders.
Peru – Peru could be the feel-good story of the World Cup and they will be a tough out. They are the definition of a team as they have great chemistry and have not been beaten in 18 months. Peru tied Argentina 0-0 & 2-2 in Qualifying and earlier this year beat Croatia and Iceland by a combined score of 5-1. Only Brazil and Uruguay scored more goals in CONMEBOL qualifying.
Australia – Australia just has a hard time competing against the best in the world and his time around they look like an aging team with less talent than in previous years. Tim Cahill is now 38 years old and still playing, so that should tell you something about the young talent on the team. The other 3 teams are quite a bit better and it would be a shock if the Aussies didn’t finish fourth.
Best Bet: To Finish Bottom – Australia -125
Best Bet: Group Points – France Under 7.5 -175
Burn Money: To Win Group – Peru +950
Argentina -160, Croatia +225, Nigeria +1000, Iceland +1400
Argentina – If there is one favorite to fade, La Albiceleste is the side. They have Messi, the best player in the world and he could carry this team to a semifinal but I don’t see any way they can compete with the top 4 in the world. Argentina is not playing great and scored fewer goals in CONMEBOL than last place Venezuela and Argentina have gone through 3 different coaches in 18 months. I am tempted to pick Argentina not to advance but even if they do they won’t go far.
Croatia – I really like this Croatia team and they are my pick to win this group. They have maybe the most talented midfield in Europe and will control possession as a result. This golden generation of Croatian football is showing its age but they still have the spine of the team in their prime. At recent World Cups, they have underwhelmed but there is still time to redeem themselves. A run to the final eight is not out of the question if they win this group.
Nigeria – Do not sleep on Nigeria as they are young, fast and athletic and will certainly not be afraid of playing Argentina as they beat them 4-2 just 8 months ago. The Super Eagles have advanced to the knockout round in 3 of their last 5 World Cups and in 5 of the last 6 they have been matched with Argentina.
Iceland – Iceland will not be a walk in the park and while their brand of football is not pretty it can be effective. They beat England en route to a quarterfinal berth at the 2016 Euros. But they also scored the fewest goals of any European nation in qualifying and also boast the lowest possession (42%) of any nation at the World Cup. They probably finish last but a third place would not shock me in this group.
Best Bet: To Finish Bottom – Iceland +120
Burn Money: To Win Group – Croatia +230
Brazil -385, Switzerland +650, Serbia +800, Costa Rica +1830
Brazil – Brazil has become the favorite to win this tournament and for good reason, as they breezed through qualifying and certainly have the talents to win with one of the best players in the world in Neymar. But they look lack leadership and the midfield is not their strength. I don’t like this side as much as I do Germany and Spain and I am calling for an exit to Uruguay in the semifinals. Even if they do reach the final and play the winner of Germany and Spain I don’t see them winning that game. And I am sure we all remember the 7-1 drubbing Brazil took in their home country in 2014 to the Germans.
Switzerland – In true Swiss style, this side is very vanilla as they don’t particularly excel in any one aspect but don’t have a glaring weakness anywhere either. They are disciplined well balanced and will battle it out with Serbia to advance in this group. They have advanced to the knockout stages in each of their last 2 international tournaments and I would not be surprised to see them do it again here.
Serbia – Serbia can score goals and are a very talented group with a strong midfield. After qualifying, they changed coaches and the Serbs did not look great in a loss to Morrocco and a draw with South Korea. This team is undoubtedly more talented than Switzerland and if Krstajic can turn this group around I see them beating the boring Swiss and advancing. Even if they draw with Switzerland I still think they advance because they play Brazil in the final match and the group should be locked up at that point for Brazil.
Costa Rica – The spine remains intact from the feel-good story of 2014 that saw Los Ticos run to the quarterfinals. But looking at this team over the past couple years it is obvious they are not as good and advancing out of this group will be a big challenge.
Best Bet: To Finish Bottom – Costa Rica -125
Burn Money: Group Forecast – Brazil 1st/Serbia 2nd +250
Germany -300, Mexico +550, Sweden +700, South Korea +1600
Germany – The reigning World Cup champs are the second betting favorite just slightly behind Brazil at +480. They are a model of efficiency and will wear you down with their precision. In 2016 they won the Confederations Cup with essentially half their team. They have played in 6 of the last 12 World Cup finals and this year there is a new crop of young German talent to mix in with the older generation. You have to go back to mid-1970’s to find the last time Germany did not advance out of the group stage and they have won their group at every World Cup since 1986. I feel pretty safe in putting Die Mannschaft through to the KO stages.
Mexico – Mexico has been eliminated in the round of 16 at very Wolrd Cup since 1994 and I see no reason they won’t do the same here. This is a very good team from a country that is crazy about their football. I think they are quite a bit better than Sweden and the odds do not reflect that. They averaged 4.63 goals in qualifying, second only to Belgium, and also played Belgium to a 3-3 draw and beat Poland 1-0.
Sweden – If you are disappointed Italy is not in this World Cup, you can thank Sweden for that. Over three hours of play the Swedes held Italy scoreless. Sweden has reached the KO stages of the past 3 World Cups they have been a part of and they play a methodical, efficient and somewhat boring brand of football. They have played good football since a bad showing at Euro 2016 but recent losses to Chile and Romania have cooled the expectations.
South Korea – South Korea has made the World Cup 9 times yet only advanced twice and I see them finishing in the basement in this group. They scored 1 goal away from South Korea in qualifying and a win in this group would be very surprising.
Best Bet: Group Points – South Korea Under 2.5 -125
Burn Money: Group Forecast – Germany 1st/Mexico 2nd +225
Belgium -130, England +120, Tunisia +1600, Panama +5000
Belgium – Are the Red Devils golden generation too old or is this the year the experienced and very talented Belgium side breakthrough? The talent is definitely there to win a World Cup and Belgium was fantastic in qualifying averaging 4.3 goals per game. With a potential quarterfinal match against Brazil or Germany looming, the Belgiums will have to be at their best to make a deep run.
England – It seems like every World Cup England is one of the top betting favorites and they continue to disappoint. This year they are the 7th betting favorite and again have the talent to make a run but like Belgium, they will have to beat one of the two favorites in order get past the quarters.
Tunisia – This is the first World Cup berth since 2006 for Tunisia and they have a tough road ahead with 2 very strong teams at the top of the group. FIFA ranks Tunisia as the strongest African side but they really have one chance to win their first World Cup game in 40 years and that is against Panama.
Panama – Just making the World Cup resulted in the president declaring a national holiday in Panama. The USA, who was a hot mess in qualifying, beat Panama 4-0. Panama scored 9 goals in 10 qualifying games and this was in CONCACAF, so winning a game in this group would be a huge accomplishment.
Best Bet: Total Goals – Tunisia Over 2.5 -130
Burn Money: Lowest Scorers – Panama +900
Colombia +140, Poland +175, Senegal +450, Japan +800
Colombia – A disappointing qualification has dampened the outlook for a team that reached the quarterfinals and claimed golden boot with James Rodriguez in 2014. They were 0-6 in CONMEBOL to Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. But the talent is still there with Colombia even they seem to have lost their way since the last World Cup. I don’t see them failing to advance out of this group.
Poland – The polish side has one of the best strikers in the world in Robert Lewandowski and they play a pressing and attacking style that is fun to watch. The defense is the question mark on this team and the sense is they have regressed since a quarterfinal loss at Euro 2016. If they can right the ship on a defense that allowed 14 goals in 10 qualifying games and Lewandowski plays great then they can advance but I am calling for an exit at the group stage.
Senegal – I’m not sure Senegal is the best team in Africa, although they are in the argument, but they do have the best draw (along with Egypt). They open with Poland and that game will go a long way to deciding the fate for the Lions of Teranga. Senegal has a lot of attacking talent led by Liverpool’s Sadio Mane with goalkeeper being the biggest question mark. I see them advancing out of this group and an outright would not shock me given the struggles from Colombia recently.
Japan – This will be the sixth straight World Cup appearance for Japan and getting out of this group would be a major accomplishment. Japan is the most talented Asian team, but also the shortest in the field and they are matched up against three physically superior opponents. They fired their head coach in April and this version of the Blue Samurai does not appear to be as strong as 2014.
Best Bet: To Finish Bottom – Japan +124
Burn Money: To Win Group – Senegal +405
Golden Boot/Top Goalscorer
In 9 of the last 10 World Cups 5 or 6 will win this so you don’t have to have a player on a team that goes to the final. Having someone on a team that makes a quarterfinal could be enough. This is also a place where we see big prices come in as 4 of the last 10 winners have been 100-1 or greater and the average is 49-1 since 1994. 4 years ago James Rodriguez of Colombia captured top goalscorer, along with the Golden Boot, scoring 6 goals in 5 games as Colombia was eliminated in the quarterfinals match vs Brazil. His pre-tournament odds were 100-1.
Best Bet: Timo Werner +1502,
Burn Money: Thomas Mueller +2700, Isco +5250, Raheem Sterling +7000, Christian Eriksen +8000
To Win the World Cup
In my mind, there are only teams that I think have a real chance to win the World Cup and that is Germany and Spain. I don’t like the team chemistry for Brazil and they will face difficulty at some point in this tournament and then the emotions will get the best of them and they will implode. France is the most talented but they don’t play as a team and they are 4 years away. I am fading Argentina as they are a mess with 3 coaches in the last 18 months.
Germany and Spain are the 2 most complete teams but they will most likely meet in the semifinals. So what about the other half of the bracket? This is where I am putting my money in trying to find a dark horse that can make the final and lose to the winner of Germany and Spain (this is where I will hedge). I have Belgium winning their group and matching up with Brazil in the quarters. Should Brazil get past Belgium I have them facing Uruguay who will beat France in the quarters. I believe one of those 2 will beat Brazil.
If I had one bet for the winner it would be Uruguay. They have a great blend of youth, experience, and talent as well as a very competent manager. Suarez and Cavani from one of the better striker duos and they know the Brazilian side very well. In 2016 they played to a 2-2 draw in Brazil and then in 2017, Brazil won 4-1 in Uruguay. But that was in qualifying and the World Cup experience is very different as the semifinal match will be 26 days after the first match so these players will be spending about a month in a hotel together and many of them don’t really like each other. I think this is the case with Brazil where I don’t think they good team chemistry and I would not be surprised to see some turmoil brew within the team after being together every day for a month. I would make the same argument for France, who Uruguay would match up against in the quarterfinals.
Best Bet: Belgium +1185, Uruguay +2850
Burn Money: Finalists – Spain/Uruguay +5500, Germany/Uruguay +4250