England favourites to reach final as World Cup surprises continue

This World Cup has thrown up so many surprises that even the most experienced football tipsters will be unsure what to predict as we go into the final eight. Nevertheless, as we catch our breath before the quarter finals, let’s try to take an objective look at how things might pan out, and where the smart money lies, as we run through the chances for the top teams.

Brazil is the only constant

It seems like months ago now, but back before all this began, Brazil were the warm favourites to win the FIFA World cup. Now, that is the only thing in sports betting that has remained unchanged. Brazil were slow out of the gate in the group stage and looked decidedly vulnerable against both Switzerland and Costa Rica. But as five times world cup winners, they know it doesn’t matter how you start the tournament, but how you finish it.

The team looked to be hitting their straps in their wins against Serbia and Mexico, and are now at the shortest odds yet to go all the way and win their sixth World Cup, with bookmakers quoting them at 5/2.

England favourites to join them

England were always favourites to beat Colombia and make the quarters, but the manner in which they did so was far from assured. Coming as it did off the back of a group stage loss to Belgium, it seems strange that England are now favourites to reach the final from their side of the draw, but that says more about the bizarre nature of the draw itself and the surprises that have come along the way than it does about anything else.

Bookies have them at even money to beat Sweden in the quarter final, and we assume that will set up a semi against Croatia – although after Russia’s treatment of Spain, anything is possible. England are 4/1 to win the World Cup, and while they certainly have an easier route to the final than they can possibly have dreamed of, it is by no means a foregone conclusion – either way, those odds do not look generous, and punters are likely to look elsewhere.

France in with a real chance

France will be cursing their luck to be in the top half of the draw. This is a team that has played ugly football when it had to – check out the turgid 0-0 draw against Australia – and has also set the tournament alight in the spectacular win over Argentina.

In other words, they have done exactly what they have needed to do to progress through the tournament, and that makes this a dangerous team. A slip up against Uraguay seems highly unlikely, and a France vs Brazil semi final could realistically decide the World Cup winners.

France is a team that is in with a real chance of beating the favourites, and if they do so, you would not back anyone in the bottom half of the draw to stop them from going all the way. That makes the 4/1 odds on offer look far more tempting than they do for England.

Croatia the new dark horse

Some have touted Croatia as a dark horse from the word go, but like all the best dark horses, they have flown under the radar throughout the competition. Of course there will be pressure on the Russia matchup, and but every fairy tale has an ending, and the home team’s run should end this weekend. Croatia won’t care whether it is England or Sweden in the semi – either way they will fancy their chances. Winning the event might be a bridge too far, but 5/1 to be a losing finalist might be the best bet on offer right now.

Round of 16 Betting Analysis: URU v POR and SPA v RUS

We are almost through with the group stages of the ongoing FIFA World Cup in Russia and the top 16 teams are set to take on each other starting June 30.

A good number of football punters had their money on Germany to go all the way, but the last time’s World Cup champions made an unceremonious exit from the tournament after they lost 0-2 to South Korea.

The focus is now on the teams in form like Uruguay, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, Brazil and the likes. So anyone who wants to bet on the tournament winners from hereon should make his/her predictions very carefully. To be on the safer side, if you’re just starting out with World Cup football betting, you must make use of some free bet offers to maximize your winnings.

Let’s now briefly analyse what the round of 16 games between the following four teams would be like.

Uruguay vs Portugal

Uruguay have gotten into an excellent position after having won all their group games. They are up against Portugal instead of the highly feared Spanish side. Having said that, Portugal drew their match with Spain and have stayed unbeaten in the competition so far.

If we take a look at the South American sides that have gone up against European teams in the World Cup tournaments of the past, particularly in the knockout stages, they have won only 8 out of the 31 matches since 1990. 65% of these matches ended up under 2.5 goals, and that brings the 0-0 and 1-1 stalemates into the picture.

Interestingly Portugal have drawn 6 out of their last 7 matches (which were played against top-10 sides). Uruguay on the other hand drew only their last match (against the top 10). Furthermore, when talking about the major tournaments, Uruguay have normally scored less than 3 goals in 14 out of their last 20 outings.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Spain vs Russia

Needless to say that Spain go as huge favourites into this last 16 encounter. This match against Russia comes to them after they topped their group B ahead of Portugal, Iran and Morocco. Portugal being the second ranked side in that group play a much tougher match against Uruguay. Here’s a preview of that encounter.

Russia enjoyed a fairly lenient draw so far, after having been grouped alongside Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The last time they faced Uruguay, they were beaten 3-0 by the South American side. On the whole, Russia has lost 8 out of their last 10 matches against the top 10 teams of the world, including to the likes of France, Brazil and Argentina during the international friendlies before the tournament.

On the other hand, the Russians did manage to score a goal in half of these encounters and Spain haven’t had the best of the defensive line so far in the ongoing tournament. They conceded 5 goals in their last 3 matches. Even if the Russians get on the score line against them, we all know that Spain has a high quality side that can bounce back any time they like. Moreover, they have a very formidable away record, having won an impressive 24 games out of their last 27 competitive away outings.

On the whole, you can easily back Spain to win this one, and go with Uruguay in the other Round-16 encounter.

Opening the show with Russia and Saudi Arabia

Messi in action for Argentina

A match between the two lowest ranked sides in the tournament may not seem like the ideal curtain raiser for this year’s World Cup but in Russia and Saudi Arabia, you have two sides who have a lot to prove.

They kick off a month of footballing action when they face each other on Thursday 14th June at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. With both sides expected to find their other group matches against Uruguay and Egypt exceptionally tough, this match represents their best chance of picking up three points.

Excluding their time as the Soviet Union, this is just the fourth time Russia have ever qualified for the World Cup and they are yet to make it past the group stages. Of course hosting the tournament meant automatic qualification but it also means Russia have won just one competitive game since 2015, if you count their victory over New Zealand in last year’s Confederations Cup.

Despite being on home soil, expectations for the hosts are still low. Manager Stanislav Cherchesov, who was appointed after Russia finished bottom of their group in Euro 2016, has won just five of the twenty games he has been in charge for. The former international goalkeeper led Polish side Legia Warsaw to the league and cup double before taking the national team job but he has found that winning mentality hard to come by with Russia, especially with so few games to play and the vast majority of those being laboured friendlies.

If Russia are to delight their home support and reach the second round of the tournament for the first time ever, a win against Saudi Arabia is a must. They do have some talented attackers in their squad but it is at the back where they could struggle, despite being a defensive based side. They have included veteran centre back Sergei Ignashevich who will turn 39 on the eve of the World Cup final. At least behind him they will have one of the tournament’s most experienced goalkeepers in the form of Igor Akinfeev. Russia’s captain has been a fixture between the sticks for CSKA Moscow and Russia for over 13 years now and is still one the country’s key players.

Further forward, Cherchesov’s squad boasts one of the joint top scorers from Euro 2012. Alan Dzagoev scored three in the Euros six years ago but a move to one of Europe’s top leagues has never materialised. Despite that, the 27-year-old playmaker is still a key man for Russia. He was involved in fifteen goals for his club CSKA Moscow this season and could be the link between midfield and attack for the Russians.

Up top, Fyodor Smolov is enjoying the best spell of his career. A late bloomer, the 28-year-old made his national team debut in 2012 but it is only in the past three seasons that he has finally reached his potential. After signing for Krasnodar in 2015, Smolov has fired an impressive 63 goals in less than 100 club games. He also has six goals in his last 12 internationals. This comes after only managing to score four goals in 77 appearances for his first club, Dynamo Moscow. If you fancy Smolov to fire Russia to glory, you can have a bet on football.

Saudi Arabia are heading to their fifth World Cup as the second lowest ranked side in the tournament, three places above Russia in 67th. The Green Falcons beat Australia to automatic qualification for Russia in the third round of the Asian qualifiers but have since changed their manager twice. Bert van Marwijk was the man who guided Saudi Arabia through the qualification process but he will lead Australia to the World Cup. After the Dutchman’s exit, former Argentina manager Edgardo Bauza took over but he lasted just two months before being replaced by the man who won the 2016 Copa America in charge of Chile, Juan Antonio Pizzi.

Despite their recent coaching shenanigans, Saudi Arabia had an impressive qualification campaign and boasted the joint top scorer in Mohammad Al-Sahlawi. The 31-year-old, who has spent his entire career in his homeland, scored an astonishing 16 goals in qualifiers and now has 28 goals in 39 caps for his country. Earlier this year, he spent three weeks training with Manchester United in order to prepare for the World Cup and he is certainly his side’s biggest goal threat this summer. In midfield there is Salem Al-Dawsari, a talented winger who played in this season’s La Liga. The 26-year-old was one of nine Saudi players who joined Spanish clubs on loan in January following a deal between the two countries’ FAs. Al-Dawsari joined Villarreal and despite making only one substitute appearance for the club, it was a memorable one. The club were trailing 2-0 against Real Madrid, when, in the 57th minute, Al-Dawsari came on for Javi Fuego. Villarreal managed to score to goals to secure a 2-2 draw.

Their opening match is also as equally important for them as it is for the hosts as they look to make it out of the group stages for the first time since their World Cup debut in 1994. Anything other than a win against Russia will see the odds of them repeating this feat stacked against them. They will be hoping their experience can guide them to victory with just two players under the age of 25 in a squad which includes two players with over 130 caps.

It is unlikely that this clash between two sides favoured for an early exit will go down as a World Cup classic but that doesn’t mean this game will be forgotten easily. To the fans of the two sides, it is the culmination of years of hard work. For the Saudi fans, their qualification campaign to reach this stage started almost exactly three years ago and for the Russians, they have been looking forward to this tournament ever since FIFA awarded them the right to host in 2010. Don’t write off these two sides from making an impact this summer just yet.

Charlie Austin Throws His Hat Into World Cup Ring

There isn’t a lot of time left to convince Gareth Southgate if you are on the fringes of the England squad and not in the England managers immediate thoughts. With almost half of the season having been played time is most certainly running out as the Three Lions boss will have an idea of who he would prefer to take to next summers World Cup. There is even less room to impress for any English strikers that harbour any hope of receiving a pick.

The form of Harry Kane this season and general upward trajectory of his career have made the young Londoner arguably the most valuable striker in not only Europe but the world. There won’t be many other seats on the plane specifically designated for strikers that are headed to Moscow with Kane’s ticket seemingly already booked. There is no better time to strike then while the iron is hot and if any player is going to come into form then doing it on the home stretch before the World Cup would almost guarantee selection, that anyway would be how Charlie Austin hopes how proceedings would play out.

Charlie Austin’s Purple Patch

The Southampton striker has now scored 4 goals in his last 5 games and is beginning to get the attention of the England fans. Austin is a natural goal scorer and has been doing it his whole career. During his time at Swindon, Burnley and QPR before he arrived at Southampton, he scored 128 goals in 242 games which works out to a goal every 1.8 games. Life on the coast at Southampton has been a bit harder with Austin averaging a goal every 2.8 games, his record reads 15 goals in 45 games which is by no means poor but could be higher.

Southampton FC versus West Ham

Injury has made its presence felt throughout Austin’s career and without a doubt has impacted his goal return at Southampton. The man from Hungerford had scored nine goals before December last season when he dislocated his shoulder during a Europa League clash against Hapoel Be’er Sheva. It has been stop-start since December 2016 and Austin will be hoping his injury woes are behind him so he can focus on doing what he does best – putting the ball in the back of the net.

If he can stay fit then history indicates Austin will score goals and help Southampton climb the league. The added bonus that comes with scoring goals frequently for the Saints is that Austin will put himself on Southgate’s radar. He may have done so already with his odds being slashed from 33/1 for World Cup selection to now being backed at 10/1 on the latest odds provided by Oddschecker. Austin will have to be at his best and injury free if he is to get the nod from Southgate as there isn’t a lack of striking options for the England manager to pick from.

Competition Facing Austin

Barring injury it seems unlikely that the ever-improving Jamie Vardy won’t be selected by Southgate. The Leicester City man has been enjoying another fruitful season with the Foxes and has been sniffing out chances on a regular basis. In 17 games Vardy has seven goals and one assist, that goal return isn’t anything like a couple of seasons back during Leicesters title-winning season but there has been managerial change after Craig Shakespeare was fired which always suggests a team hasn’t been playing well. Through that Vardy has made the most and will be a player Austin will have to compete against.

Marcus Rashford is enjoying a promising follow-up to his breakthrough season and has nine goals in 26 appearances for the Red Devils. What is most impressive about the young Mancunian’s display is his ability to not only score goals but assist. He has nine assists to his name in his 26 games which adds another dimension to his game. Rashford’s odds of making the World Cup squad are in some cases 1/10. His contribution at next year’s World Cup should he be selected will be crucial if England hopes to advance far in the tournament.

Southgate’s Potential Selections

With Harry Kane all but assured of a place in Russia next year the likely additions to accompany Kane would be Vardy and Rashford who seem the most probable selections. Austin would be competing with the likes of Sturridge and Welbeck for the opportunity to become the fourth striker. There is a chance if chosen Rashford will be used as a winger which would greatly increase Austin’s chances of going to his maiden World Cup.

Austin is yet to register an England cap, but that doesn’t necessarily rule him out, although puts the 28-year-old at a slight disadvantage as there are younger players with more international honours. At 20 Rashford has 15 caps which has yielded two goals. Welbeck and Sturridge have 62 England caps combined and Harry Kane has 23.

Welbeck takes on Pinto

It is not only the youth knocking loudly at Southgate’s door but also the more seasoned campaigners. The England boss could turn to Jermain Defoe if he was looking for a bit more guile and nous up front. The Bournemouth striker has 57 England caps and 20 goals and is no stranger to international football but also no stranger to World Cup selection heartache as the former Spurs man was snubbed by England in 2006 and the latest being in 2014, that left Defoe ‘heartbroken’.

The End of Season Bunfight

The only way to guarantee Gareth Southgate’s undivided attention is to be prolific in front of goal. Realistically there are only a few spots left open in Southgate’s squad but a strong showing in the New Year and over Easter will do no harm. For a player like Charlie Austin who has been hamstrung by injuries that have curtailed possible game time for England the only way to get in would be to smash down Southgate’s door with the sheer weight of goals scored.

Harry Kane

Will Southgate Roll the Dice?

There is a huge amount of risk attached to picking an unknown quantity that a manager takes when doing so. This is especially the case when trying to assemble a squad to win a World Cup. England are long overdue a good run in a World Cup and the pressure on the England camp will be intense. Selecting a player like Austin will have grave consequences if there are other players available with more experience and proven international record. The guillotine would fall squarely on Southgate’s shoulders should the experiment fail.

If Charlie Austin kept up his prowess in front of goal and earned a pick from Southgate it could be looked at as a stroke of genius especially if the Southampton striker netted a few crucial goals for England that helped them progress further than they have gone for some time. Southgate will have to way up the risk and the possible reward he and England may get. With any risk-taking, there is a chance of failure, but maybe England needs to push the envelope and adopt a bolder approach.

For too long England have been unimaginative and predictable at World Cups which has resulted in a string of bad to mediocre finishes. Their selection policy is one part of the problem and if Southgate wants to be the man to finally deliver a World Cup back to England after a 52 year wait then he will need to be courageous with the decisions he makes.

Tried and Tested Approach Has Failed England

Even if a conservative setup has yet to benefit England in modern times it would be as foolish to be gung-ho with selection. If a player is in form going into a World Cup then there needs to be a break away from tradition and pick them. Capitalizing on players form is one way to ensure England don’t come out the blocks cold and lethargic during the group games. These last few months of the league should be as crucial as the yearly build up with all players in contention.

No Bale, Any Chance?

Despite the – wrong, in my opinion – views that Wales are apparently just a one man team, Chris Coleman’s men are still favourites to finish in the top 2 in Group D, even without the injured Gareth Bale.

News broke today that Bale will be missing for his nation’s final two qualifiers later this week, away in Georgia on Friday (kick-off 5pm), and at home to Republic or Ireland on Monday night (kick-off 7.45pm). With Bale missing, the Welsh have opted to call up Tom Bradshaw, of Barnsley.

Despite this, bookmakers William Hill still have the Welsh as 2/5 favourites to finish in the top 2, with Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland side at 7/4 to achieve the same feat (prices correct at time of writing).

Wales are still massively in the driving seat of Group D, and they know that 4 points from their last 2 matches will see them finish in 2nd place. There is also the slight possibility that 2 wins could still see them top the group, but they would be relying on a highly unlikely slip up from the Serbs, who currently top the group with 18 points (4 ahead of Wales).

There is plenty of international football available to bet on this week, and that means acca insurance is back on the agenda.

Don’t forget that under the terms of their Acca Five offer, all William Hill customers, new and existing, can get money back as a free bet on all 5-folds if only one team lets you down. The maximum refund is £20.00 a day.

Adam Lallana World Cup Squad Betting

Adam Lallana continues to impress this season with his latest eye catching performance coming in yesterday’s 3-2 defeat away to Tottenham, where despite the setback for Southampton, Lallana again stood out.

As a result of all of these recent good performances, and his impressive showing as a substitute in the recent friendly against Denmark, Lallana is now a top price of 4/11 with Ladbrokes (£50.00 Free Bet available to new customers) to be included in Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad for Brazil.

Lallana is now basically the shortest priced player outside of what is regarded as Roy Hodgson’s probable starting XI, Baines, Rooney, Hart, Cahill, etc, (and Ashley Cole who is a best price 1/5 with Bet365), which is a remarkable rise in stock for a player who was relatively unknown (outside of Southampton) at the start of this season.

Possible contenders for fringe places in the squad in Lallana’s position are Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ross Barkley.

Chamberlain is currently a best price of 8/13 with William Hill, which looks a good price in my view, as Chamberlain could also have a chance of being selected as a wide man, as well as in a central position.

While after starting the season strongly, Barkley has found himself drifting (in the betting) over the last few months, probably down in part to him getting injured and the emergence in recent weeks of Lallana, Barkley is now a best price of 8/11 with Bet365 to make Hodgson’s squad.

Brazil head the World Cup Betting

Well, I don’t think I could have called it much worse if I had tried too. For those not sure what I am on about, my blog post on Sunday about the Confederations Cup Final Betting said… If they are back on form tonight, I expect another trophy will be added to Spain’s growing portfolio.

What happened after that, I don’t know. Why did Spain perform so badly? Even football gamblers who fancied a Brazil win surely didn’t see that result coming!

I heard one Match of the Day pundit say that Spain were on the plane home after a minute and a half of the game, have to say I totally agree with that analysis.

I’d still take Spain to come out winners if they play Brazil in the World Cup next year. Torres and Mata both started on Sunday, and I don’t see either of them as first choice starters for me.

I also do think del Bosque used the competition to see how Spain faired playing a conventional number nine, and he also used it to give Torres a chance to prove himself. That said, Spain definitely wanted to win the trophy, and nothing can be taken away from Brazil, who were excellent and surprised me.

The crowd were amazing and I know it’s a cliche, but they surely must have been like a twelve man to Brazil.

I did a few quid on the game. When Brazil went a goal up, I thought they looked like a great lay on Betfair, I then topped that lay up at 2-0. Not my night I’m afraid! Never mind.

Anyway, Brazil are now the 7/2 favourites with the online bookmakers to win the 2014 World Cup. They are followed by previous favourites Argentina, and Germany, who are both 5/1. And Spain are now out to 11/2 on the back of that thrashing.

I still think the Spanish are the better of those four teams, and I would still back them to beat Brazil in a world cup match. Can Spain win a fourth tournament running though? The law of averages alone suggests not.

It’s a probability that they will get beaten by someone at the world cup next year. We have seen it many times in the past, the best side doesn’t always win a knock out tournament. And although I still see Spain as the best side, I don’t think I could back them to win next year’s world cup.

Germany odds slashed after 4-0 hammering

After their 4-0 demolition of Australia, Germany have seen their odds to win the world cup dramatically slashed from 14/1 to the 7/1 – 8/1 mark.

Personally I wouldn’t read too much into this performance though. Yes, they beat what was in front of them, which is all you can do, and they did it properly. They also produced by far the best performance of the world cup to date.

But what would you expect? This is the Germans, they always come into tournaments well organised, the players know their roles, and they have a good mixture of youth with plenty of experience.

I wouldn’t have expected anything less from then.

But have they got the tools to beat a Spain or Brazil? I don’t believe they have.

The 14/1 was a good bet from the point of view that you could take the each-way in case they reached the final. And lets be honest, there is always a chance they could achieve that.

I think that long price was based on the fact that Germany lost Michael Ballack to injury and that the bookies thought the team would be weaker without him.

Instead of missing Ballack, I believe that his absence opens the door more for Schweinsteiger to shine. Schweinsteiger is now playing the better football of the two, and surely with him now pulling the midfield strings, they have a better chance.

Overall, Australia were very poor. The Germans were also helped by a scandalous refereeing decision. On the evidence of this one result I wouldn’t be rushing to out back them at 7/1 or 8/1.