Brazil 2014 came a step closer on Friday, with the draw for the group stage of the World Cup Finals taking place. Here we take an early look at the betting for qualifying and outrights for each group, as sides from six continents battle for a place in the last sixteen.
In the first of two parts, we preview groups A-D.
Group A : Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon
Despite what looks like a comfortable draw, the pressure that Brazil will be under from a demanding football nation will be as intense as ever. They kick-off the traditional curtain raiser to the finals as hosts, and will have their toughest test of the group against Croatia in that match.
With the “samba boys” lead by superstar Neymar, and supported by an all star cast in Hulk, Bernard, Oscar and many more, nothing but maximum points will do for fans and pundits alike.
Croatia have the makings of a fine side, built around Luka Modric and star striker, Mario Mandzukic. They qualified via a play-off win over Iceland, after finishing some nine points adrift of Belgium in the group, which included two defeats to Scotland.
Having not gone beyond the first round since 1998’s third place, there are question marks over the sides tournament mentality, which will be sorely tested in the South American heat. If the individuals can come together, they are a side to be feared, if not, another early exit could be on the horizon. They are available at 11/1 with Ladbrokes to win the group, while the side are a joint 5/4 to qualify for the next stage along with Mexico. I’d look at the qualifying bet, especially with the Mexicans poor record over the last year, looking like it will continue into 2014.
Mexico, as I alluded to, have been quite poor, with qualifying coming via a comfortable play-off win against a poor New Zealand side, 9-3 on aggregate. However in North American qualifying, they finished fourth with eleven points from ten matches, which saw just two victories. One of the issues, has been the leaving out of foreign based players, with the likes of Andres Guardado, Julio Dos Santos and Giovanni Dos Santos being ignored.
If Mexico include their European based players the squad will no doubt be stronger, however I feel that Croatia will have enough to beat them to the 2nd spot behind Brazil. To win the group, they are actually more favoured than the Croatians , with 9/1 being offered by Ladbrokes, while the 5/4 offered by Bet365 for qualifying has a far more realistic chance.
Finally Cameroon, come into the finals with Samuel Eto’o being the focal point for good and bad. Having been convinced to come out of International retirement, he has since complained that he doesn’t get the ball enough and has constantly been the source of disruptive news articles. Despite this, they qualified reasonably comfortably, beating Tunisia 4-1 in the play-off round, while suffering just one defeat in the previous rounds, group stage.
Aside from Eto’o, the side features strong,defensive minded players, with Joel Matip of Schalke and Nicolas NKoulou of Marseille in the back four and Barcelona’s Alex Song in midfield. Upfront is where they will likely struggle with strikers, Pierre Webo, Mohammadou Idrissou and Samuel Eto’o all the wrong side of thirty. They may surprise with a point somewhere, but qualifying looks beyond them. A group win is 33/1 with BetVictor, while qualifying for the next stage is 11/2 with Bet365.
Group B : Spain, Holland, Chile, Australia
World champions Spain, have an interesting group to negotiate with the big game of course coming against Holland, a repeat of the final from four years ago.
Over the last year or so, it seems that sides are slowly working out how to play against the tiki-tika style. This has resulted in a few surprising score lines, including a recent defeat to South Africa. Despite that, qualifying went relatively smoothly, with eight wins and two draws in ten. Interestingly, they played group opponents Chile in a friendly several months ago which ended 2-2, so there is room for a potential surprise if they perform below par. Paddy Power have Spain at a fairly generous 5/6 to win the group, while qualifying comes in at 2/9 with Bet365.
Holland are a side who frustrate and entertain in equal measure. The run to the last World Cup final showed that when the infighting and egos are put to one side, they are one of the top sides in the world. Yet, when things go the other way, they blow up quite spectacularly, as seen in the last European Championships. The former seems to have been the case over the last couple of years, as they are currently undefeated in seventeen.
If they can keep the same intensity going and avoid injuries to key players in Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, they have a chance of going far. The opportunity to avenge the 2010 defeat to Spain, adds spice to the 5/2 offered by SkyBet, to win the group and looks a good value bet. To qualify in general, they are available at 5/9 with BWin.
Chile qualified in third place from South America, and will make the short hop to Brazil with confidence as they look to break the assumed dominance of the Europeans in the group. A recent run of ten matches undefeated was ended by Brazil, but included victories against England and Uruguay, plus score draws against Colombia and Spain. Barcelona winger, Alexis Sanchez is starting to revel in his new central role, while Juventus’s Arturo Vidal is the focal point of the Chilean build up play and chips in with goals.
They will fear no side in the group, and could be worth a flutter to qualify, with William Hill offering a generous 13/8 to do so. The group win is less likely, but the 11/2 on offer from Paddy Power could be of interest if the Spain/Holland game ends in a draw in the opening group game.
Australia are not expected to repeat the successes of previous World Cups, as the golden generation of “Socceroos” now enter their mid thirties. Tim Cahill, Lucas Neill, Archie Thompson and Mark Bresciano are still contributing but the legs are going. In qualifying, they went through without much to worry about, but international friendlies have shown how far behind they are, with the side not having beaten a South American/European side since 2011.
Qualifying is hugely unlikely, and reflected in the betting. BWin offer 22/1 to go through, which is some 12 points higher than any other firms. The same firm offer 103/1 to win the group, which is all that needs to be said really.
Group C : Colombia, Ivory Coast, Japan, Greece
Colombia are many peoples dark horses to do well and finished only two points behind Argentina in qualifying. Three defeats in the last twenty back this up, although each defeat came away from home during qualifying. In this run they have also kept thirteen clean sheets. The squad includes the striking genius of Monaco’s Radamel Falcao, as well as team mate Jaime Rodriguez, Inter Milan’s Fredy Guarin and Milan’s Cristian Zapata.
Manager, Jorge Pekerman has built a side that will give any side trouble and this group gives them a great chance to ease into the tournament. Skybet and Ladbrokes offer 8/11 to win the group, while a qualifying bet is 1/4 with Coral. On a side note, Radamel Falcao would be worth a good each/way bet for top scorer in the tournament at 25/1 with Sporting Bet and Ladbrokes
The Ivory Coast’s participation in the finals was sealed via a 3-1 play-off victory over Senegal, to make it three World Cups in a row for the “Elephants”. An impressive record of just three defeats in thirty-seven hides the fact that only four of those matches were against non-African sides, so a bit of a question mark hangs over them. On paper they should get through, with a squad that boasts (a still potent) Didier Drogba, Wilfried Bony, Seydou Doumbia and Lacina Traore upfront alone, while the irrepressible Yaya Toure pulls the strings in midfield. If the side produce on the pitch they should comfortably dispatch Greece and Japan to qualify. They are 9/2 with Coral to win the group, while qualification comes in at 11/10, also with Coral.
Japan arguably have their best side for years, with Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Yuto Nagatomo, among the leading lights. They helped the side to qualify top of the group with ease, ahead of Australia by four points.
Outside of Asian competition, Japan make a point of playing friendlies against nations from other continents, which has netted some good performances, including a draw and a victory against Holland and Belgium.
They did however struggle in the Confederations Cup, losing all three games, despite an impressive performance against Italy especially. If they can muster a couple of high performances, they’ll have a chance in what is a fairly weak group, but an early exit is definitely a strong possibility. They are a generous 6/4 to qualify with Ladbrokes, while to win the group, 11/2 also with Ladbrokes looks severely short priced.
Former European champions Greece should be struggling this last few years. A combination of internal issues both nationally and football wise, along with a dearth of talent should have seen a rapid decline in performance, yet they booked their tickets to Brazil, via a play-off victory against Romania, after finishing second to Bosnia- Herzogovina on goal difference, in a poor quality group. Its a testament to the tenacity of the Greeks that they’ve made it this far.
They have lost just two from the last eighteen against Bosnia and Germany. Despite this, their best result is an away friendly victory against Republic Of Ireland, which gives an indicator of how kind the fixture list has been in the last couple of years. So like the Ivory Coast, another question mark hangs over their qualities against better opponents. BetFred offer qualification at 12/5, while a group win bet is 10/1 with Bet365.
Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, Italy, England
Uruguay are another side who could potentially go far next year, if they can shore up their defence. Lead by the combined forces of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez they surprisingly struggled to finish in fifth spot in qualifying. This meant they had to go through an extra play-off against Jordan, which they won 5-0 on aggregate. In their last fourteen, they have lost three to Spain, Brazil and Ecuador (at altitude), and to Italy on penalties. Looking at those fixtures, each game was a narrow defeat by the odd goal, which serves to prove that the side are almost there in terms of performance.
The humidity could be an influence in their favour, with England and to a lesser extent Italy, potentially struggling to cope with conditions. This could prove to be an ace up the sleeve as far as the continental natives are concerned. Defensive frailties could be an issue, having conceded twenty-five in sixteen qualifiers though. Ladbrokes offer 21/10 to win the group, while 888Sport offer 8/13 for qualification.
Costa Rica appear in their fourth finals, and have been given what is arguably the toughest draw possible. Despite their continuous improvement as a football nation it will be difficult to see them emulate their 1990 counterparts, who beat Sweden and Scotland to make the knock-out stage. The “ticas” qualified with several games to spare, behind the United States, and will look to their European based contingent, which includes: Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz, Arsenal’s Joel Campbell, Everton’s Bryan Oviedo, along with Copenhagen winger, Cristian Bolanos to bolster a side which features many players now plying their trade in the MLS. I cannot see them qualifying but they could cause a surprise and pick up a token point. Bookmakers feel they have little or no chance either, with Bet365 offering 16/1 to qualify, while William Hill offer a “pigs may fly” price of 100/1 for the group win.
Four time champions Italy, will be looking to their young guns to back up an ageing side, after easing through qualifying undefeated. Recent results have suggested that coach, Cesare Prandelli is still looking for the ideal squad, having seen the “Azzuri” draw their last four games. Despite that, its miles away from being a crisis yet, with the Juventus trio of Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Pirlo, plus Danielle De Rossi of Roma still at the heart of the national side.
What is evident, is the need for the younger stars, such as Milan’s Mario Balotelli and Stephan El-Sharawy, plus Juventus’s Claudio Marchisio to step up, as the humidity will certainly sap the older legs to such a point, that I fully expect both Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Pirlo to never play the full 90 minutes,which bodes another issue with the quality on the bench. That aside, the general assumption is that they will, or at least should top the group with BetVictor and SkyBet pricing them at 7/4 favourites to win the group. To qualify, BetFred offer 1/2 along with Bet365.
England manager Roy Hodgson stated he was more concerned with the travelling than the draw, and arguably both have been unkind, with a 3500 mile round trip from their base camp in Rio to Manaus in the north for their first match.
England did as arguably expected in qualifying, which saw an undefeated campaign and just four goals conceded, against what can be considered awkward opposition in Poland, Ukraine and Montenegro. Oddly despite this record they have rarely impressed in their performances, but mainly getting the job done.
- In friendlies, its a slightly concerning story, with a narrow win against Scotland, the only win in five as Hodgson dabbles with new players. Like the Italians, there will be concerns over the humid conditions so a focus on the younger players is likely, as Hodgson looks to manage the talents and bodies of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard,who still hold the keys to the England midfield. Quality in depth is paramount if they wish to go far. To qualify, England are third favourites at 4/6 with William Hill, while a group win comes in at 5/2 with Ladbrokes.
- Holland – Win Group B @ 5/2 SkyBet
- Ivory Coast – Qualify from Group C @11/10 Coral
- England – Qualify from Group D @4/6 William Hill