DateFixtureTime: AESTVenue
15-JunRussia v Saudi Arabia1:00amMoscow (Luzhniki)
15-JunEgypt v Uruguay10:00pmYekaterinburg
20-JunRussia v Egypt4:00amSaint Petersburg
21-JunUruguay v Saudi Arabia1:00amRostov-On-Don
26-JunUruguay v Russia12:00amSamara
26-JunSaudi Arabia v Egypt12:00amVolgograd

This is certainly one of the weakest groups in this year’s World Cup with Russia being put in as the top seed by default. The hosts have lost four of their last five winless friendly matches (ahead of one final friendly), although four of those were against top contenders in France, Brazil, Spain and Argentina. That said, over the five World Cups since 1998, five out of the total six hosts (2002 had co-hosts in South Korea & Japan) have topped their group, as only South Africa failed to do so in 2010.

Interestingly, South Africa only just missed out on advancing to the next stage on goal difference that year, having beaten France in their final group game. Furthermore, that South African side was the comfortably the worst host nation we’ve had in our grading system in that time with Russia coming into this considerably higher, so they should certainly have a solid chance of at least qualifying. However, they do have injury worries with both Viktor Vasin and Aleksandr Kokorin out with cruciate ligament injuries and without the latter there will certainly be pressure on Fedor Smolov to deliver upfront.

Uruguay finished the CONMEBOL qualifiers in second place behind World Cup favourites Brazil. They went a respectable W9-D4-L5 through qualification and are the deserved favourites to top this group, with our grading system ranking them as the ninth best team at the competition and the other three in the group all in the six worst. With the Atletico Madrid centre-back pairing of Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin, consistently recognised as the best defence in the club game, and two world class strikers in Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez they look a cut above their opposition. They won the recent China Cup in March and they’ll be confident of securing top spot and advancing to the knockout stages.

Egypt have an injury scare following Mohamed Salah’s exit in the Champions League final. The Egyptian winger will travel to Spain for shoulder treatment and is a doubt to be fit for the first game against Uruguay on 15th June and is certainly unlikely to be 100%. They look a strong unit defensively with the likes of Ahmed Hegazi and Mohamed Elneny, as they look to sit deep and play on the counter-attack, however, without Salah they may struggle to find the goals. Our gradings essentially put Egypt on a par with Russia and Saudi Arabia, although the hosts’ home advantage should be enough to give them the edge. Moreover, the African side will have to travel more distance than any other team through the group stage, including a 3660km round trip for their opener against Uruguay followed by a 4250km round trip to play Russia in St. Petersburg with just four days between matches.

Saudi Arabia haven’t been given much of a chance in this group as a 50/1 shot. That said, they managed to win 12 of their 18 qualification matches with a notable victory over Japan in their last game to finish above Australia and secure an automatic place at the World Cup finals. However, a 4-0 thumping from Belgium in a recent friendly will be a little concerning and this side has a lot to prove if they are to progress to the knockouts.

The clear favourites in this group are Uruguay who’ve come up against much more competitive opposition through qualifying. With the gap in our gradings between the two highest ranked sides in this group larger than any other group we’re going to back the South Americans to come out as winners.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Uruguay Group A Winner at 1.8

DateFixtureTime: AESTVenue
16-JunMorocco v Iran1:00amSaint Petersburg
16-JunPortugal v Spain4:00amSochi
20-JunPortugal v Morocco10:00pmMoscow (Luzhniki)
21-JunIran v Spain4:00amKazan
26-JunIran v Portugal4:00amSaransk
26-JunSpain v Morocco4:00amKaliningrad

Spain have earnt the right to be favourites for this group given they’ve gone unbeaten through qualification, winning nine of their 10 matches. The 2010 World Cup winners have an abundance of quality throughout their squad and now with an out and out striker in Diego Costa they’ll certainly be in with a chance of repeating their 2010 South African success. They’re currently grading the third highest team in our gradings and since they were scoring an average of 3.6 goals per game through qualifying while only conceding 0.3 goals per game they’ll be hard to beat in this group.

Portugal proved their ability to grind out results when triumphing at Euro 2016, even when their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo was forced off through injury in the final, and they subsequently went W9-D1-L1 through qualification. Those results see them ranked just behind Spain in our gradings but they have an aging team, with Jose Fonte and Pepe, 34 and 35 years old respectively, as well as Ronaldo at 33 all likely to be at their last World Cup. With a demanding schedule you feel any injuries could really hamper their chances with a lack of depth throughout the squad, especially in the striker role. In any case, Ronaldo can be isolated at times for the national team and even in that European triumph they were held to draws in the group stages by Hungary, Iceland and Austria.

Morocco have got some quality players with the likes of Medhi Benatia at centre-back and Hakim Ziyech in the midfield, but they’ll struggle to match Spain or Portugal technically and are likely to spend a lot more time without the ball. One thing can be for certain is that they’ll be a hard side to break down as they conceded just one goal across their eight qualification games and frustrating Portugal to a draw isn’t out of the question.

Iran are another side that were unbeaten in qualification, winning 12 of their 18 Asian qualification games and under Carlos Queiroz they’ve long been a tough nut to crack. Since qualification though, it hasn’t gone quite as smoothly, losing to both Turkey and Tunisia in friendlies and given that they have a record of W1-D3-L8 at their four World Cup finals since 1978, we can’t be getting behind them. They do have in-form striker Sardar Azmoun, who plays his football for Rubin Kazan and netted 11 goals in qualification, but that came against far easier opposition and his ability alone will not be enough in this competitive group. Nevertheless, they held Nigeria to a 0-0 four years ago and were seconds from repeating that against Argentina so don’t expect a lot of goals in their matches.

With two of our top four graded sides in Group B we’ll certainly be backing them to advance to the next stage. The best bet looks like Spain to top the group. We expect Portugal to finish second as this Spanish team looks the far more accomplished outfit.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Spain Group B Winner at 1.55

DateFixtureTime: AESTVenue
16-JunFrance v Australia8:00pmKazan
17-JunPeru v Denmark2:00amSaransk
21-JunDenmark v Australia10:00pmSamara
22-JunFrance v Peru1:00amYekaterinburg
27-JunDenmark v France12:00amMoscow (Luzhniki)
27-JunAustralia v Peru12:00amSochi

France are the clear favourites for Group C and with the talents of Griezmann, Mbappe and Pogba in their squad it is easy to see why they are so short. However, their huge amount of potential comes with a lack of experience as Didier Deschamps has struggled to find the right combination from the plethora of attacking players at his disposal. Defensively they look very solid with Varane and Umtiti forming one of the strongest centre-back pairings in the tournament, but with Pogba’s form a worry, there is a lack of creativity in the midfield compared to many of their rivals. Nevertheless, their group is relatively weak, and they should have no problem advancing to the latter stages of the tournament.

Denmark look to be the only side who could threaten France for the top spot. They lost two of their first three qualifiers before winning five and drawing two of the remaining seven – scoring an impressive 18 goals and conceding just four across these – and then hammering Republic of Ireland 5-1 in their second leg play-off. The Scandinavians have a strong spine to their side with Kasper Schmeichel in goal, Simon Kjaer and Andreas Christensen in defence, Christian Eriksen in midfield and Nicolai Jorgensen up front. The Spurs man will be feared most by France and has the quality to unlock the lesser fancied sides in the group. The Danes’ main negative is having to travel well over 7,000km for their group fixtures but they visited the likes or Armenia, Kazakhstan and Montenegro during qualifying, winning each comfortably.

Peru are actually ranked higher than Denmark in our gradings, but their squad doesn’t look to have the same quality to it. They beat New Zealand in a play-off to get here after finishing above Chile in CONMEBOL qualifying, despite their goal difference being just +1. It’s not a squad with many recognisable names – Andre Carrillo plies his trade at Watford and Jefferson Farfan plays for Lokomotiv Moscow – many of the others haven’t played football outside of South America. While travelling to a World Cup on a different continent isn’t the negative it used to be for the leading nations, since most their players will be based in Europe, it’s potentially a negative for Peru.

Australia only finished third in their Asian qualifying group but beat Syria (in extra-time) and Honduras in play-offs to get through to their fourth-consecutive World Cup Finals, but this is certainly the weakest squad they’ve done it with. The fact that their biggest threat up front is the 38-year-old Tim Cahill, who played the sum total of 157 minutes during the 2017/18 season and doesn’t even get into the Millwall side, tells its own story. Familiar names from English football, Mathew Ryan, Mile Jedinak and Aaron Mooy will all line-up, but it doesn’t look as if the Socceroos stay in Russia will last past the group stages.

Only Germany and Brazil are as short as France to qualify form their group, but the other three will be fighting it out for the other spot. We don’t give the Aussies a chance and of the other two, Denmark look to have the greater quality on paper.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Denmark Group C To Qualify at 1.75

DateFixtureTime: AESTVenue
16-JunArgentina v Iceland11:00pmMoscow (Spartak)
17-JunCroatia v Nigeria5:00amKaliningrad
22-JunArgentina v Croatia4:00amNizhny Novgorod
23-JunNigeria v Iceland1:00amVolgograd
27-JunNigeria v Argentina4:00amSaint Petersburg
27-JunIceland v Croatia4:00amRostov-On-Don

Argentina scraped through to the finals thanks to a Lionel Messi hat-trick in the final round of qualifiers, but their troubles didn’t stop there as they’ve subsequently lost to Nigeria and been thumped by Spain in friendlies. Despite an array of attacking weapons only minnows Bolivia netted fewer than Argentina’s 19 goals in South American qualifying and Messi got seven of these. Jorge Sampaoli has struggled to fit Aguero, Dybala, Higuain, Di Maria and Messi all into the same team, with a lack of continuity in his selections causing further problems.

Whereas the frontmen have the quality to click at any point, the 2014 finalists look weak at the back with aging defenders and holding midfielders and no definite no.1 goalkeeper. With no great balance to the squad and an over-reliance on Messi, they’ve got their hands full progressing from what looks a tricky group.

Croatia have the potential to upset any of the market favourites. However, given the talents in their golden generation they’ve under-performed at major tournaments – only advancing from the group stages in one of their last three – losing to Portugal in the Last 16 at Euro 2016. It’s last chance saloon for many of their key players with Modric, Rakitic, Mandzukic and Kalinic all in their 30s and the next crop not nearly as talented. They were in the same qualifying group as Iceland, but they scored fewer times and finished behind the European minnows despite taking 13 points from a possible 15 in their opening five fixtures.

After a sensational run at Euro 2016, Iceland did remarkably well to qualify for their debut World Cup finals. With a population of just 335,000 they are the smallest nation ever to participate – about one million fewer than next smallest, Trinidad and Tobago in 2006. Their underdog status suits them perfectly and they’ll be looking to upset the odds again against Messi and co. Finishing ahead of Group D second favourites Croatia in qualifying should give them confidence but much of their success will be down to the fitness of star player Gylfi Sigurdsson. The Everton man is recovering from a serious knee injury suffered in March and he was directly involved in half of their 16 goals during qualification while they have further injury doubts to forwards Kolbeinn Sigthorsson and Alfred Finnbogason. Those problems suggest they don’t have the same capacity to surprise and progression looks unlikely.

For the second World Cup in a row Nigeria are drawn in the same group as Argentina, but they managed to qualify behind them in 2014 and would surely take a repeat of four years ago. They lost 3-2 in Brazil but met them again in a friendly in Russia last November and triumphed 4-2 (though Messi didn’t play in the defeat). Along with going unbeaten in qualification they should arrive with plenty of optimism for causing an upset and they have the Premier League talent to do so. Kelechi Iheanacho, Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Wilfred Ndidi have ample experience in the top-flight, while Ahmed Musa has been playing in Russia since March after being sent out on loan from Leicester to CSKA Moscow.

Argentina are not the force of old, but if Messi stays fit then they should progress, but we certainly wouldn’t recommend them to win the group at the prices. Croatia are also a short odds-on shot to qualify but their poor record at major tournaments and an aging squad suggest they are worth taking on. Of the two Group D outsiders preference is for Nigeria who certainly have greater quality throughout their squad than Iceland and have the means to secure a Last 16 sport for the second successive time.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Nigeria Group D To Qualify at 3.60

DateFixtureTime: AESTVenue
17-JunCosta Rica v Serbia10:00pmSamara
18-JunBrazil v Switzerland4:00amRostov-On-Don
23-JunBrazil v Costa Rica10:00pmSaint Petersburg
23-JunSerbia v Switzerland4:00amKaliningrad
28-JunSerbia v Brazil4:00amMoscow (Spartak)
28-JunSwitzerland v Costa Rica4:00amNizhny Novgorod

Brazil will always be prominent in the betting at any World Cup and, while there are concerns over the fitness of Neymar and an element of inexperience in the squad, they’re generally pretty reliable against lesser sides as they regularly show in qualification for major tournaments. They were 10 points ahead of Uruguay in South American qualification and when playing sides we have ranked between 11th and 30th in the world, they’ve won their last five competitive games by an aggregate of 13-0. They’re the shortest price of any side to win their group and it’s hard to argue against them, particularly as they’ve also won 10 of 12 unbeaten group stage matches since 2002.

According to our rankings, Switzerland are a much better side than Serbia and as a result herein lies the best betting opportunity in this group. Switzerland ran Euro Champions Portugal close in qualification as they ended up level on points, with an impressive 27 from their 10 games. They made it out of their group at the Euros, managing to hold hosts France to a goalless draw and they’re generally very well-organized under Vladimir Petkovic, who’s been in charge since 2014 and has lost only eight of his 38 games in charge. There’s quality throughout the side with Borussia Monchengladbach’s Yann Sommer in goal, full-backs Lichtsteiner and Rodriguez from Juventus and Milan respectively, whilst in midfield Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka’s the main man. The attacking flair is provided by Shaqiri, whilst talented youngster Breel Embolo is knocking on the door to take Benfica’s Haris Seferovic’s place up front.

Serbia look to have a well-balanced squad that will be built around very impressive central midfielder Milinkovic-Savic, who’s been linked with all of Europe’s top sides. He’ll be partnered by Nemanja Matic in the middle of the park, whilst there’s plenty of experience, but not much speed, in defence with the likes of Ivanovic and Kolarov, while up top Aleksandar Mitrovic is coming off an excellent finish to the season with Fulham. However, the problem seems to be managing that talent as Mladen Krstajic has no managerial experience, having retired as a player back in 2011 and only been appointed in October of last year. At their first major tournament since 2010, we fancy the Swiss to get the better of them.

Costa Rica finished a distant 2nd to Mexico in CONCACAF qualification, picking up only one point from their final three qualifiers, against Panama, Honduras and Mexico, and following that with a 5-0 hammering at the hands of Spain. They’ve lost half of their last six games against teams we have ranked between 11th and 30th in the world and their squad looks thin, with Keylor Navas by far their standout player and 18 of their 23 are at least 28 years old and of those some are past their best while most have never played at a particularly high level. As such it’s hard to envisage them not picking up the wooden spoon in this group.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Switzerland Group E To Qualify at 2.22

DateFixtureTime: AESTVenue
18-JunGermany v Mexico1:00amMoscow (Luzhniki)
18-JunSweden v South Korea10:00pmNizhny Novgorod
24-JunSouth Korea v Mexico1:00amRostov-On-Don
24-JunGermany v Sweden4:00amSochi
28-JunSouth Korea v Germany12:00amKazan
28-JunMexico v Sweden12:00amYekaterinburg

Germany were imperious in qualification as they were the only team to pick up maximum points from their 10 games and they’ve resisted the temptation to simply stick with the players that got the job done for them four years ago as they’ve freshened up their squad with plenty of young, exciting talent. The likes of Kimmich, Goretzka and Sane have been introduced to the side, and in Timo Werner they now have a quality striker, which they lacked in Brazil. The fitness of Gundogan and Reus is a major boost, and in Joachim Loew they have a manager of vast experience and who has proven himself to be amongst the elite through Germany’s consistency over a number of years, culminating in that win in 2014. They’ve won seven of nine unbeaten group stage matches at major tournaments going back to Euro 2012, keeping a clean sheet in five of six since the last World Cup, and so we’d in fact have them shorter than they are to top this group.

Mexico were comfortable winners of CONCACAF qualification but their nearest competition was Costa Rica and Panama and they face a far tougher test here. They’ve won just one of their last seven matches against sides that we have ranked in the world’s top 20 and they’ve disappointed at recent major tournaments when better was expected of them, failing to make the final of the most recent CONCACAF Gold Cup and being hammered 7-0 by Chile in the quarter finals of the 2016 Copa America. Rafael Marquez is still part of the squad but he’s now 39 and Mexico seem to lack a top class defender now that he’s past his best, reflected by the fact that they’ve kept only four clean sheets in their last 15 competitive outings. With that in mind, we’re looking to oppose them in Group F.

Sweden have already picked up a couple of decent scalps in getting here as they saw off the Netherlands in qualification and then beat Italy in the play-off, whilst they also beat France in qualification. Indeed, they’ve lost just six of their 19 games under Janne Andersson and only five of their last 14 against sides above them in our rankings. With the likes of Victor Lindelof and Emil Forsberg in their squad there’s a bit of quality, and given they appear a greater team collectively than in years gone by when relying on individual magic from Ibrahimovic, we fancy their chances of taking 2nd spot behind the Germans.

Heung-min Son will be crucial to Korea’s chances of causing an upset in Group F but the fact that they could only finish 2nd behind Iran in qualification suggests that they’re some way off the pace and that’s reflected in their grading as we have them as the worst team in the tournament. They’ve lost 11 of 16 games against top-20 ranked teams since 2012 and they’re prone to suffering some heavy defeats as they conceded at least four times in four of these, including in a 6-1 hammering against Spain so they’ll do well to pick up a point here.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Sweden Group F To Qualify at 2.36

DateFixtureTime: AESTVenue
19-JunBelgium v Panama1:00amSochi
19-JunTunisia v England4:00amVolgograd
23-JunBelgium v Tunisia10:00pmMoscow (Spartak)
24-JunEngland v Panama10:00pmNizhny Novgorod
29-JunEngland v Belgium4:00amKaliningrad
29-JunPanama v Tunisia4:00amSaransk

Belgium approach the World Cup with mighty ambitions as they arrive with a highly talented squad that is largely at their peak and that has plenty of experience with more than 40 caps per person and an average age of 27.7. The last six champions have had an average of 27.1 years and they should fancy themselves to top Group G. They can boast a formidable attack featuring the likes of Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne, and having managed to match Germany’s 43 goals from 10 games in qualifying, should be well equipped to take the group on goal difference should their final fixture with England end in a stalemate. In fact, even right-back Thomas Meunier got in on the action with five goals in qualification, while at the other end their defence in central areas is particularly strong. The only concern is Roberto Martinez’s ability to find a system that gets the most out of their attacking talents against top level opposition, while the space vacated behind the wing-backs likely to be targeted by their opponents.

England and Belgium were two of four UEFA teams to book their place in Russia without losing a match en route, though easing through the campaign has become something of a habit for the Three Lions in recent years and hasn’t led to better performances at the tournament proper. However, the disparity between the top and bottom two in Group G should ensure no slip-ups occur in the first two games, though England’s hopes will to a great extent depend on the form of Harry Kane. Iceland were the only group winners in UEFA qualifying to net fewer goals than Southgate’s men, and the newly appointed captain will be burdened with the goalscoring task. His link up play with Dele Alli could prove pivotal, with eight of the young midfielder’s 13 assists this season setting up Kane.

Tunisia also qualified for the World Cup without losing a match, conceding just four goals in the process, and will undoubtedly try to ensure they’re tough to break down when facing the European duo. However, they were set to rely heavily on star man Youssef Msakni but he was ruled out with a knee ligament injury in April and given they’ve lost five of six winless encounters with teams we have ranked in the world’s top 20 since 2012, trailing at the break in four of these defeats, they’re unlikely to produce any major shocks.

Panama are rated as the least likely group winners and like Tunisia, will be another side relying on defensive steel having managed to score just nine goals in their 10 qualifiers. Indeed, their key man is 32 year old centre-back Roman Torres, who made a hero of himself by netting an 88th minute winner over Costa Rica to send Panama to their first ever World Cup. However, since the defender was Panama’s joint top scorer in qualification with just two strikes, and the two leading scorers in their squad are 36 and 37 respectively, Hernan Gomez’s team could well exit the tournament without a goal to show for their efforts.

Aside from the ridiculously mismatched Group B featuring both Spain and Portugal, Group G has the widest gap between the second and third best teams by far, while there is still a significant gap between first and second. With that in mind, both England and Belgium should progress with England’s over reliance on Kane for goals likely to limit the Three Lions to second place.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Belgium Group G Winner at 1.83

DateFixtureTime: AESTVenue
19-JunColombia v Japan10:00pmSaransk
20-JunPoland v Senegal1:00amMoscow (Spartak)
25-JunJapan v Senegal1:00amYekaterinburg
25-JunPoland v Colombia4:00amKazan
29-JunJapan v Poland12:00amVolgograd
29-JunSenegal v Colombia12:00amSamara

After going out on penalties in the quarter-finals at Euro 2016 to eventual winners Portugal, Poland have since won an impressive eight of 10 competitive games to seal qualification for the World Cup, netting 28 times with an incredible 16 of these bagged by record scorer Robert Lewandowski. He’s averaged a goal every 76 minutes for his club this season and is ably supported by Napoli’s Piotr Zielinski, who is the main creative force in this team having supplied six assists across their final six qualifiers. However, much will depend on the ability of experienced Monaco centre-back Kamil Glik, as despite benefiting from an easy group, Poland still managed to conceded 14 times in qualifying with Denmark, Montenegro and Romania all shipping fewer goals, and as such their encounter with Colombia has the potential to be a real cracker.

The South Americans lacked a real focal point up front at the last World Cup in Brazil, with James Rodriguez carrying the side as he exploded onto the scene with six goals, while he was arguably unlucky to miss out on the prize for the tournament’s best player to Lionel Messi. They’ll be hoping for better this time around, especially after captain Radamel Falcao missed that tournament through injury and arrives in far better condition having reestablished himself successfully at Monaco. Juve’s Juan Cuadrado provides further zip down the wing and as a result, this should prove one of the highest scoring groups. Indeed, while Colombia have injected youth into their rearguard, the inexperience of at the back could cost them dearly with Yerry Mina and Davinson Sanchez only able to boast 19 caps between them (prior to their World Cup warm-up friendlies).

Senegal’s last and only foray into the World Cup saw them shock defending champions France on the opening day back in 2002 where they eventually crashed out at the quarter-final stage. Their hopes this time centre heavily around star man Sadio Mane, though his main task is as a creative spark having netted just once in qualifying. However, Senegal do have further goals and creativity in the shape of Diafra Sakho and Monaco’s up and coming Keita Balde Diao. They also possess a fine ball-playing centre-half in Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, allowing them to counter rapidly with the pace of the aforementioned Sadio Mane and Keita Balde Diao out wide.

Japan have qualified for a sixth consecutive World Cup, and they’ll certainly hope for better memories against Colombia this time around having been thumped 4-1 in the group stages in 2014. Their defence certainly looks in better shape having conceded just seven goals in qualifying as they kept four clean sheets from 10 games, but it must be noted they lost to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on the way and lack the star quality of their group rivals. Japan have also endured a disrupted build up to the tournament having replaced experienced coach Vahid Halilhodzic with Akira Nishino as recently as April, and it remains to be seen how they’ll cope with the switch back to a more possession based game and the return of star players Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki to the starting 11. Given the expected tight battle between the other three teams to quality, Japan look a great price to finish bottom of Group H.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Japan Group H Rock Bottom at 2.32


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