2018 FIFA World Cup: Round 2 Group Stage Match Analysis

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Wednesday 20th June, 4am AEST

Russia look set to continue the excellent record of hosts in their own World Cups, as South Africa in 2010 are the only hosts since 1998 not to top their group. Avoiding defeat will all but see the Russians through after Egypt were beaten by Uruguay in their opener, but we think they can do even better and make it two wins from two. Egypt packed men behind the ball to try and frustrate Uruguay in their opener, and while it almost worked, they’ll have to show more ambition here. However, with the continued uncertainty surrounding Mo Salah’s participation, let alone his match fitness which will inevitably be lacking, we’re not convinced they have the attacking weapons to cause the hosts too many problems.

Egypt have an arduous travel schedule in the group stages as no side must travel further, with this one a 4250km round trip for them from their base camp in Grozny. Russia tested themselves in the build up to the tournament as they hosted the likes of France, Brazil, Spain and Argentina but they face a far simpler task here and if we exclude opponents we had ranked in our top 20, then Russia have won 23 of 31 home games since 2011. Egypt do tend to keep things relatively tight though and 10 of their last 14 away defeats were by just a single goal, whilst four of Russia’s last nine home wins were by 1-0 scores so that correct score looks worth backing but at the prices the Russia win is the standout selection.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Russia to Win at 2.34

Wednesday 20th June, 10PM AEST

Portugal had a six goal thriller in their opener but fans expecting a repeat could be in for a disappointment here with Morocco likely to pack men behind the ball and keep the game as tight as possible.

The North African’s strength is at the back, where Juventus’s Mehdi Benatia is a quality leader, and they’ve gone 20 games since they last conceded more than once. Furthermore, 11 of their last 16 matches against higher ranked opposition have had fewer than three goals, while since 2013, six of their seven matches against teams we had ranked in the world’s top 25 have settled as Under 2.5 Goals.

While Morocco are excellent at frustrating sides, Portugal have a reputation for struggling to break lesser sides down as they’ve now drawn their last four major tournament group matches. Moreover, dating back to the 2016 Euros, Portugal have played seven competitive matches against teams we had ranked 21-50 in the world (we have Morocco at 33rd) and five of those had fewer than three goals while four finished all-square. Both teams really need to win this match but Morocco are likely to be starved of possession and will see a point as a fantastic achievement so we don’t expect them to veer from their normal approach, making a low-scoring game likely.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Under 2.5 Goals at 1.80

Thursday 21st June, 1am AEST

Uruguay had to wait until the 89th minute to make the breakthrough against Egypt in their opener but they’ll expect to have an easier ride against a Saudi Arabia side that were all at sea defensively against the supposedly modest Russian attack.

Since 2002, Saudi Arabia have lost six of seven World Cup matches while conceding 24 goals and failing to score six times as they’ve struggled badly at this level. Moreover, they’ve lost 18 of their last 19 matches on foreign soil against teams we had ranked inside the world’s top 20, including seven Loss/Loss HT/FT doubles in their last eight.

Uruguay, meanwhile, are the best team in this group and widely tipped as dark horses to go a long way over the next month. With two of the best strikers in the world they should have far too much firepower for the Saudis and we’d expect them to make a faster start than in their opener. They only played one warm-up friendly so a certain level of rustiness might have been expected but while that was just their third win in their last 12 openers at World Cups and Copa Americas they’ve won seven of their last 12 second group games. As such we’d expect to see a far higher level from the South Americans and they should record a straightforward Win/Win double.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Uruguay W/W at 1.60

Thursday 21st June, 4am AEST

Carlos Queiroz has a clearly defined way of setting his Iran side up, and after snatching a lucky win against Morocco to top the group we can almost guarantee that they’ll play even more defensively than normal.

Iran have kept 13 clean sheets in their last 14 competitive matches and while none of those were against a comparable team to Spain they did hold out for 90 minutes against Argentina four years ago before Lionel Messi struck an injury time winner. Furthermore, 11 of their last 12 competitive matches have had fewer than three goals with eight having fewer than two. Even more impressively, they’ve lost just one of their last 12 competitive matches against teams we had ranked above them (although eight of those were against South Korea), with 11 having fewer than three goals.

The quality and variety that Spain possess up front should mean they find a way through eventually, but six of their last 10 competitive matches against teams we had ranked 21-50 in the world had fewer than three goals so there looks to be decent value on the ‘unders’. Ultimately though, Asian sides have lost 15 of 16 World Cup matches against teams we ranked in the top 10 since 2006 and the win to nil is also worth backing here.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Under 2.5 Goals at 2.20

Thursday 21st June, 10pm AEST

Denmark’s success hasn’t just been built on the back of Christian Eriksen’s fine displays but also a stubborn defensive solidarity, as they conceded just nine goals in 12 qualifiers including their play-off ties with the Republic of Ireland. Since then they’ve continued their excellence at the back, keeping five consecutive clean sheets in tough fixtures, and being so miserly it’s perhaps unsurprising they’ve been involved in so many low-scoring encounters, with eight of their last nine seeing fewer than three goals. In fact, four of five on their recent run of clean sheets saw just one strike or were goalless, and with three points already in the bag the Danes are hardly going to adopt a more offensive approach.

The consistency with which they’ve approached games tactically has been underlined by a record of seven goalless half-time stalemates in their last eight matches, which is mirrored by Australia in so far as they’ve been level after the opening 45 in seven of their last eight too, with five of the last seven goalless. Given Denmark’s safety-first approach, the 0-0 half-time score is a standout selection, but with the Danes winning eight their last 12 ahead of this clash, we’d prefer to add a bit more juice with Draw/Denmark in the half-time/full-time market. Indeed, Australia have gone in all square at half-time in both defeats under Bert van Marwijk to date, while Denmark have shown their ability to be patient with eight of their last 10 goals coming during the second period.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Under 1.5 Goals at 2.92

 BACK – Draw/Denmark HT/FT at 4.40

Friday 22nd June, 1am AEST

Following a tight 1-0 loss to Denmark this game is now a must-win for the Peruvians. They missed a first-half penalty in that game as they failed to make their chances count but they showed enough to think that their qualification was no fluke. A man of the match performance for the Danish keeper Kasper Schmeichel says it all, but credit must be given where it is due, and the Danes held on impressively to get the victory.

France didn’t have it all their way against the Socceroos, scaping a narrow victory thanks to a deflected Paul Pogba effort in the 80th minute. Peru will be hopeful following that performance that they can get something from this game, although their form outside of Peru suggests they’ll struggle. They’ve lost 13 of their 21 competitive matches at neutral and away venues to teams we rank above them since the start of the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.

France on the other hand, will most likely rotate their attacking options, with Dembele and Griezmann struggling without target man Olivier Giroud up-front. The Peruvians are vulnerable in the air and we expect France to exploit that and put on a much more convincing display. Moreover, they’ve won 13 of their 18 competitive matches since the last World Cup, with only one defeat, and they should be too strong for the South Americans and get the job done.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – France to Win at 1.50

Friday 22nd June, 4am AEST

Croatia will certainly fancy their chances against this Argentinian side having beaten a talented young Nigerian side in their opening game. Argentina, meanwhile, failed to see off an Iceland side making this Croatia match a crucial encounter for the South American side, as a loss could see them exit the World Cups Finals a lot sooner than first envisaged.

Argentina have drawn four of their last five competitive matches against European sides, while all of those have seen fewer than three goals. Croatia on the other hand, have had fewer than three goals in 10 of their last 12 matches and in all their last eight matches when on the road or at neutral venues, and that is certainly the value bet in this match. Especially when looking at Argentina’s qualification, scoring just 19 goals across their 18 matches and when against our top 25 ranked sides, they’ve seen Under 2.5 Goals land in six of their last seven outings. To further that, Croatia’s record against top-25 ranked teams has seen Under 2.5 Goals mark in seven of their last eight matches and in six of eight in competitive games, so we’ll certainly be getting behind this.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Under 2.5 Goals at 1.66

Friday 22nd June, 10:00pm AEST

Brazil would have preferred to come into this clash with three points already in the bag, but they’re not going to have to wait long for their first win with an old, creaking Costa Rica lying in wait. The Central Americans have lost seven of their last nine outings, and while they only suffered narrow losses against Panama, Hungary, Tunisia and Serbia, their opponents here are a cut above that lot and the 5-0 and 4-1 defeats to Spain and Belgium feel more prescient. England could only manage to score twice, but with the exceptions of Malta and Scotland they haven’t registered more than two goals past anyone in their last 27 fixtures.

On the other hand, Brazil manage that feat with great frequency. They’ve netted at least three times in 10 of their 22 games under Tite since he took charge following the 2016 Copa America, while 3-0 has been the most common scoreline across this period with six entries, with 2-0 next best with four. In fact, three of Brazil’s last eight have ended with that outcome, and it could well have been half of those games had it not been for a Japanese consolation strike after the Selecao were already three up.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Brazil to Win 3-0 at $7

Saturday 23rd June, 1:00am AEST

Observers of the opening two games in Group D might be surprised to see that Iceland are only marginal favourites against Nigeria after the Europeans put up an excellent display to earn a deserved point against Argentina on Saturday. Perhaps the reason that Nigeria haven’t been marked down too much after their defeat to Croatia is that it was more about their opponents being good than them being bad, however the Africans need a win here if they are to get out of probably the toughest group of the lot.

Nigeria’s defeat against Croatia was their third loss in a row and their seventh in 11 World Cup matches, as they’ve won only once at the Finals since reaching the Last 16 in 1998. Nigeria’s loss to Croatia also extended a tradition of them losing to teams ranked 16-30 – we have Croatia at 22 and Iceland at 23. Since 2000, the Super Eagles have lost in 90 minutes in 14 of 28 such matches including five losses in nine competitive games.

Meanwhile, Iceland have been impressive against teams similarly ranked to Nigeria (32nd) in recent times. Heimir Hallgrimsson’s side have won four of their last five against countries ranked 21-40 with three victories by two clear goals.

With Nigeria requiring at least a goal this one shouldn’t be a bore but with the disparity in quality it’s a big shock to see near parity in the market and when presented with such an opportunity keeping it simple can pay dividends.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Iceland Win $2.80

Saturday 23rd June, 4:00am AEST

Serbia managed to get the only victory of the first round of matches in Group E against Costa Rica, securing the full three points thanks to an exceptional Aleksandar Kolarov free-kick that saw them come out as the deserved winners. Switzerland were also impressive holding the tournament favourites Brazil to a 1-1 stalemate, and this should be another encounter where the margins are tight. The Swiss will know that a loss in this match will unravel all the good work against Brazil, while the Serbians will likely be heading home early if they can’t take something from this game with Neymar and company to come, and with that in mind we don’t expect either side to go for broke.

That should lead to a low-scoring affair and in fact, seven of Switzerland’s last eight have seen fewer than three goals, while they’ve conceded just three goals across their last seven unbeaten major tournament matches – with the last six all seeing fewer than three goals and five ending in stalemates. Serbia meanwhile, have had the Under 2.5 Goals market covered in eight of their last 10 versus teams ranked inside our top 40, while the new manager Mladen Krstajic has got his defensive unit in perfect order with five of his seven games in charge finishing under that mark.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Under 2.5 Goals at $1.54

Sunday 24th June, 1:00am AEST

South Korea struggled in their opener against the Swedes with their biggest worry being in the final third as they failed to register a single shot on target. Defensively they looked impressive with just a penalty kick separating the two teams and we can expect another solid display in that department for this encounter.

Mexico will be confident coming into this one having beaten the reigning champions Germany in their last match which sees them as the clear odds-on favourites to top this group. They’ve been clinical, winning five of their last eight matches with each victory to nil and furthermore they’ve won all their last five matches against AFC nations since 2007, not conceding in three of these too. Korea on the other hand, have lost five of their last six versus our top 15 ranked sides (we have Mexico 13th), losing to nil in half.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Mexico Win to Nil at 2.64

Sunday 24th June, 4:00am AEST

Germany’s defeat to Mexico and Sweden’s subsequent victory over South Korea has thrown Group F wide open, with three teams now in with a real chance of winning the group rather than just a straight fight between Sweden and Mexico for the runners-up spot. Joachim Loew will demand a better performance, but having kept just a solitary clean sheet in nine matches now, and with both teams scoring in 11 of their last 16, Sweden have every chance at delivering a second upset within a week for the reigning champions.

Indeed, when facing teams we have ranked in the world’s top 10, Sweden have seen both teams register a goal in seven out of nine matches since October 2012, including a 4-4 draw with Die Mannschaft themselves. However, 10 of Germany’s last 12 matches at major tournaments have featured fewer than three strikes, as have each of their last six when facing teams ranked between 11th and 30th (we have Sweden 18th), and so the 1-1 correct score is a tempting longshot. In fact, given seven of Sweden’s last eight outings have also had an unders trend, the price looks very appealing when considering Germany’s poor form at present.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Both teams to score at $2.10

 BACK – 1-1 correct score at $9.40

Sunday 24th June, 10:00pm AEST

Panama gave a good account of themselves against Belgium in their first ever appearance at a World Cup, as they kept the Red Devils at bay until after the interval, but ultimately, they were outclassed. England can’t match the same output that should be expected from Roberto Martinez’s side, with Harry Kane the only real proven goalscorer in their ranks but they should walk away with all three points regardless.

Indeed, Panama are a very limited side going forward, with centre-back Roman Torres their joint top scorer in qualifying with just two goals, while England are perfectly adept at keeping clean sheets against weaker opponents. In fact, Southgate’s men haven’t conceded more than a single strike in their last nine outings, keeping six clean sheets, though they may have to toil at the other end to find the breakthrough.

Whereas Belgium regularly tanked sides in qualification and have since netted at least three times in five of their last seven, England have only managed to score that many in two of their last 28 matches, including 2-0 wins over the likes of Malta, Lithuania and Costa Rica on home turf. With that in mind, England seem unlikely to break that threshold, and a 2-0 win much like their encounter with Trinidad & Tobago at the 2006 World Cup should ensue.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – England 2-0 correct score at $5.60

Monday 25th June, 1:00am AEST

Group H has been opened right up with both the favourites losing their opening fixtures. That puts Senegal and Japan in pole position to qualify and in the circumstances a draw will suffice for both teams.

We expect this to be a mundane encounter given the relatively defensive nature of the coaches. They’ll both feel lucky to have won their openers, with a controversial goal in the Senegal versus Poland match securing the win for them and a red card the decisive factor for Japan against Colombia. That said, they’ll be confident in their defences, as Japan have seen fewer than three goals in nine of their last 11 matches, while Senegal have seen this in five of their seven matches since 2015 when facing opposition we rank between 25th and 40th like Japan.

Moreover, given there’s been little to split World Cup matches between Asian and African sides since 1990, with a W5-D6-L4 record narrowly in favour of the Asian sides, it looks likely to be a cagey low scoring affair. Interestingly, across the most recent Asian and African Championships, and now this World Cup, Japan and Senegal are unbeaten over a combined 13 games while keeping seven clean sheets, and we wouldn’t be surprised the pair kept those unbeaten records going by recording a stalemate.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Under 2.5 Goals at $1.59

Monday 25th June, 4:00am AEST

Group H is heating up with unexpected results in the first round of games leaving Poland and Colombia with their work cut out for them. Both teams will need to improve defensively, with the Europeans gifting Senegal’s M’Baye Niang what turned out to be the winner, while Carlos Sanchez received his marching orders after just three minutes for Colombia. The South American’s young and inexperienced centre-backs (Mina is expected to come in for Murillo) are unlikely to have the same success in thwarting Lewandowski as Senegal managed, while Sanchez’s absence should help Poland’s creative players provide their talisman with better service this time around. Given each of Poland’s last 11 competitive outings since the start of qualification have seen Over 2.5 Goals, with six of these going Over 3.5 Goals, this looks set to be a thriller.

Indeed, Colombia’s attacking prowess will be bolstered by the likely return to the starting line-up of James Rodriguez, who came on against Japan after an hour, while they’ll presumably fare better with a full complement of 11 men on the pitch. However, having gone W2-D5-L3 over their last 10 competitive fixtures, we’re not sure they have the tools to down a Poland side that have lost just twice in 19 competitive matches of their own – including stalemates with the likes of Germany and Portugal at the last Euros. Given we expect this game to have plenty of chances, while five of Poland’s last six stalemates have seen both teams find the net, the 2-2 correct score offers the chance of a mammoth payout.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Over 2.5 Goals at $2.18

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