2018 FIFA World Cup: Group Stage Match Analysis

Tuesday 19th June, 10pm AEST

In an open group, Japan look to be the weakest team and as a result this is a great fixture for Colombia to kick off their campaign. They’ve been in impressive form as they’re unbeaten in four friendlies, including a victory in France and having come through the tough South American qualification, they should have too much for a Japanese side that haven’t had the best preparation for this tournament, with wholesale changes to their squad and a new manager to boot. They’re in poor form having lost four of their last six, with each of these games against weaker teams than the Colombia.

Indeed, we have Colombia ranked as the 9th best side in the world and Japan have lost six of seven winless games against top-20 ranked teams going back to a 4-1 defeat against Colombia four years ago, failing to score in four of the last six of these and with five of their six losses by more than one goal. Seven of Colombia’s last eight wins were without conceding whilst they’ve kept a clean sheet in three of their last four games so we’re backing Jose Pekerman’s men to win to nil.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Colombia Win to Nil at $2.56

Wednesday 20th June, 1am AEST

The final kick-off from the opening round of the fixtures at the 2018 World Cup should be an exciting one. Senegal came through qualification unbeaten as they won four of their six matches but since securing their spot in Russia they’ve won only one of five matches as they’ve been held to three draws. Poland also had a successful qualification, winning eight of their 10 matches and look a solid outfit so this promises to be a very competitive match.

Poland had a recent setback with the injury to key centre-back Kamil Glik, who played all but one of their qualification matches, and they’ll certainly miss his services in defence. Furthermore, when Poland have played side we had ranked in the world’s top 40, they’ve had stalemates in half of their 10 matches back to Euro 2016. Moreover, while 25% of opening group matches at World Cups since 1990 have finished all-square, that increases to 36% when both teams are outside of the top 15 in our rankings.

However, that doesn’t mean we’re expecting a boring match, rather that these two evenly matched teams might just be hard to split in an end-to-end encounter. Senegal have netted exactly twice in half of their last 34 matches outside their home country, while Poland have scored an average of two goals per game across their last 28 matches, with their last game against a team we ranked in the top 40 side finishing 2-2.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Draw at $3.20

Monday 18th June, 10pm AEST

When South Korea failed to win a match four years ago it was the first time since 1998 that they’d failed to win a match at the World Cup. However, we rank them lower now than at any point in that time and Sweden should prove too strong. South Korea have played three friendlies against European opposition since March (Northern Ireland, Poland and Bosnia) and they’ve lost the lot. Furthermore, defeats to Iran, China and Qatar in qualifying, as well as 0-0s in Syria and Uzbekistan, suggest they were fortunate to even make it to Russia this time.

Sweden stunned Italy in the play-offs to reach Russia and this promises to be a far more straightforward task as we have them ranked 27 places above South Korea. They’ve won 13 of their last 18 matches against teams they were ranked 15-40 places higher than suggesting a fair price would be nearer 1.4. They’ve struggled for goals recently but since the South Koreans have conceded 20 times in their seven friendlies since 2016against UEFA nations we had ranked in the world’s top 100 they should find the net at some point. Furthermore, Sweden’s defence is very solid, with six clean sheets in their last nine matches, and that should ensure they start their campaign with a win.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Sweden Win at $2.12

Tuesday 19th June, 1am AEST

Belgium’s highly talented squad should have little difficulty in overcoming a limited Panama side. In fact, while Roberto Martinez’s side have struggled to find the right tactical solutions when facing teams of a certain standard, as Kevin De Bruyne bemoaned after a 3-3 draw with Mexico back in November, they’re excellent as flat-track bullies. An easy qualification group saw them repeatedly thrash the likes of Cyprus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Estonia and Gibraltar as they netted 43 times in 10 games, and in fact 13 of their 25 competitive matches since the last World Cup have seen at least four goals.

An incredible 10 of those games saw Belgium net at least four times on the way to victory, and that should worry a Panama side that have little experience of facing top teams. They couldn’t put a glove on Switzerland as they went down 6-0 earlier this year, while the last time they came across a European giant Spain sent them packing with a 5-1 win as their late spot-kick was nothing more than a consolation. Given Belgium’s sustained dominance against weaker teams, the Any Other Home Win market is a fantastic opportunity to benefit from on Betfair.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Any Other Home Win at $4.0

Tuesday 19th June, 4am AEST

Tunisia are given barely a sniff in their first World Cup match since 2006. The market gives the North Africans around a 10% chance of getting a fast start in Group G and if World Cup history is anything to go by that’s generous. The last time that Tunisia won a World Cup fixture was in 1978! Since then they’ve lost six of their 10 matches, though Spain in 2006 were the only team they conceded more than twice against.

England were excellent in qualifying, but again it’s been that way in the past and they’ve failed to deliver. Since 1970, England have won just four of their 18 tournament openers as a dull 14 of them have had Under 2.5 Goals. Furthermore, in each of their last seven they have scored exactly one goal in their curtain raiser as they’ve won just once and that came via a third minute own goal against Paraguay at Germany 2006. Six of those seven games saw both sides net and four finished 1-1.

This game has one of the highest goal quotes of the opening round of matches, but we struggle to see why. Tunisia are without their main attacking threat Yousef Mskani due to a knee injury while England have failed to score more than twice in any game for more than a year. Since beating Slovenia 1-0 at home in September, England have kept six clean sheets in eight, with seven Under 2.5 Goals games. Recent form and past tournament form suggests we could have another low-scoring match on our hands.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Under 2.5 Goals at 1.75

Saturday 16th June, 8pm AEST

It comes as no surprise that opening matches of major tournaments tend to be cagey affairs with Under 2.5 Goals landing in 56% of opening World Cup group matches since 1990, and as a result we think there is a bit of juice in the ‘overs’ market here. Australia enter this as massive underdogs after a far from convincing in qualifying route in which they had to overcome Syria and Honduras in play-off ties. They’ve since got a new manager, Bert van Marwijk and have gone well in their warm-up friendlies, netting six times in the last two. In 2014 they were in a group with three top 10 ranked sides – Chile, Spain and the Netherlands – but they scored in two as all three saw at least three strikes, meaning Over 2.5 Goals has landed in nine of their 10 encounters with top 10 teams since 2011.

Against sides similarly ranked to Australia (Romania and Honduras), France’s last two opening matches at major tournaments have had three or more strikes and with the attacking weapons at their disposal this should be an entertaining affair. The Socceroos conceded exactly three times in each of the group games four years ago so we’ll have a punt on the 3-1 correct score which has occurred in two of France’s four matches leading into these finals.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Over 2.5 Goals at 1.76

 BACK – France 3-1 Correct Score at 12.4

Saturday 16th June, 11pm AEST

This will be the seventh World Cup kick-off in Russia and it should be an easy one for punters to get on the right side of.

Indeed, Argentina are the deserved favourites and shouldn’t be too put off by their recent 6-1 loss to Spain with various key players being absent. Under their new coach Jorge Sampaoli, they’ve won six of their 11 matches, while most importantly they’ve kept seven clean sheets in this time. Meanwhile, Iceland have had a serious dip in form since qualifying, losing four of their six winless matches when excluding a couple of non-official friendlies with Indonesia in this time, and when facing top-12 ranked sides based on Football Form Lab’s ranking system, they’ve lost each of their three games to nil since January last year. Moreover, Argentina when their captain Lionel Messi has been in the side have won six of their last eight unbeaten matches – he missed both the defeat to Spain and the November loss to Nigeria – only conceding two goals across all of them.

Iceland’s key man Gylfi Sigurdsson will be lacking in match fitness for this opener given he has played just 94 minutes of football since his return from injury and is set to struggle against the South Americans. Furthermore, Argentina have kept a clean sheet in both their last two games when both Fazio and Otamendi have started, including a 2-0 win over Italy and we reckon this game may well follow suit.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Argentina Win to Nil at 1.83

Sunday 17th June, 2am AEST

This is the most evenly forecasted match in the first round of group games, with Denmark the narrow favourites. Dubbed the shoot-out for the second qualification spot behind group favourites France, it certainly has a lot on the line.

Peru have been impressive lately, winning 10 of their 15 unbeaten matches since the beginning of 2017, while keeping their opposition out in six of their last seven of these. Age Hareide’s men have also been successful, winning seven of their 14 matches in this period, keeping a clean sheet in all their last four. This looks likely to be a game of very fine margins and both have drawn three of their last five encounters against teams in the top 26 in our rankings. Since 1990, 41% of World Cup matches between teams ranked 6th and 20th have been drawn, including seven of 16 in the opening round of group games.

The Danes will put a lot of faith in their star man Cristian Eriksen, as he’s had a say in 15 goals over the last 11 games he has started, and Peru will certainly want to keep him quiet. However, Peru should be able to handle him as they’ve conceded just one goal from their last six games on the road, with half of them finishing 0-0. Interestingly, Denmark have also had this score in two of their last four, keeping a clean sheet in all of them, and that’s worth a small punt.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Draw at $3.30

Sunday 17th June, 5am AEST

Argentina are the big favourites to win Group D, so these two will see this as a crucial match in terms of claiming the other qualifying spot. Nigeria were unbeaten in qualifying but they face a significant step up in standard here against a team featuring the world class talents of Modric, Perisic and Rakitic, and they come into this in poor form having lost three of their last four friendlies.

Since reaching the last 16 stage at the 1998 World Cup the Super Eagles have won just one of 10 World Cup matches while losing six times. Croatia, meanwhile, struggled at times in qualifying but they found their best form when it was most needed in their play-off match against Greece. Furthermore, since 2013 they’ve won eight of their 10 matches against teams from outside the two leading confederations of UEFA and CONMEBOL, including a 4-0 thrashing of Cameroon in the group stages four years ago. With Nigeria facing a long flight from their base in Yessentuki, Croatia’s chances look even better and they look a decent price to win.

However, we don’t expect a goal-fest, with Nigeria likely to adopt a very cautious approach. Defence is their weakest area but their forwards are tasked as much with protecting the backline as going the other way and only once in their last 47 matches have they conceded more than twice. They’ve scored just five times in their last eight matches with six of those seeing fewer than three goals while, similarly, nine of Croatia’s last 11 matches have settled in favour of the Under 2.5 Goals market.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Croatia at 1.74

Sunday 17th June, 10pm AEST

Whilst there are some concerns over the experience of their manager, Serbia have a much more talented squad than Costa Rica, whose only real standout player is goalkeeper Keylor Navas. The Costa Ricans have been dire in the run up to the tournament, losing six of their last eight games, including heavy recent losses against Belgium and England. They surprised many with their excellent performance in Brazil but they’re an ageing side now, and while their fitness in hot and humid conditions in Brazil saw them finish matches very strongly they don’t have the climate in their favour in Russia in the same way. With most of their squad past their prime we expect them to pick up the wooden spoon in Group E.

Serbia’s preparations have been much smoother, signing off with a 5-1 victory over Bolivia and in the shape of central midfielder Milinkovic-Savic, they have potentially one of the stars of the tournament. They’ve kept a clean sheet in five of their last six victories and with Costa Rica relying on Marcos Urena as their striker, who hasn’t scored a goal yet for Los Angeles in the MLS this season, we don’t think they’ll trouble the Serbian defence.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Serbia Win to Nil at $2.80

Monday 18th June, 1am AEST

Germany are overwhelming favourites to win their group and though Mexico should provide their sternest challenge, not many are giving El Tri much hope of taking anything from this game. Mexico have only kept four clean sheets from their last 15 competitive outings, but a run of seven games in recent friendlies that has seen them concede just three times will give Juan Carlos Osorio and his men a  confidence boost, while a record of reaching the last 16 in each of the past six World Cups is hardly a record to be sniffed at.

While the Germans have won seven of nine unbeaten group games at major tournaments since Euro 2012, keeping a clean sheet in five of the last six, only one of these games saw them produce more than two strikes. In fact, when facing teams between 10th and 20th in the world according to our rankings, Die Mannschaft have only scored more than twice once in their last nine matches, and only more than once in two of these games. With that in mind, the 1-0 correct score offers the chance of a great pay-out.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Germany to win to nil at $2.30

 BACK – Germany 1-0 correct score at $6.89

Monday 18th June, 4am AEST

Since they underperformed at Copa America 2016 and sacked Dunga, Brazil have been mightily impressive under the stewardship of Tite, earning themselves pre-tournament favouritism. They’re W17-D3-L1 under the 57-year-old with the sole defeat against Argentina in a friendly when they were without Neymar. The defence is what’s been most impressive as 14 of these victories were accompanied with a clean sheet while they’ve won to nil in five of their six matches against sides ranked 11th-25th in our gradings (we have Switzerland 15th).

Without a renowned goal-scorer in their squad, the Swiss are reliant on some magic from Xherdan Shaqiri, but it will be a tough game for him to impose himself and the pragmatic approach they took to hold Argentina and France to goalless draws in their last two major tournaments is likely to used again. With just eight goals conceded in 17 matches since Euro 2016, Vladimir Petkovic has his side well organised and as the Seleção have drawn the first-45 in five of their last six major tournament openers it’s far from unrealistic that Switzerland can get into half-time all-square. However, in the 11 games Brazil have been level at the break under Tite, they’ve gone on to complete the Draw/Brazil HT/FT double in nine.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Brazil Win to Nil at $2.15

 BACK – Draw/Brazil HT/FT at $4.0

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