The greatest sporting event on earth descends on Russia very soon when the 2018 World Cup finals get underway on Thursday, June 14th.
Who is fancied to win the tournament held every four years and why? Are there any chinks in the armor of leading contenders?
Let’s take a look at the national teams who are among the betting favorites to lift the World Cup this time around.
Why are five-time World Cup winners Brazil favorites for a sixth global crown in Russia? Well, they’ve got two of the most expensive footballers of all-time in Neymar and Philippe Coutinho.
Although they crumbled under the pressure of hosting the last World Cup four years ago when they collapsed in the semi-finals, the Samba Boys have been rejuvenated under current coach Tite and were actually the first nation – apart from tournament hosts Russia – to qualify for the finals of this edition.
With the goals and guile of Neymar, Coutinho and Premier League trio Roberto Firmino, Gabriel Jesus and Willian in the front, plus seasoned defensive players like Fernandinho, Miranda, and Thiago Silva, it’s hardly surprising that Brazil head the outright World Cup betting market with bet365 at 4/1.
If there is a fly in the ointment, it’s that Brazil’s star striker Neymar has missed the end of the European club season. Fellow PSG player Dani Alves has also been a long-serving right back for the Selecao, yet he will be missing this World Cup because of the injury.
How’s this for a stat; Germany has won or finished runners-up at five of the last nine FIFA World Cup’s. They also dismantled Brazil 7-1 on their own territory in the semis four years ago and followed-up by beating Argentina in extra time of the World Cup Final.
No side in Europe is better primed for tournament football than Die Mannschaft. Their record under Joachim Low, who has spent a dozen years as head coach, is fantastic and they won the Confederations Cup in Russia last summer.
Germans are obvious contenders at 9/2, with a couple of concerns being goalkeeper Manuel Neuer missing almost the entire season with a foot injury and the aging squad.
The dominance of Spain that started in 2008 came to a crashing halt at the last World Cup. La Roja, who reigned supreme over the footballing world in 2010, have rebuilt around their core of winners since, however.
Around top-class goalie David de Gea, center-backs Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos and midfield trio Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and David Silva, are younger Spanish legs who have some act to follow.
You cannot rule La Roja out at 6/1, though they do seem heavily reliant on Brazil-born striker Diego Costa up front, with Alvaro Morata left out after a poor end to his debut season with Chelsea.
Les Bleus complete the market principals after being thwarted at the Euros on home turf two years ago by Portugal. As with Spain above, Didier Deschamps has had to make some big calls for his World Cup finals squad, meaning some big names have been left out.
Where their neighbors seem a little thin on top-class striking talent, France has it in abundance and great variety in their forward options. This is reinforced by a midfield built entirely around Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, who must deliver on the grand stage.
Deschamps has gambled on the fitness of Manchester City left-back Benjamin Mendy after he missed most of the season with a knee injury. France looks very functional and versatile at the back and are 13/2 to win the World Cup.