I love horse racing. I love football. I bet on both to win, but I use a lot more data to support wagering decisions on racing than I do on footy. Natch. So the following World Cup 2018 thoughts come with an even bigger wealth warning than usual... caveat emptor, amigos. With that said, and if you see any point in reading further, here are some of the things that interest me in the upcoming tournie.
Whilst I can see a few minor shocks in the group phase, I'd expect a familiar look to the last 16, which in turn means a familiar look to the quarters and semi-finals. Where there is scope for upset, in my opinion, is in who will top certain groups. That obviously impacts last 16 games and could make for some very hot encounters some way from the final!
In particular, I'm thinking that if the - granted, extremely mercurial - Croatian crowd get it together, they could beat an out of sorts Argentina and top the group. That would likely lead to Messi's mob mixing it with a swashbuckling French unit in the first knockout stage. Keep in mind that Croatia beat Spain in the Euro's, and pummeled Portugal without scoring (17 shots to 3, 60% possession) before losing massively against the run of play late in extra time.
I think France have a solid chance but not one missed by anybody. Indeed, as you'd expect, the market has a full nelson grip on prices with value looking in scant supply. In the end, I've wound up back where I started, with Brazil. True, they're in the tougher half of the draw: they ought to top their group comfortably, and may then face Mexico as the second placed team in Germany's group. But if the Germans under-perform, as they have been recently, it'll be Brazil-Germany in the last 16 match!
That's a risk, but it should be Brazil-Mexico, which ought to be a cracker, before a quarter-final clash with either England or, more likely, Belgium. The Samba chaps should dance past either of that pair - I really don't fancy the Belgians when it comes to the big stage, they seem to have inherited the Dutch mindset for all their undoubted technical riches.
France or Uruguay, on my prediction chart at least, will be tough in the semi-final, but by this point I'll be getting out for a free bet.
In the other half of the draw, Spain should prevail in what might be a pretty dull group; and Germany do look to have a relatively serene passage to the semi's... if they can top the group. Croatia are a dangerous floater if topping their group ahead of Argentina, and look a possible back-to-lay at 40/1 if you can see them getting a result against their more feted group rivals.
I think Brazil would be favourites against either Germany or Spain at this point so, while that can certainly change between now and then, I'm not inclined to save on either of those.
I'm backing: BRAZIL at 9/2 (will try to lay half stake back after group stage at around 7/2, and the other half before the semi-final at around 2/1 hopefully)
Croatia are a back-to-lay also. They probably need to top their group to make this pay, and I think they can do that.
There look to be some ringers at the top of the market here, which potentially makes for value down the lists. The last five winners have been Rodriguez (150/1), Muller (100/1), Klose (25/1), Ronaldo (16/1), and Suker (33/1). Good luck if you like Messi at 10/1! The trick, of course, is being smart or lucky enough to land on the right value play.
Most of the goals wil be scored in the group phase, which counts Spanish players out for me. Apart from believing they'll share their product between the likes of Costa, Silva, Isco and so on, I think they'll fight out dull affairs with Portugal and Morocco, either side of a chance to score a few against Iran. Add in the fact that defender Ramos may be on penalty duty and Spain is off this menu.
So too is Brazil, though I do see them scoring more goals in the group phase, and Neymar is likely to be on penalty duty. But he'll have to share the strikes with Jesus, Coutinho, and Paulinho amongst others: it will depend on how unselfish some of these lads decide to be.
Messi has failed to fire in the big tournaments in spite of a laughable award of the Golden Ball at the last World Cup. This does not look a vintage squad for the South Americans, and he is easily opposed, by me at least.
Likewise, Ronaldo for Portugal, who Greece'd their way to the Euro prize, riding their luck - as alluded to above - along the way. Ronnie has been the best player on the planet for a long time - even if you think Messi is, you have to have this guy number two, and vice versa - but his qualification tally of 15 was heavily weighted by four against the Faroe Islands and five against Andorra. Portugal are in that "Group of Dull", and Andre Silva might be the better bet at around 5/1 to be team top scorer.
Griezmann makes most appeal of the names at the top, but he too may have plenty of competition from teammates. I like his deep-lying pacey style and think he could be the player of the tournament if France progress. But 12/1 is not what I'm looking for in a wide open contest.
No, I'm looking for a proven goalscorer and/or a player who, like Griezmann, has generally been considered a support or deep-lying forward. The former just score goals, the latter are pretty hard to mark and can go unnoticed by defenders focused on the main name player. Each of those big priced Golden Boot winners above wore one of these two slippers, the last pair fitting the latter mould snugly and at VERY BIG prices.
The first guy I want is a proven goal machine in a team that score bundles of goals... but also concede bundles. That's Robert Lewandowski at 33/1. Poland are in a group with Colombia, Japan and Senegal from which they're odds on to progress; so, while they may lose to either Belgium or England in the last 16, the big front man could have five on the board by full time in that fourth game. He's a certain starter, scored 16 in qualifying - the most in Europe, and he will take penalties.
In the stab in the dark camp are the following: Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Perisic, James Rodriguez
The first pair are in the same team, Croatia, which presents challenges already. But the big unit up top is an excellent target, and the incisive left-sided brilliance of Perisic puts him on the fringes of player of the tournament territory if his team go far. It's a big if, but then 150/1 (win only, 100/1 e/w) Mandzukic and 150/1 e/w Perisic are big prices. As you'll have gathered by now, I'm looking to Croatia to have a big tournament. They will be one of the best teams to watch if they can get it together. That's another big: IF.
Rodriguez is the reigning Golden Boot after his 150/1 shock at the last World Cup, and he may again be on the premises. There is precedent for this, with Thomas Muller winning in 2010 at 100/1 before finishing second in 2014 at 33's. James, pronounced Ham-ez don't forget, is 66/1. Which is a tasty price about a tasty player who might just score some tasty goals. Check out his 2014 showreel, which includes a penalty, a header, a solo run with a dinked finish, a left foot tap in, a right foot tap in, and the Goal of the Tournament. (Remember, Messi won player of the tournament? I'm calling bullsh*t on that one!!)
I'm backing: Robert Lewandowski (33/1 with Hills, bet £10 get £5 free bet each time he scores), James Rodriguez (66/1 general), Mario Mandzukic (25% win at 150/1 888sport, 75% e/w 100/1 Coral), and Ivan Perisic (20% at 250 Betfair Exchange, 80% place only 40/1 Unibet)
I'm taking a few positions on the spreads as well. If that means nothing, fair enough, but I'm not going to explain it here today, I'm afraid! [I will add this, though: spread betting can be extremely volatile, so please don't follow me in if you don't know how they work. It will very likely end in tears!!]
I'm looking at the following:
Sell England at 7.75 - We have problems breaking down poor teams, and problems matching good teams for skill. If we score early against either Panama or Tunisia, this position will be under threat. But the longer those games go on goalless, the more insipid/desperate I expect us to look. Sigh.
Buy Poland at 5.25 - Clearly related to my Lewandowski position, I'm banking on the Poles hitting the onion bag a good bit in the group. Hopefully they'll nab a couple against Senegal in what could be a high scoring, blood-and-thunder sort of group opener, before closing out against a Japan side who may already be eliminated at that point. There won't be too many Japanese defenders that can live with Lewandowski's height, although they do have the rock solid Saints defender, Yoshida, to mark him.
TEAM GOALSCORER ACCA's
A(n expensive) bit of fun more than anything, I'm going to be rolling some team scorers up in ABC combo's.
That basically means playing them in weighted combinations with more staked on the more likely outcomes, and not all permutations covered.
They're fivefolds, so plenty of scope for a sob story with no escape! Equally, there is scope to hedge if the bet emerges from the group stage in reasonable shape.
This is comprised of the following teams, players and approximate odds (have to place different bets with different books to optimize the available prices):
R1: BRAZIL - A 1 Neymar 5/4, 2 Jesus 5/2, C 3 Paulinho 10/1
R2: POLAND - A 1 Lewandowski 8/13, C 2 Milik 7/1
R3: CROATIA - A 1 Mandzukic 11/4, 2 Perisic 4/1
R4: PORTUGAL - A Ronaldo 8/13, B Andre Silva 5/1
R5: FRANCE - A Griezmann 6/4, B Mbappe 5/1, C Giroud 5/1, Dembele 14/1, Pogba 14/1
The worst case return is the £10 acca on ticket 1, which would come to around £585 (£135 staked). There are plenty of outcomes where the return is north of £1,500 and, importantly, there will be loads to cheer throughout the group stage and beyond.
Obviously, you could do this for smaller stakes - example £13.50 would give you £1 acca's on ticket 1, 50p acca's on tickets 2 and 3, and 25p acca's on tickets 4-7. Still plenty of interest, and still a chance of a return between £60 and £200.
As you can see, I'm getting stuck into the World Cup, with my wagering focused on a few mildly contrarian opinions. If I'm wrong, I'll do most, or all, of it in; but if I am right about any of those opinions it should at least cover what will end up being a fairly significant outlay.
Here's to a belting tournament...
p.s. what are your best bets for World Cup 2018, and why? Leave a comment and share all.