WC Group Best Bets (E-H)
June 8, 2018
By Toby Maxtone-Smith
World Cup 2018 - Group Preview (E-H)
Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Costa Rica
Similar to Group C, this section is one with a clear favourite, a clear outsider and two teams that seem almost impossible to separate. Brazil will be reasonably happy with the draw. They look to have most of the tools to go very far in Russia, and they have recently been nudged into favouritism by punters.
The only big doubt is the mentality of a team that has failed to live up to expectations at recent tournaments. But they should win this group. Serbia are very interesting. They qualified impressively, averagin two goals a game, but promptly sacked their manager for not doing enough to bring young players through.
The appointment of Mladen Krstajic will benefit the gifted Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who will play as the number 10 in a 4-2-3-1. The defence is good and is well-guarded by Nemanja Matic and Luka Milivojevic.
Serbia often crumble thanks to divisions in the team. But the draw has been kind to them. Win their first game against Costa Rica and they will be confident of qualification, which they look good value to achieve.
Switzerland should never be underestimed. They work very well as a unit and have good full-backs in Stephan Lichtsteiner and Ricardo Rodriguez. Moving up the pitch Xherdan Shaqiri has huge talent, but Haris Seferovic is hardly prolific in front of goal. They will be pragmatic and compact. Costa Rica were the big shock in 2014. They bring a similar group of players to Russia, but they are all four years older. The defence looks cumbersome, and the wing-backs have gone backwards. Do not expect them to repeat their heroics.
Serbia to qualify at 6/5
Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea
Very similar to Group E.
Germany always win their group, and they look a class above their three opponents here. It may well be worth betting on them to score a few as well. They have reached double figures for goals in all of the last four World Cups, and are likely to play with familiar freedom in this section. Do not expect any complacency from Joachim Löw’s men.
For Mexico, the big problem has always been getting to the “fifth game” - they have been knocked out in the last 16 in each of the last five World Cups. There is lots of pressure on manager Juan Carlos Osorio, who is disliked in Mexico despite a decent record.
Attack is their strength, with Carlos Vela in great form alongside Javier Hernandez. The midfield three is technically gifted, but they lack an ideal holding midfielder.
The big question here is whether they are better than Sweden.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not return for this World Cup, and that could be a blessing. Their reliance on him was a key reason for their poor performances in France in 2016. The flip side is that, without Zlatan, this is a limited team. They will play a classic 4-4-2 and will need to keep it tight at the back. They absolutely need to beat South Korea first up.
This year’s South Korea team looks to be their weakest since they made their World Cup bow in 2002. The defence is error-prone, not physical and dodgy on set-pieces. There is no obvous choice in goal.
There is no real goalscorer up front, so South Korea will need huge performances from Son Heung-Min to qualify.
Best Bet: Germany to win all three games at 11/4
England, Belgium, Tunisia, Panama
This group is the most boring at the World Cup. Belgium and England are far better than Tunisia and Panama, and the game order does not help, with Belgium playing England last.
Belgium are rightfully narrow favourites to win this group. They will probably set up in a 3-4-3, with Romelu Lukaku leading the line. Although there remain questions over Lukaku’s displays in the biggest matches, he could be lethal against limited, deep defences in Tunisia and Panama. The problems are likely to come later for Roberto Martinez’s men.
England are reasonably similar to Belgium. They have question marks at centre-back and in the centre of midfield, and while they do not possess players as good as Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne, they will look to get the best out of a talented forward line.
Preparation has been good, and England look more fluid than before. Even with their poor recent tourament record, it would be a surprise if they did not claim maximum points against the group’s two weak teams.
Tunisia look quite dull, basically. They are very unfortunate in that Youssef Msakni, their most talented player, is injured for the tournament. Unlike some other North African nations, Tunisia’s team is not largely made up of the diaspora, making them a tight unit. They will aim for 0-0s against England and Belgium and then open up against Panama.
Panama are delighted to be there and look the weakest team in Russia. They are, to be blunt, too old and too slow. Four of their expected starters are over 35. A similar approach to Tunisia is likely
They were probably better four years ago, but there is a desperate lack of quality in this team.
Panama to finish bottom (4th) at 4/6
Poland, Colombia, Senegal, Japan
From the least interesting group to arguably the closest. Many pundits are struggling to split these four teams, but it may be less close than it first appears.
There is a lot to like about Poland. They were superb in qualifying, winning eight of their ten games, although the 4-0 defeat to Denmark is a cause for concern.
Robert Lewandowski is one of the best strikers at the tournament. Napoli pair Arkadiusz Milik and Piotr Zielinksi can help out with scoring goals. Szczesny is a good keeper and the backline is solid.
The problem is that they may have peaked a bit early. Lewandowski has endured a miserable run of form, while the right-sided pair of Piszczek and Blaszczykowski are not what they used to be.
There are more concerns around Colombia. They were muddled and uninspiring in qualification and look to have gone backwards since 2014. Their big strength is James Rodriguez, but he may be limited in a 4-4-2 formation. Davinson Sanchez and Yerey Mina are good, mobile defenders. They should qualify, but they still flatter to deceive.
Senegal have a lot of pedigree in their team. Sadio Mané is the star. Kalidou Koulibaly is a fantastic centre-back and the rest of their side has good top-level experience.
However a midfield three of Cheikhou Koyaté, Badou Ndiaye and Idrissa Gueye is unbalanced. They are all destroyers and have little creativity. They may well end up being disjointed.
In general, Senegal look overrated.
Japan are rightfully outsiders. They were inconvincing in qualifying and their best players, Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda, are both getting on in years. They will pass it around neatly, but as always the problem is creating clear-cut chances. They have never really had a prolific goalscorer:
Poland-Colombia straight forecast (1st, 2nd) at 9/2
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