Matchday 1 & 2 - Best Bets
June 13, 2018
By Toby Maxtone-Smith
World Cup: Matchday 1 and 2 Betting Preview
Group A & B Best Bets
Thursday, June 14
Russia vs. Saudi Arabia (FOX, 11:00 a.m. ET)
The first match of the 2018 World Cup is one of the weakest opening games ever seen at the tournament, as underwhelming hosts Russia meet Saudi Arabia, one of the lowest rated teams in the tournament.
Bookmakers are not expecting a classic, with under 2.5 goals extremely short at 4/9.
Russia’s preparation for the tournament has been horrendous with numerous injuries to key players. There will be huge pressure on them to kick off with a victory.
They are a short price at 4/9 with Saudi Arabia 9/1. However, even though Russia are likely to get the job done in the end, the draw at 10/3 looks the most appealing in the betting. Saudi Arabia were impressive against Italy and Germany, only losing 2-1 in both. They were particularly good against Germany, and it is now harder to justify the idea that they are the worst team in the tournament. They looked organised and an uninspiring Russian attack could struggle to break them down
This could be a laboured affair. Russia should come through it, but at the prices I can’t back them.
Top bet: Draw at 10/3
Prediction: Russia 1-0 Saudi Arabia
Friday, June 15
Egypt vs. Uruguay (FS1, 8;00 a.m. ET)
Uruguay look one of the most underrated teams at this tournament and should get off to a good start against Egypt in Yekaterinburg.
Egypt looked opposable even with Mohamed Salah in the team. They are hugely reliant on him and their defence, which is very solid in Africa, has yet to be properly tested against the best teams in the world.
His injury was expected to last for three to four weeks, which would put him out of this match. Egypt may surrender the group top spot to Uruguay and look to get the better of Russia and Saudi Arabia with him back in the side.
Uruguay have kept five clean sheets in their last seven matches. They have a fearsome centre-back duo of Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin of Atletico Madrid and in Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez they should have enough to breach Egypt’s backline.
At a shade of odds against, Uruguay are great value to win an easy section, and Oscar Tabárez’s men can make the perfect start here.
Top bet: Uruguay to win to nil at 5/4
Prediction: Uruguay 2-0 Egypt
Morocco vs. Iran (FOX, 11:00 a.m. ET)
There are good arguments to be made that Morocco are the best African team at the World Cup and that Iran are the best Asian team. So it is unfortunate that they have drawn two European heavyweights, despite Spain’s shock decision to sack their manager on the eve of the tournament.
Morocco are 13/10 with Iran 29/10 and a draw fairly short at 2/1.
Both sides realistically need to win this match to have any chance of getting through the group. But do not expect a thriller. Iran are very defensively disciplined under Carlos Queiroz. Even though, on paper, this is their easiest match, do not expect them to suddenly open up.
I do not want to be against Iran here. Morocco are a talented team with a strong backline, but they lack a reliable goalscorer at the top level. This is their first World Cup since 1998, and nerves will be jangling.
It would not be a surprise for Morocco or Iran to pinch a point or two off Spain or Portugal. But a draw here is likely to mean that the two big European sides do not have to sweat over qualification that much.
Top bet: Draw at 2/1
Prediction: Morocco 0-0 Iran
Portugal vs. Spain (FOX, 2:00 p.m. ET)
Three days ago, Spain were a shade of odds-on to win this game, which seemed like good value. But that was then.
On Wednesday Spain, who looked the best value to win the tournament, had their chances thrown up in the air as they sensationally sacked their manager, Julen Lopategui, for going behind the Spanish FA’s back to take the Real Madrid job. Fernando Hierro, his assistant, will take over.
And so Spain are now 11/10, which I am still happy to back. Portugal are 16/5 with a draw priced at 11/5.
If Spain were completely thrown, the worst kind of team to be facing would be a team like Germany, who would ruthlessly press the nervous, unsettled Spaniards and punish them. However Portugal are still very likely to sit back and play defensively here, meaning Spain could get rid of their jitters just by settling into their usual rhythm of relentless passing.
All the good things about Spain still apply. They have the best defence in the competition. They are the best passers and they have huge experience of winning things, both with their club and with their country.
Top bet: Spain at 11/10
Prediction: Portugal 1-3 Spain at 18/1
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