FIFA World Cup 2018 best bets

    We’ve analysed the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia and nominated our best bets for the tournament including outright winner, top goalscorer plus highest scoring team.
  • Tuesday 12 June 2018
  • Tipsters

Welcome to part two of our World Cup 2018 Guide, offering a lowdown to all the best bets over the coming month – from top goalscorer to naming the finalists. But, let’s start with the most popular market and one currently on everyone’s lips: who will win the World Cup?

WINNER

While there is no Italy or Holland on parade in Russia, there is the welcome return of some old favourites such as Poland and Peru, adding substance to a strong tournament that will take some winning. The ability to possess both mental strength and stamina are as important as skill and talent, which is why the same names pop up every four years, including Germany in 2014.           

Previous World Cup Winners’ Profiles (since 1970)

Yr     Winner     Seed     Group Qualification     Warm-ups     Last WC     Best WC
14     Germany     2     Winners:W9 D1 L0 GD+26     W3 D3 L0     Semi’s     Winners
10     Spain     2     Winners:W10 D0 L0 GD+23     W6 D0 L0     Last 16     Semi’s
06     Italy     7     Winners:W7 D2 L1 GD+9     W2 D3 L0     Last 16     Winners
02     Brazil     1     Third:W9 D3 L6 GD+14     W5 D1 L0     R/U     Winners
98     France     Host     Host     W3 D3 L1     DNQ     Semi’s
94     Brazil     3     Winners:W5 D2 L1 GD+16     W3 D1 L1     Last 16     Winners
90     Germany     4     Second:W3 D3 L0 GD+10     W2 D0 L0     R/U     Winners
86     Argentina     9     Winners:W4 D1 L1 GD+6     W1 D2 L2     Last 16     Winners
82     Italy     5     Second:W5 D2 L1 GD+7     W8 D2 L1     Semi’s     Winners
78     Argentina     Host     Host     W4 D0 L1     Last 8     R/U
74     Germany     Host     Host     W3 D1 L1     Semi’s     Winners
70     Brazil     N/A     Winners:W6 D0 L0 GD+21     W5 D1 L0     Last 16     Winners

A glance at the above informs us that there aren’t many shock winners, with each of the last 12 World Cup winners either ranked in the top nine seeds, or hosts – for the record, France would have been seeded 8 in 1998, and Brazil roughly seeded 3 1970; there were no seedings for Argentina in 1978.

It’s also worth crunching some numbers when looking at the form of each country arriving in Russia, so here is quick recap of how the form ratings used in part 1 of the team-by-team guide were constructed:

The points awarded to each team are allocated as follows:

2pts for beating a Top 20 ranked country
1pt for drawing with a Top 20 country
1pt for beating a non-Top 20 country
0pts for drawing with a non-Top 20 country
-1pt for losing to a Top 20 ranked country
-2pts for losing to a non-Top 20 country

Form Ratings – (2016 until 11 June 2018)

Country     Top 20 results     Rating     Non-Top 20 results     Rating     Overall
Brazil     W8 D3 L2     +17     W11 D3 L0     +11     +28
Mexico     W3 D3 L5     +4     W26 D7 L2     +22     +26
Germany     W3 D6 L1     +11     W14 D0 L1     +12     +23
Spain     W4 D5 L0     +13     W10 D1 L0     +10     +23
Peru     W3 D4 L3     +7     W15 D4 L0     +15     +22
Argentina     W7 D4 L2     +16     W10 D2 L3     +4     +20
Portugal     W1 D5 L2     +5     W15 D1 L1     +13     +18
Belgium     W0 D3 L1     +2     W14 D2 L0     +14     +16
France     W5 D1 L2     +9     W9 D4 L1     +7     +16
Switzerland     W1 D1 L1     +2     W13 D1 L0     +13     +15
England     W1 D4 L2     +4     W10 D2 L0     +10     +14
Senegal     W0 D0 L1     -1     W19 D10 L2     +15     +14
Iran     W0 D0 L0     0     W18 D5 L3     +12     +12
Denmark     W2 D2 L1     +5     W10 D6 L2     +6     +11
Colombia     W1 D6 L4     +4     W12 D2 L3     +6     +10
Morocco     W0 D0 L1     -1     W19 D6 L4     +11     +10
Sweden     W3 D4 L4     +6     W7 D1 L2     +3     +9
Poland     W2 D1 L2     +3     W7 D2 L1     +5     +8
Croatia     W2 D1 L2     +3     W9 D4 L3     +3     +6
Egypt     W0 D1 L2     -1     W15 D6 L5     +5     +4
Australia     W0 D2 L3     -1     W11 D8 L3     +5     +4
Uruguay     W1 D3 L6     -1     W10 D2 L3     +4     +3
Nigeria     W2 D0 L1     +3     W11 D6 L6     -1     +2
Serbia     W0 D0 L2     -2     W12 D6 L4     +4     +2
Tunisia     W0 D1 L1     0     W14 D6 L6     +2     +2
Iceland     W1 D0 L5     -3     W10 D2 L3     +4     +1
Costa Rica     W0 D1 L5     -4     W17 D9 L6     +5     +1
South Korea     W1 D0 L1     +1     W6 D4 L5     -4     -3
Japan     W0 D0 L2     -2     W7 D5 L5     -3     -5
Saudi Arabia     W0 D0 L5     -5     W14 D7 L7     0     -5
Panama     W0 D1 L7     -6     W15 D10 L8     -1     -7
Russia     W0 D4 L6     -2     W6 D4 L6     -6     -8

The above table highlights which teams boast the best form, especially when playing against the better countries.

Ideally, a team should have a nice balance of competing with the main nations (Top 20 ranked), along with taking care of the smaller countries (Non-top 20 ranked) – some teams have a habit of taking their foot off the gas against lesser sides and slipping up. For instance, France have solid ratings against both Top 20 (+9) and non-top 20 teams (+7). Then there are countries like Iran, who have an overall +12 rating, earned via beating lesser sides, yet they haven’t played a Top 20 side for the last three years (0 rating).

As for the teams near the top of the table, then they seem to reflect the bookies’ prices, with both Brazil, Germany and Spain among the top four. There a few teams who do standout as offering some value, including both Mexico and Peru. While neither may win the tournament, they could be underestimated in other markets such as group and match betting.

As for trends that linked past winners, then the following criteria is also relevant…

Of the last 12 World Cup winners since 1970…

12 avoided the playoffs
12 reached a World Cup semi-final or final
12 were not the current World Cup champions
11 were seeded nine or higher – or were hosts
11 made the last 16 of the previous World Cup
11 lost a maximum of just one warm-up match
8 of the 8 who qualified had a GD of +6 or higher
7 of the 8 who qualified finished first or second in the group

So, what does all of the above tell us? Well, should the trends prove accurate once more, then the winner may emerge form the following shortlist consisting teams that possess most of the criteria: Belgium, Brazil, France, Poland, Portugal and Spain.

From the above short-list, Brazil get the chop first, on the basis that they tend to save their best for outside of Europe, which coupled with their favourite status is enough to look elsewhere – their last World Cup win in Europe was back in 1958.

Poland are next to go, as they lost more than one of their warm-up games, while both Portugal and Spain failed to get out of the group stages at the 2014 World Cup. That leaves Belgium and France.

First up, France, who come with a tag of throwing in the odd stinker, which has seen them dumped out of tournaments. Bar that trait, France hold solid prospects, displaying an upward curve of progression in recent years that saw them make the 2014 quarter-finals, before reaching the Euro 2016 final. The team seems to have matured and are peaking at the right time, with stars like N’Golo Kante, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann all enjoying strong seasons.

A kind opener against Australia could be the perfect launchpad for Les Bleus launch a big challenge, and their odds of 13-2, which could be much shorter after the group stages, look worth taking.

Belgium are less convincing, only in terms of raw experience at the latter end of a tournament, but they remain an improving nation who could click at some point. Their wealth of Premier League talent is there for all to see – Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku to name just two – and odds of 11-1 to lift the trophy could again be a lot shorter by the time they face England in their group’s final game.

While Portugal failed to make at least the last 16 during the previous World Cup, it could be worth forgiving that statistic. It’s strange to think that England, who haven’t won a major tournament since 1966 are 16-1, yet an in-from Portugal side who won the European Championship and boast the world’s best player are 25-1. There almost seems an element of “Portugal may have won the Euros, but they can’t do it again” in those odds, and even if they don’t triumph in Russia, 25-1 is still an insult to their chance.

TOP GOALSCORER

One of the other popular markets is the “Top Goalscorer”, where superstars Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez, Harry Kane and Neymar will be amongst those shooting it out.

The last five World Cups suggests five or more goals scored in the tournament usually ensures an each-way payout (1/4 odds), though in terms of trends, there aren’t many, not even the leading goalscorers in qualification provided much of a clue in past tournaments – for the record, Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad Al-Sahlawi and United Arab Emirates’ Ahmed Khalil each scored 16 goals in qualification.

A glance back at some of the past winners of this award show some names such as James Rodríguez, Diego Forlán, Wesley Sneijder, Davor Šuker, Oleg Salenko and Hristo Stoichkov since 1994 – none of whom were obvious to pick pre-tournament. If there is one common theme amongst past top goalscorers, then it is that each of the 17 names since 1966 played at least five games – in other words they reached the quarter-finals.

Heading the bookies’ lists is Argentina’s Lionel Messi (9-1), who netted four goals in 2014, one goal behind Thomas Muller, who is 33-1 this time around, while the winner from four years ago, James Rodriguez, is a 66-1 shot to repeat the feat. As for Messi’s old foe, Ronaldo (one goal in 2014), then he remains a 16-1 chance, with Neymar (four goals in 2014) on 11-1, and Antoine Griezmann 12-1.

Elsewhere, England’s big hope, Harry Kane, is 16-1 to win this award for his country for the first time since Gary Lineker in 1986, while Poland last provided the top goalscorer in 1974, and have Robert Lewandowski flying the flag for them in Russia.

With such an open market and not many clues, it might pay to look at a reverse way into the equation by looking at which countries might get more chances to score, in other words finding out the opposition teams with the leakiest defences. Therefore, a look back at how many goals each country has conceded during their last 10 games shows the following breakdown:

Goals conceded during last 10 games

Group A     Goals conceded     Average per game
Russia     18     1.80
Saudi Arabia     18     1.80
Egypt     9     0.90
Uruguay     8     0.80


Group ave: 1.32
Group B

Iran     6     0.60
Morocco     4     0.40
Portugal     7     0.70
Spain     6     0.60


Group ave: 0.57
Group C

Australia     10     1.00
Denmark     3     0.30
France     9     0.90
Peru     3     0.30


Group ave: 0.62
Group D

Argentina     12     1.20
Croatia     8     0.80
Iceland     16     1.60
Nigeria     14     1.40


Group ave: 1.25
Group E

Brazil     2     0.20
Costa Rica     15     1.40
Serbia     8     0.80
Switzerland     5     0.50


Group ave: 0.72
Group F

Germany     10     1.0
Mexico     5     0.50
South Korea     13     1.30
Sweden     8     0.80


Group ave: 0.90
Group G

Belgium 8 0.80
England 3 0.30
Panama 12 1.20
Tunisia 11 1.10


Group ave: 0.85
Group H

Colombia 8 0.80
Japan 16 1.60
Poland 13 1.30
Senegal 4 0.40


Group ave: 1.02

The above table shows which groups may possibly see the most goal action should some of those defences carry on leaking goals at the back – Group A and Group D both standout. The former has both Russia and Saudi Arabia, who could be vulnerable to the likes of Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, who is 25-1 to finish top scorer in the tournament, and Egypt’s, Mohammed Salah, a 50-1 shot. A similar story can said about Group D, where both Iceland and Nigeria have been conceding regularly, a weakness that could see either Argentina’s Lionel Messi (10-1) or Croatia’s Andrej Kramaric (150-1) get among the goals from an early stage of the competition.

GROUP BETS

The above info involving which defences could be the weakest or strongest also throws up an interesting contender for the Lowest Scoring Group, as Group C looks set to be very tight with Denmark, France and Peru all tight at the back, yet this group is priced at 13-2 to produce the least goals. A similar case can be made for Group B, which is at 11-2.

As for which countries might win or qualify from their groups, then it’s worth thinking outside the box in looking for some big prices, as there have been plenty of shocks in recent times. For instance, when Costa Rica topped a group featuring Italy, England and Uruguay in 2014, while at the same tournament Spain failed to qualify in third place behind Holland and Chile, with Portugal knocked out of group behind Germany and USA.

With that in mind, there are some interesting groups that could throw up some juicy odds, including in Group A where Russia might struggle to qualify. The bookies have them as second favourites to win the group at 2-1 behind Uruguay (10-11), but the hosts have a leaky defence and could be found out by Egypt, suggesting odds of 12-5 about Russia not qualifying look big.

In Group B, it would be a shock if Spain (1-2 to win group) or Portugal (2-1) didn’t finish in front of Morocco (16-1) and Iran (33-1), where some tight low scoring matches could offer value.

The same can be said of Group C, where France are 4-9 favourites to win the group, with Denmark 5-1, Peru 11-1 and Australia 22-1. Several tight defences may see some slow-burners – the opener between Denmark and Peru is 13-10 for 2.5 goal or fewer.

Group D meanwhile, sees Argentina as the 8-11 favourites to finish top of the table, with Croatia 23-10, Nigeria 10-1 and Iceland 14-1. However, this looks tighter than the odds suggest, with Croatia possibly the pick of the prices to win the group.

If there is a group that may go to the formbook then it’s Group E, where Brazil are 4-11 to emerge on top, with Switzerland 15-2, Serbia 8-1 and Costa Rica 22-1. Brazil and Switzerland to finish 1-2 in a straight forecast is 9-4.

It could be a similar story in Group F where Germany are 4-9 to finish group winners, with Mexico on 13-2, Sweden 8-1 and Korea 22-1. Remembering the form ratings from earlier, Germany and Mexico have +23 and +27 respectively, some way ahead of Sweden and Korea on +8 and -1. Germany to chin Mexico for top spot in a straight forecast is 9-4.

Things are a lot tighter in Group G with Belgium and England fighting it out for top honours at 5-6 and 11-8 respectively, where Panama have the second-worst form rating (-7), and are 4-6 to finish bottom.

Finally, Group H where Colombia are installed as the bookies’ 13-8 favourites to top the group ahead of Poland on 11-5, with Senegal 11-2 and Japan 8-1. There isn’t much between Colombia and Poland (+10 & +8 form ratings respectively), suggesting that Poland, in their home continent, look the better price at 11-5 to finish top.

NAME THE FINALISTS

In the ‘Name The Finalists’ market, there will be plenty of fans who would love to see Germany and Brazil in a rematch from the 2014 semi-final – an outcome the bookies’ make their 14-1 favourite, and a repeat of the 2002 final in Japan.

There is a fair chance one of those countries will appear in the final on July 15, as 17 of the 20 finals featured Brazil, Germany or Italy. The Italians won’t be present in Russia, which could let another country take their place – possibly a first-ever Germany v France final priced at 16-1. Germany also contested last summer’s Confederation Cup final when beating Chile and while the latter won’t be returning to Russia having not qualified, a fourth Germany and Argentina final is surprisingly marked as big as 40-1.

Meanwhile, with two of the last three finals being all-European affairs, and the fact the 2018 edition will also be in Europe, there may be interest in first-ever finals between Germany and France 16-1, France and Spain 20-1 and Germany v Spain 28-1. As for England, then the bookies make a second Germany v England final a 40-1 chance – Belgium v Germany is 25-1.

HIGHEST/LOWEST SCORING TEAM

If goals are your thing, then plenty of bookies have priced up a market for which team will score the most goals throughout the World Cup, and bossing matters in recent years have been the Germans.

Highest Scoring Teams

2014 Germany – 18 goals
2010 Germany – 16 goals
2006 Germany – 14 goals
2002 Brazil – 18 goals
1998 France – 15 goals
1994 Sweden – 15 goals
1990 Germany – 15 goals

Germany’s terrific record in racking up the goals hasn’t gone unnoticed by the layers, who make them 5-1 second favourites behind Brazil (9-2) to land the accolade for a fourth consecutive occasion. The requirement for a team to go deep in the competition needs taking into account, while the earlier analysis of which teams could face some of the weaker defences in the group stages is another factor.

Of the teams who could get the ball rolling early, then Argentina (10-1) could be among them, as they are capable of going on the rampage against both Iceland and Nigeria, as could Croatia (80-1) in the same group. Uruguay (28-1) are also contenders to get plenty of target practice in Group A where both Saudi Arabia and Russia are suspect at the back.

Lowest Scoring Teams

2014 Cameroon, Honduras, Iran – 1 goal
2010 Algeria, Honduras – 0 goals
2006 Trinidad & Tobago – 0 goals
2002 China, France & Saudi Arabia – 0 goals
1998 Bulgaria, Japan, Tunisia, USA – 1 goal
1994 Greece – 0 goals
1990 Egypt, South Korea – 1 goal

As for the lowest scoring sides, then this market seems trickier, with the bookies favouring both Panama and Saudia Arabia at 7-1 apiece. Iran netted just once in the last World Cup and could struggle once more in Group B against Portugal and Spain’s tight rear guard, with Morocco just as solid at the back. At 12-1, Iran look well priced.

GOLDEN BALL (BEST PLAYER)

Past winners of this title during the last 20 years include Argentina’s Lionel Messi (2014), Uruguay’s Diego Forlan (2010), France’s Zinedine Zidane (2006), Germany’s Oliver Kahn (2002), Brazil’s Ronaldo (1998), Brazil’s Romario (1994) and Italy’s Salvatore Schillaci (1990).

The latest recipient of this award, Lionel Messi, is the 9-1 second favourite behind the 8-1 jolly Neymar, with a gap back to Antoine Griezmann at 16-1, Cristiano Ronaldo on 20-1, and then 25-1 shot Gabriel Jesus. England’s Harry Kane is 33-1 in what is a very open market.

With attackers tending to do well in this category, it’s no surprise to see plenty of hitmen among the fancied players to be awarded the Golden Ball next month, and while there are some juicy odds available, it might pay to hold off until the first round of matches to see who’s playing well.

WORLD CUP 2018 ANTE-POST BETS (SCALE 1-5 POINTS):

WINNER OUTRIGHT
3pts FRANCE (7-1 Betway, Unibet, 888sport, 13-2 general)
1pt PORTUGAL (27-1 Unibet, 888sport,25-1 general)

TOP GOALSCORER
1pt LUIS SUAREZ (25-1 general)
1pt MOHAMMED SALAH (80-1 Betfair Sportsbook, 75-1 Paddy Power, 50-1 general)
1pt ANDREJ KRAMARIC (150-1 general)

HIGHEST SCORING TEAM
1pt ARGENTINA (12-1 Betfair Sportsbook, 11-1 Paddy Power, 10-1 general)
1pt URUGUAY (28-1 Coral, Ladbrokes, 25-1 William Hill)
1pt CROATIA (80-1 Coral, Ladbrokes)

LOWEST SCORING TEAM
2pts IRAN (12-1 bet365, Betfair Sportsbook)

LOWEST SCORING GROUP
2pts GROUP B (11-2 Betfair Sportsbook, Paddy Power)
2pts GROUP C (13-2 Betfred, 11-2 Betfair Sportsbook, Paddy Power)

GROUP E STRAIGHT FORECAST
5pts BRAZIL/SWITZERLAND (21-10 Betfair Sportsbook, Paddy Power)

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