Already, Russia 2018 has had more twists and turns than an EastEnders Christmas special. And with the serious business only now getting underway, there are certain to be more to come. Germany’s departure, Brazil’s jitters, England’s unpredictability and Ronaldo’s sheer brilliance have had the pundits and the bookmakers going first one way and then another.
It has also raised the profile of some of the most promising talent in football, and with the transfer window still wide open, the repercussions could be felt long after Russia 2018 is over.
Who’s today’s favourite?
At the outset, most saw it as a two-horse race between Germany and Brazil. But with Germany folding and Brazil looking decidedly shaky in the group matches, Spain took the top spot. Now, it’s all change again, and France have shortened from 7/1 a week ago to 4/1 favourites after winning the best match of the tournament to date against Argentina.
It makes for a thrilling tournament, but if you are looking to back a winner, it presents something of a dilemma. With the huge number of online bookies around, more people than ever are staking a pound or to, to add an edge to the proceedings. With companies even offering Bitcoin sportsbook World Cup betting, the way is clear for fans from across the globe to join in the fun. But is the smart money really on France?
France can rise to any occasion
The Argentina game was one that will be remembered for years to come, and Kylian Mbappe has just become the hottest property in football. Manchester United fans are setting Twitter on fire with demands that Jose Mourinho should sign the 18-year-old forthwith. Rumours suggest that there is an offer of £76 million plus Alex Marshall on the table.
How short people’s memories are, however. It was only days earlier that France were being roundly criticised for their part in what was probably the most boring game of the tournament so far, when they drew 0-0 in the final group match against Denmark. But the point is that in each game, France knew what they had to do, and they did it – nothing more and nothing less.
It seems inconceivable that they will trip up against Uruguay in the quarter-final, and barring any major upsets, that will set up a mouth-watering semi against Brazil. If they can beat Brazil, they can beat anyone, and that could be the match that decides who will win the World Cup.
Brazil and Spain the biggest challengers
Switzerland held them to a draw, and Cost Rica came oh, so close to doing the same thing. Yet the bookmakers have never significantly lengthened the odds on the most successful team in World Cup history. Brazil has a tougher road to the semis than France – Mexico have already proved that they are not afraid of anyone, and Belgium are the ultimate dark horses. Still, they are only marginally behind France as far as the bookies are concerned, and some have them at the same 4/1 odds to win their sixth World Cup, and the first since 2002.
Spain are in what is undeniably the easier half of the draw, and it will be a major shock if they do not make it through to the final. Like Brazil, they had their moments of shakiness in the group stages, and the win against Iran was tighter than anyone could have expected. Nonetheless, it is less a question of whether they make the final than of whom they will be up against. It will almost certainly be either Brazil or France, and bookmakers have them only marginally behind at 9/2.