Group A & B Matchday One Previews : The World Cup kicks off!
Event Venue: Russia, N/A. BBC & ITV.See Stats
The World Cup is finally here! Hosts Russia will open up the competition in traditional fashion against Saudi Arabia on June 14th and while that might seem like an underwhelming matchup, sparks are sure to fly as the grandest stage in football ignites. Over the first couple of days, both Group A and B will get out the blocks and this is our betting guide for the openers that are often so tough to navigate (see France v Senegal in 2002).
Russia V Saudi Arabia
Not many people are clamouring for Saudi Arabia here, right? Only three of their players - who happen to play in La Liga - ply their trade outside of Saudi Arabia, but they did finish second in their qualification group ahead of Australia. However, they have lost their last three games - albeit against Germany, Italy and Peru, the 1st, 19th and 11th best nations in the world - and enter the tournament low on confidence. Mohammad Al-Sahlawi has proven himself to be a goal machine domestically and with 28 goals in 40 international appearances but with five losses in their last seven and only scoring six goals as a team in that time, they aren't in the best spot.
Russia on the other hand, they have home soil advantage and this is their best chance at three points on Group A. This isn't Russia's strongest squad in recent years - and they haven't won in three games either - but with Aleksandr Golovkin and Denis Cheryshev in their ranks, Russia can get the three points. Russia didn't have to qualify for the tournament so it's hard to truly track their progression over the past two years since a very disappointing Euro 2016, but they have lost their last four games including against France and Brazil.
Russia is 4/9 with Coral to win (18+ t&c's apply)
Egypt V Uruguay
When Mohamed Salah went down with a shoulder injury in the Champions League final, the nation of Egypt collectively held their breaths. While the Liverpool star is indeed heading to the World Cup, his fitness is still in question and there is no guarantee he will make the first game. Meanwhile, Uruguay have Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani as their firepower and a strong spine that is fancied to make the latter stages of this competition. Uruguay also have Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez at the heart of their defence and the Atletico Madrid pair form a fantastic base for the stubborn South Americans.
There's no doubt that Uruguay have a deeper talent pool than Egypt and without Mo Salah, or a 100% fit Mo Salah, the African representatives aren't likely to have enough to trouble Diego Godin and co. Other Premier League stars like Arsenal's Mohamed Elneny, Stoke's Ramadan Sobhi and West Brom's Ahmed Hegazi add some substance to the Egyptian side that the common fan might not consider, but outside of Salah's 33 international goals, the rest of the squad only has 31 international goals combined.
Get odds of 6/5 for Uruguay to win to nil with William Hill (18+ t&c's apply)
Morocco V Iran
When Portugal and Spain are in your group, getting points elsewhere becomes absolutely vital and this is sure to be an open game between two sides with low expectations, but nothing to lose. Mbark Boussoufa is one of the creative forces for Morocco, but Medhi Benatia is probably their most renowned and celebrated player. The Juventus defender will be busy with the determined Iranians and the slippery Reza Ghoochannejhad and this is sure to be an attack-minded encounter with both sides desperate to take advantage of their best opportunity for points.
While the game really could go either way, betting on both teams to score is a smart way to go. Iran are traditionally low scorers, though, so Morocco might sneak it if you want to take a bit of a risk. It's worth noting that Morocco have not lost in 18 games now and they did win the African Cup of Nations last year by defeating Nigeria 4-0 in the final and advancing past Egypt and the Ivory Coast on the way, among others. They are a solid, settled side that knows each other very well and that organisation can make a huge difference. They'll fancy themselves to push Portugal to second.
Get odds of 13/10 with Ladbrokes for both teams to score (18+ t&c's apply)
Spain V Portugal
This is the game of the group stages and it's happening very early in the tournament. European champions Portugal, equipped with Cristiano Ronaldo, will take on one of the tournament favourites in Spain in a battle to see who will top Group B. Spain aren't quite the force that dominated the world for six years last decade, but they still have enormous quality and several world-class players in their ranks. There is significant pressure on Diego Costa to finish the sure-to-be high volume of chances they'll create.
For Portugal, they know who they are and with Ronaldo at the head of the side, they have a reliable game-changer. The likes of Gelson Martins, William Carvalho, Andre Silva, Bernardo Silva and Goncalo Guedes are the kind of supporting cast Ronaldo has been crying out for. However, Portugal's defence is aging and when it comes down to it, Spain will have the cutting edge to go with the possession. At the last World Cup, Diego Costa failed to perform in front of goal and as a result, all of Spain's good possession appeared to go to waste. This time around, mercurial talents like Marco Asensio, Isco and Saul Niguez playing regular minutes in the side Spain have new dimensions and individual game-winners. They might rue not taking Alvaro Morata with Iago Aspas and Rodrigo the only backup for Atletico man Costa, but their ability to control Portugal will settle the score in this one.
Ladbrokes have Spain at 5/6 to win (18+ t&c's apply)
- Morocco have not lost in 18 gaes stretching back to 12 months ago
- Morocco won the African Cup of Nations last year
- Portugal won the European Championships in 2016 meaning two continental champions will play
- Portugal are actually the fourth best side in the world and Spain are 10th, according to the FIFA rankings
- Mohamed Salah has scored 33 goals for Eygpt, but his fitness is still questionable for the World Cup after a shoulder injury
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