September 1 – With three months to go the betting markets are becoming increasingly busy with bookmakers and punters looking for early positions, Brazil still top the list of most bookies’ favourites but other markets are opening up for Golden Boot, Ball and surprise packages.
Favourites to win
Heading up the World Cup winner odds are Brazil, who has the most wins overall in World Cup history with five, but last won it in 2002. The current Seleccao is certainly stronger than seen at the the last few World Cups, but is largely untested against European opposition.
Of the European sides, history is against holders France, as no side has ever won the competition twice in a row. They’re still a very strong contender, though.
England has the capability, having reached the semi-finals last time and narrowly missed out on becoming European champions. Bubbling under these three, either Spain or Germany would be surprise winners, but not that surprising, while Belgium or Portugal could win in a pinch, but probably won’t.
The Golden Ball
Awarded to the best player in the competition, this award went to Croatia’s Luka Modric last time out, and in five of the last six tournaments it has gone to a player from the runner-up in the final.
It doesn’t need to be an attacking player, but it usually is – the lone recent anomaly being German goalkeeper Oli Kahn in 2002. One thing that we can say is that it will probably end up with a player whose side reaches the final or goes close.
This likely rules out Cristiano Ronaldo or Kevin de Bruyne, but it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see a name like Jude Bellingham of England, or France’s Karim Benzema on the list.
The Golden Boot
While the Golden Ball is awarded to the best player, the Boot goes to the tournament’s top scorer – so there is no argument over whether the winner is deserving.
History shows that the winner of this award usually gets most of their goals in the early games while weaker sides are still in the competition. Last time out, Harry Kane was the winner, and he scored just once in the knockout stages. This award, then, could go to a player who isn’t involved in the tournament much beyond the last 16.
A player who takes penalties for his side will be a solid bet, which means Kane is a decent contender, as are Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo. Also, look out for players who tend to score goals in patches; if Romelu Lukaku scores once in a game, he often gets another.
While some sportsbooks will have odds on teams reaching a certain point in the competition, you can’t always rely on that – so if you want to back a team to outperform expectations, the best place to look is at markets for teams to qualify from a certain group.
Generally, the groups have two likely qualifiers each, and the other teams will need to spring a surprise to knock them out. Among the interesting teams in this respect are Canada, who face Belgium and Croatia and are expected to finish behind both.
These two sides, though, are perhaps reaching the end of their golden years and may be due an underperformance. Ghana may also surprise a few people by edging out either Portugal or Uruguay.
One thing is for sure: with this World Cup falling in the middle of the European football season, is something of a novelty and may see more than the usual few surprises overall.
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