Chile, the Netherlands, the US, and Italy: all nations we expected to easily qualify for Russia 2018. Alas, it wasn’t to be. It’ll be four long years before they have another shot at the biggest sporting event in the world. With qualification more-or-less over, let’s take a look at what’s to come.
Which nations are the favorites to win? And where are the value bets? Who will be the first to see red and which manager will be next on the chopping block? Let’s preview all that and more as we troll through the latest odds for the 2018 World Cup.
Odds to win the 2018 World Cup
- Germany: 5/1
- Brazil: 5/1
- France: 11/2
- Spain: 7/1
- Argentina: 8/1
- Belgium: 12/1
- England: 16/1
- Portugal: 20/1
- Croatia: 25/1
- Russia: 40/1
- Uruguay: 40/1
- Colombia: 50/1
- Mexico: 80/1
- Poland: 50/1
- Sweden: 80/1
- Switzerland: 100/1
- Denmark: 100/1
- Japan: 150/1
- Australia: 200/1
- Iceland: 200/1
Value pick: France (11/2)
There’s no denying how strong Germany has been in recent years. The retirement of Philipp Lahm, Per Mertesacker and Miroslav Klose following their 2014 World Cup win was a minor setback for them, but the Germans have bounced back and easily claimed the Confederations Cup this year. With a healthy mix of experienced veterans and fresh blood, they are understandably the favorites heading into Russia.
However, there’s something about France’s out-with-the old, in-with-the-new approach that instills hope. The current French national team is lined with some of the most promising players of tomorrow. Les Bleus have likes of Raphaël Varane (24), Samuel Umtiti (24), and Benjamin Mendy (23) on defense; N’Golo Kanté (26) and Paul Pogba (24) in midfield; and Ousmane Dembélé (20) and Kylian Mbappé (18) up front.
What the squad lacks in experience, it makes up for in raw talent, and the youngsters still have eight months to gel. French football is on the cusp of another golden age and there is a good chance it will begin next year in Russia. Their rising stars are already packing the biggest clubs in Europe, so they’re well-equipped to handle the pressure of the World Cup.
Dark horse pick: Croatia (25/1)
Croatian football isn’t at its best right now and that’s reflected in the odds. A drawn-out corruption scandal has dragged captain Luka Modrić through the mud and has left the Croatian Football Federation in a state of disarray. Despite all the messy politics and dirty dealings, there’s reason to be hopeful for the Croatians.
Modrić and Ivan Rakitić, the creative engines behind Real Madrid and Barcelona, respectively, are two of the most intelligent players in the world right now. The national team is still trying to figure out how to structure the lineup around the play-making maestros, but with a little more tinkering, they should have a solid finished product.
Then there’s Mario Mandžukić, who remains one of the most underrated strikers in the world. This season, he’s been overshadowed by Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuaín at Juventus, but he’s still a huge attacking threat and Croatia, as a team, will be a huge threat with Rakitić and Modrić feeding him up front.
Long odds pick: Iceland (200/1)
After reaching the quarterfinals of the Euro last year, Iceland continued their jaw-dropping run by qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in history. The tiny island of 334,000 people has produced players like Everton’s Gylfi Sigurðsson and Cardiff’s Aron Gunnarsson, and has landed wins against heavyweights like Croatia and England in recent years.
Iceland winning the World Cup would be an unprecedented upset, so we obviously don’t want to pin too much on this one. But at 200/1 odds, it’s worth a sprinkle.
Most likely finals matchups
- Germany vs Brazil: 15/1
- Germany vs France: 20/1
- Brazil vs France: 25/1
- Germany vs Spain: 25/1
- Brazil vs Spain: 30/1
- Germany vs Argentina: 35/1
No surprises here. Germany, Brazil, France, Spain, and Argentina are the favorites for Russia 2018 and there’s a sizable drop-off after that. Belgium, England, and Portugal follow but those nations have been disappointing in recent World Cups.
Odds to be dismissed for violent conduct
- Neymar (Brazil): 35/1
- Luis Suárez (Uruguay): 40/1
- Diego Costa (Spain): 40/1
- Dele Alli (England): 50/1
- Pepe (Portugal): 60/1
A Zinedine Zidane/Marco Materazzi-style incident only comes once in a lifetime, but it’s not too uncommon to see players lose their cool on the world stage. Neymar has been particularly volatile since moving to PSG and was recently involved in a few on-field spats. Opponents will undoubtedly try to goad the Brazilian star and he’ll likely fall victim to some vicious tackles. Is he due for another breakdown?
We all know why Luis Suarez is high on the list. However, since moving to Barcelona, he’s been a changed man. He’s eerily well-behaved now and surely he isn’t going to bite an opponent for the fourth time … right!?
Diego Costa, the Brazilian-born Spaniard, hasn’t taken to the field all season after a testy standoff with Chelsea manager Antonio Conte. He’s a notoriously dirty player, though his fouls are, for the most part, cunning and calculated. The chances of him lashing out purely out of anger are pretty low.
Pepe and Dele Alli have had trouble keeping their emotions from getting the better of them in the past. Alli, who will be playing in his first World Cup, is especially at risk of losing control. Pepe was a wildcard in his younger days but he’s calmed down with age.
Odds to receive the most red cards
- Brazil: 20/1
- Argentina: 20/1
- Uruguay: 22/1
- Australia: 25/1
- Senegal: 30/1
- Croatia: 30/1
When it comes to red cards per games played, Australia is officially the dirtiest nation in the World Cup. When it comes to the raw numbers, Brazil (11), Argentina (10) and Uruguay (9) are the worst offenders. Since we expect Brazil and Argentina to reach the later rounds, they’re the favorites to incur the most red cards in the tournament as a whole.
During the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, only ten red cards were issued throughout the entire tournament. Compared to the 17 issued in South Africa and 28 in Germany, it was an extremely peaceful affair.
Odds to receive the first red card
- Filipe Luís (Brazil): 50/1
- Sergio Ramos (Spain): 55/1
- Pepe (Portugal): 60/1
- Neymar (Brazil): 65/1
- Luis Suarez (Uruguay): 70/1
- Dele Alli (England): 100/1
It’s likely that a defender will be the first to see red in Russia. Filipe Luís, who refers to himself as “The Butcher,”, is often tasked with taking out star strikers. For Spain, Sergio Ramos is usually the last line of defense and he isn’t afraid to take down a player in order to prevent a goal. Then of course there’s Pepe, who saw red last World Cup after he head-butted Thomas Muller. As far as strikers go, Neymar, Suarez, and Dele Alli have been known to go overboard, hence why their names pop up again here.
Odds to be the first coach fired after the 2018 World Cup
- Gareth Southgate (England): 15/1
- Roberto Martínez (Belgium): 20/1
- Jorge Sampaoli (Argentina): 25/1
- Ange Postecoglou (Australia): 30/1
- José Pékerman (Colombia): 30/1
It’s been a while since English fans have been this hopeful. Kyle Walker, Dele Alli, Harry Winks, Harry Kane — oh the possibilities! But if the team crumbles, as it so often does, there will be immediate calls for Gareth Southgate’s head.
Belgian superstar Kevin De Bruyne has been openly critical of manager Roberto Martínez, which is definitely a threat to his job security. The perrenial dark horses have a great squad heading to Russia and if they underperform once again, it will be Martínez who will shoulder the blame.
Both Australia and Argentina had a tougher-than-expected time qualifying, which is worrying for Jorge Sampaoli and Ange Postecoglou. José Pékerman’s Colombian squad probably won’t do as well as they did in Brazil, and the powers-that-be in Bogota may view that as the catalyst for change.