World Cup Preview and Best Bets – Groups A and B
The World Cup only happens every four years, but the month of games is great theater. It’s also great since it gives you something to get through the work day as there will be games on basically every day. Here’s a look at what to expect from Groups A and B.
This is Brazil’s World Cup to lose. Their major edge is due to home-field advantage, something France took advantage of it in 1998, South Korea did by making the semifinals in 2002 and Germany did by doing the same in 2006. South Africa wasn’t deserving of inclusion without an automatic bid in 2010, so don’t ignore the home-field advantage when looking at the most recent World Cup. Brazil has a well-rounded and deep side, but it will be up to Neymar to lead them like he did in their Confederations Cup win last year. Fred will have to produce goals like he did last year since Brazil’s one slight weakness might the their lack of an out and out striker like a Ronaldo or Romario from years past.
Croatia and Mexico will be in a heated battle for second in the group. Croatia has the advantage in talent with two of the world’s stars leading the way in Mario Mandžukić and Luka Modrić. But they have a roller-coaster past in international competitions whereas Mexico has consistently gotten through the group stage. Don’t get too excited about Mexico, however, because they’ve never won a knockout round game outside of Mexico. (Possibly my favorite stat before every World Cup.) Not that Croatia would have a chance with the knockout stage either. The runner-up in this group will have to take on the winner of Group B, likely Spain, which means they’ll be a heavy underdog in the next round. Saying Mexico struggled to get through qualification would be an understatement. They fired many coaches through the qualifying stage and still don’t exude the same confidence they have in the past. Rumors of Javier Hernández, aka Chicharito, coming off the bench are curious too. As for Cameroon, I’m not sure anyone can back a country whose team is ready to strike because they’re not getting paid enough.
Gold Boot Winner: Fred (+1950) – I think Brazil’s going to win it all and it was Fred who led them in goals during last year’s Confederations Cup. Whoever the striker is on the winning World Cup team certainly has a good shot to take home the Golden Boot for most goals.
Top South American Team: Brazil (+135) – I never have much faith in Argentina and I think Uruguay isn’t getting out of their group so Brazil should take this home.
Brazil to make semifinal (-135) – I’m heavy Brazil as you can tell. They’ve got an easy road to a QF game against either Italy, England, or Uruguay and all three of those teams have clear flaws.
Brazil -1.5 over over Croatia
Group B is no joke. Two of the four teams met in the final four years ago. While neither Spain or the Netherlands may be as good as it was four years ago, both are still top-10 teams in the world and threats to win it all. Spain has aged after winning three major championships in the last six years, but the talent you’ve grown to know is still mostly there. The main questions are whether or not their defense can hold up and if anyone can perform in the striker’s role. Diego Costa will try, but he’s banged-up and prefers a more direct side. Those following Fernando Torres at Chelsea know he’s not the same. Álvaro Negredo has never exceled on the international stage and David Villa’s best days are behind him. The Netherlands is aging as well with offensive stars Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, and Wesley Sneijder now on the wrong side of 30. Their defense has never been their strong suit to begin with.
Don’t sleep on Chile. They’re not playing too far from home and should see large crowds of their fans at these games. They’re full of players from the world’s best domestic leagues, most specifically their two best offensive players: Alexis Sánchez and Eduardo Vargas. In the last year and a half they’ve beaten Uruguay and drawn against Colombia in World Cup qualifying while beating England and tying Spain and Brazil in friendlies. Sure they lost to Germany and Brazil in other friendlies, but those are two of the world’s best. Chile can compete. Once again the fourth team in a group gets a short straw. Australia peaked in 2006 and hasn’t found talented youth since. At least their fans will get their money’s worth while partying.
Spain to reach quarterfinal (-150) – They may be old, but the road is easy for Spain to make the quarterfinal if they win the group. And I believe that’s happening.
Chile -1.5 over Australia (+145) – It’s nice that the Aussies made the trip, but this will be their first of three bad losses.
Spain over Netherlands (-129) – Just like it all went down two years ago in the Euros.