Even though the World Cup is still over three months away, there already appears to be a core group of five frontrunners for glory if current odds are taken at face value.
But which of those teams ranks as the favourite of favourites?
Argentina’s status as runners up in 2014, and Lionel Messi’s continued godlike form, should give the South Americans a higher rank here. However, Argentina’s qualification campaign was far from convincing, and if you take a look at the World Cup spread betting, the team is a relatively low sell on Sporting Index. The buy price of an Argentine trophy win also dipped in the immediate aftermath of December’s World Cup draw, which saw the two-time World Champions placed into the ‘group of death’ alongside Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria. Nonetheless, Argentina are universal favourites to progress as group stage winners.
Prediction – QUARTER FINAL: After winning their group, Argentina will most likely face Denmark (runners up from Group C). Under current projections, Argentina would likely end up taking on Spain in the quarter finals. That match is impossible to call at this stage, and penalties would be likely, with Argentina’s fate likely resting on the form and fitness of Messi. Regardless, based purely on qualification form, Spain should shade that encounter.
Spain were sensational during qualification, barely breaking sweat en-route to a final tally of 28 points. The expected attacking quartet of the World Cup squad – Diego Costa, Isco, Alvaro Morata and David Silva – each bagged four goals. With Spain boasting a wide range of goalscoring options, the 2010 winners are marginally favoured to win out in the expected battle with Portugal for top spot in Group B.
Prediction – SEMI FINAL: Hosts Russia will most likely await Spain in the last 16. Despite being on hostile turf, Spain can easily outgun Russia. Victory for Spain in the projected quarter final will most likely set up a semi final with Germany. For all Spain’s attacking endeavour, it is difficult to envision Germany losing at this stage.
This is the best France squad in living memory, and it deserves the billing of being third-favourites to lift the World Cup – at the very least. Winning the qualification group by four points was the very least expected of France, ably fronted by Antoine Griezmann, who himself is supported by a strong core that is mainly held together by Paul Pogba.
Prediction – FINAL: Anything other than a comfortable top finish in Group C would be unforgivable for France. If Les Bleus can match Uruguay or Portugal for spirit in the quarter final, then France will likely meet Brazil in the semis. The current crop of Brazilians have already proven that they can cope with Russia’s hostile conditions, but negotiating a much tough quarter final than Brazil would give France significant momentum.
Brazil were the first team to qualify after hosts Russia, sweeping to top spot in the CONMEBOL qualification round. The team that was shamed by Germany in the semi finals of the 2014 World Cup has now grown into a far more resilient side, and with Neymar just entering his peak years as a professional, he is well-equipped to spearhead a successful campaign.
Prediction – SEMI-FINAL: Brazil’s 3-0 defeat of Russia on 23 March was a good omen for them where negotiating the round of 16 is concerned. Belgium are the likeliest opponent for Brazil in the quarter-finals, and though they are a good match for Brazil, the Belgians occasionally prove susceptible to pace and set pieces.
It comes as no surprise to see that Germany are the high buy/sell on Sporting Index. A relatively young cup-winning squad has only strengthened in the time since Germany ended an eighteen-year long trophy drought, through Mario Gotze’s extra time heroics. As the only team in Europe to score maximum points at the qualification stage, Germany will be the most feared side at this summer’s World Cup.
Prediction – WINNERS: Though a group containing Sweden, Mexico and South Korea offers no guarantees, Germany are too strong. When the reigning champions progress as winners, Switzerland are considered the likeliest team to lie in wait. The Swiss were reliant on the playoffs to proceed, and it is difficult to see them giving Germany much trouble. Expected games against Colombia and France should again go the way of the Germans if current form is taking into account. The smart money is on a re-run of the 2002 final, but with Germany emulating Brazil’s feat of five World Cups.