2018 World Cup: Group A Betting Guide
With the Champions League final in the books, all eyes turn to the 2018 World Cup, which gets underway in less than three weeks. The opening match will pit host Russia against Saudi Arabia in Group A.
Group A also consists of Egypt and Uruguay, the latter of whom is the only team in the group ranked in the top-40 of the FIFA rankings. Egypt won its qualifying group while Uruguay and Saudi Arabia finished second in their respective qualifying groups to make the World Cup. Russia made the tourney automatically as the host nation.
Let's get to it.
Uruguay to beat Saudi Arabia (2/9): The safest bets do not always bring the greatest return, but this would be a good place to start before getting into the risky bets. Our projections give Saudi Arabia just an 8.73% chance of beating Uruguay, which is led by Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. Saudi Arabia figure to take a defensive approach, and that should play into the hands of Uruguay, a side that prefers to be on the attack. Uruguay shouldn't find it too tough to break down the defense of the Green Falcons. It should also be mentioned that Saudi Arabia is the clear underdog of this group, so the 1/3 gamble on a last-place finish is also sound.
Both Russia and Egypt to score (11/10): This June 19th match will feature the hosts and a motivated Egypt squad led by Mo Salah, assuming he can recover from his shoulder injury. Salah was the Premier League's leading scorer this season and will have a chance to face a side that has key injuries all over the park, including at defense. Russia also did not have a grueling schedule to qualify and have allowed a goal in each of their last four matches. Comparatively, Egypt have allowed at least one goal in each of their last four matches. They will also face a prolific scorer as Fedor Smolov is expected to start. He has 52 goals and 13 assists over the past three seasons in Russia's top league. Our models project there to be 2.41 total goals in this game.
Uruguay/Russia Dual Forecast (5/6): The injury to Salah is a concern as so much of Egypt's hopes lay firmly on his shoulders. This is also Egypt's first World Cup since 1990, and the competition will stiffen despite the open nature of Group A. Egypt's battle will likely be with Russia for the second spot behind Uruguay. Host nations tend to play with a different spirit, and Russia does have an experience advantage on their side. The Russian side should also have better chemistry as many of them play together on their club teams. If Salah looks fine in Egypt's first group stage match, then this refrain may change.
Russia vs. Saudi Arabia Half-Time/Full-Time Result: Draw/Russia (13/5): While being the host nation can have its advantages, it can also be a negative as the host team is saddled with a lot of pressure. This is the only match on June 14th, the opening day of the tournament, so all eyes will be on the hosts. There are also rumors of disagreements between players and coach Stanislav Cherchesov. Paddy Power expects a low-scoring game, with a 1-0 final coming in at 7/2. Regardless, the hosts should come around and find a way to take the opening match. We give Russia an 82.75% chance of getting a win or draw.
Uruguay vs. Russia Draw (21/10): If Uruguay and Russia both win their first two matches, then they could play it safe in the final match of the group since they would both know that a point gets them through. Obviously, either team would want to win the group, but their knockout round match will likely come against Portugal or Spain regardless. Both of those will be formidable opponents for either team. Making it to the knockouts healthy will likely take priority if the score is tied later in the game. We give this match a 28.53% chance of ending in a draw.
Alternative Handicaps: Uruguay by 3 over Saudi Arabia (6/1): Admittedly, there are not a lot of longshot bets in this group, unless wasting money on Saudi Arabia to win the group is something you consider fun. This will be Uruguay's second match, so they won't have a ton of reason to take their foot off the gas. Winning a match by three goals in the World Cup group stage is not unheard of, but less than 10% of group play matches at the 2014 World Cup resulted in at least a three-goal victory. Uruguay's last three-goal victory came in 2016 against a 10-man Venezuela team. However, this is a good return in what should be a statement match for Uruguay, and it would be a time to show that they are a threat on the field, not just on paper.