2018 World Cup: Group B Betting Guide
All four teams in Group B at the 2018 World Cup will begin play on Friday, June 15th. The group features Spain and Portugal, the two teams expected to escape to the knockout rounds. They will open up play against one another in a match that could determine which nation tops the group.
Iran and Morocco are the other teams in the group. Iran is filled with foreign-born players with Iranian eligibility, two of whom were supposedly banned from the national team for life, while Morocco features more household names, with many being born outside the country. Both nations are making their fifth appearance in the World Cup.
Let's get to it.
Spain over Iran (1/6): Getting your feet wet on bets in Group B means taking a nearly guaranteed victory. Our projections give Spain a whopping 80.05% chance of winning this match with a 14.12% chance of a draw, so Iran has a mere 5.83% chance of winning. Iran will park the bus and hope to counter, but Spain's attack is too good. Iago Aspas, the top Spanish scorer in La Liga this season, or Diego Costa will lead the line. The talent will simply be too much for Iran as the likes of Marco Asensio, Thiago, and Isco will all be available for selection in attacking midfield roles. If Spain beats Portugal in their opener, a win against Iran in their second match would put them in the driver's seat for winning the group. There is not much return here, but it is one of the safer bets in the tournament.
Spain and Portugal to advance (2/5): Both teams have at least a 60% chance of advancing to the knockout rounds, according to our metrics. Spain is the second-best team, per our models, and have the second-best odds to win the World Cup. Even though there is concern with Portugal's team dynamism, they still have Cristiano Ronaldo. His production slumped in the last two rounds of the Champions League, but Joao Mario, Bernardo Silva and Andre Silva should provide enough support to get through the group. There is some intrigue with Morocco -- as we will discuss later -- and anything can happen at the World Cup, but our numbers give Portugal the edge.
Iran to finish bottom (4/6): Iran has a good manager in Carlos Queiroz, and they did not give up a goal in qualifying until the last match day, but they should be outclassed in Russia. They do not have the personnel to control a game through the midfield. It would be no surprise if their entire team played in their defensive half for the majority of each match. The defensive posture is likely to hold up for a limited amount of time, which could be enough to frustrate teams if their opponents do not convert their chances. However, given the talent available to all sides in this group, it looks like Iran will struggle to finish anywhere but last place.
Morocco to Win by 1.5 goals over Iran (12/5): The win and over goal market is not one that is talked about very much, but this match up brings it into the spotlight. As mentioned, Iran loves to sit back and play defensively. However, this opening match is vital for both teams if they want to have any chance of advancing out of the group. Morocco's style is to press and possess the ball, so they will keep threatening the bend-but-do-not-break style of their opponent. The playmaking ability of Hakim Ziyech should eventually open up the Iran defense. If Iran gets behind, they may feel the weight of their World Cup chances essentially ending on the first match day, meaning they must go for a goal. Our projection has both teams scoring, and a more open game favors Morocco's style with players who appear much more comfortable with the ball at their feet.
Morocco to advance out of the group (16/5): Morocco is a tenacious team that should face Portugal on the second match day with confidence from an opening win over Iran. If Portugal loses to Spain, then Morocco could pretty much secure a place in the Round of 16 with a win. Medhi Benatia will aim to shut down Ronaldo and the rest of the Portugal attack. Benatia has played against top-level competition at the club level and should keep the back line sound during the match. Along with Ziyech, Ayoub El Kaabi, the leading scorer of the most recent African Cup of Nations, will hope to confuse the aging back line of Portugal. Currently, our models give Portugal a 51.26% chance to win the matchup, meaning we think there's a 48.74% chance Morocco can get a win or tie, which would greatly increase their odds of advancing.
Portugal to lead Iran at the half, but the game ends in a draw (17/1): Piggybacking off the information above, there is a chance that Portugal and Iran face off knowing they are out of the World Cup, with each having secured zero points from their first two games. For Iran, this would not be far off the realistic expectation of a team without a superstar. For Portugal, having no points coming into this match would be a major disappointment, and they could possibly be lacking in motivation. Of course, Portugal may come into this game in a position where they need a win to advance to the Round of 16, which wouldn't be good for Iran's chances of getting a result. But if you're willing to roll the dice on Morocco getting out of the group, you might as well bet this as a correlation play, and the good return on this gamble makes it awfully intriguing.