After Costa Rica booked their place at the 2022 FIFA World Cup last night, we now know all 32 nations to be taking part in Qatar this winter.
Australia and Wales joined the central Americans in the final play-off ties earlier this month, so let’s take a look at the make-up of the groups:
World Cup Group A Odds: Qatar, Netherlands, Senegal, Ecuador
Group winners favourites are the Netherlands currently at a short price of 1/2, Senegal 7/2, Ecuador 9/2 and the hosts Qatar 20/1 to win the group.
World Cup Group B Odds: England, USA, Wales, Iran
No surprises that England head the betting in Group B and can be backed at 1/3 to top the table. Wales, who are appearing their first World Cup for over 50 years look a useful 6/1 while the USA can be backed at 7/1 and Iran are the outsiers at 20/1.
Group C: Argentina, Poland, Mexico, Saudi Arabia
Group D: France, Denmark, Tunisia, Australia
Group E: Germany, Spain, Japan, Costa Rice
Group F: Belgium, Croatia, Canada, Morocco
Group G: Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia, Cameroon
Group H: Portugal, Uruguay, Ghana, South Korea
France are the defending champions having beaten Croatia 4-2 at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but Brazil are the bookmakers’ outright favourites to lift their first crown since 2002.
Hosts Qatar are the only debutants at this year’s World Cup, although Wales and Canada are competing for only the second ever time after qualifying for the first time since 1958 and 1986 respectively.
Italy are the only previous winners to have failed to qualify this time around.
But who are the leading contenders to triumph at the first ever World Cup to be held during the northern hemisphere’s winter months?
Brazil Odds to win the World Cup
Best Price: 5/1 (Paddy Power)
World Cup Record: Winners (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
Star Player: Neymar (117 caps, 71 goals)
Indeed, despite failing to add to their five World Cup triumphs for over 20 years, Brazil are the bookmakers’ favourites to triumph in Qatar.
Perhaps the hotter climate is playing a factor in determining their price, although there is little doubting the collective quality running through A Selecao’s team.
They may need star man Neymar back to his best to go all of the way, although with the likes of Vinicius Jr and Raphinha playing an increasingly leading role in recent times, the creative burden on the PSG man has reduced somewhat.
With Tite in the dugout since 2016, there is a more settled feel to Brazil than in recent World Cup’s and it would be a surprise if they do not feature in the latter stages, especially with a group they should dominate.
France odds to win the World Cup
Best Price: 13/2 (Unibet)
World Cup Record: Winners (1998 and 2018)
Star Player: Kylian Mbappe (57 caps, 27 goals)
The defending champions and my personal fancy, France are very difficult to oppose.
Put simply, no other nation can match their strength in depth. They can lose most of their players to illness or injury and easily replace them with a player almost as good.
With Karim Benzema better than ever and back in the national team fold, they have the quality striker they were previously lacking under Didier Deschamps, too.
Benzema and Mbappe’s natural skills complement each other almost perfectly and are easily the best partnership in international football. I expect them to go all of the way.
England odds to win the World Cup
Best Price: 8/1 (Sport Nation)
World Cup Record: Winners (1966)
Star Player: Harry Kane (73 caps, 50 goals)
The 2018 World Cup semi-finalists and 2020 European Championship finalists deserve respect, with that trajectory suggesting the Three Lions are set to go all of the way this winter.
However, Gareth Southgate’s side’s failure to win any of their recent opening four Nations League matches – culminating in the 4-0 home defeat to Hungary – has left many feeling this project may have already peaked.
There is little wrong, individually at least, in offensive areas, with Kane spearheading a supremely talented band of attacking midfielders.
But they feel short of quality, compared to their elite peers at least, at left-back, centre-back and in central midfield.
Much will depend on whether star players at the successful Euro’s, such as Harry Maguire and Kalvin Phillips, can recover their form in time for the World Cup. Ultimately I think they may fall short once again, especially with France potentially looming in the quarter-finals.
Spain odds to win the World Cup
Best Price: 8/1 (various)
World Cup Record: Winners (2010)
Star Player: Pedri (12 caps, 0 goals)
It sounds strange to say about a nation which won three major tournaments in a row only a decade ago, but Spain were arguably the surprise team at last summer’s European Championships.
Luis Enrique’s side were the best collective team at the tournament in my view, only falling short of reaching the final by virtue of a penalty shoot-out against Italy.
They may lack the individual star quality of their predecessors – and indeed some of their current elite peers – but they are guaranteed to be slick in possession and energetic out of it.
If teenage sensation Pedri can recover his electric pre-injury form, there’s little reason why they can’t go all of the way at a tournament where resting on the ball may be more important than ever.
Argentina odds to win the World Cup
Best Price: 9/1 (QuinnBet)
World Cup Record: Winners (1978 and 1986)
Star Player: Lionel Messi (162 caps, 86 goals)
Like England, a World Cup triumph for footballing giants Argentina feels somewhat overdue.
It is the only thing missing on Lionel Messi’s resume, too, of course, with 2022 surely representing arguably the greatest player of all time’s last realistic chance of lifting the Jules Rimet trophy as he approaches his 35th birthday.
Having lost out in the final to Germany in 1990 and 2014, there is a feeling that this is the best team La Albiceleste have had since the triumphant days of Diego Maradona.
However, they still look top-heavy to me, with rashness at the back and the lack of a world-class defensive midfielder potentially costing them in the big games.
Best of the Rest: Germany 11/1 (Sky Bet), Portugal 14/1 (Unibet), Netherlands 14/1 (William Hill), Belgium 16/1 (Bet Victor), Denmark 33/1 (Sky Bet).
Golden Boot Odds – Who will be top goalscorer?
There will be plenty of punting interest in several other markets at the World Cup, too, with the chase for the Golden Boot likely to draw plenty of money and attention.
Kane’s six goals was enough to see him win the 2018 award, edging out Antoine Griezmann and Romelu Lukaku, who both struck four times each.
Indeed, six has been the figure to have won the Golden Boot at every World Cup since 1978, with three exceptions. Germans Miroslav Klose and Thomas Muller won with five goals in 2006 and 2010 respectively, while Ronaldo scored eight in 2002.
Whoever you are backing, then, needs to be a player who can realistically score in every game he features, with perhaps a brace or hat-trick thrown in to make up any potential shortfold.
Mbappe, Kane, Benzema, Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lukaku and Neymar unsurprisingly lead the betting market – but who’s your money on?
Personally, I’m looking at England and France’s groups thinking they’ve got a couple of potentially easier games where the likes of Kane, Benzema and Mbappe can run riot.
If he continues the form which is likely to see him win the Ballon d’Or later this year, Benzema would be the one receiving my money given he’s on penalties and I expect France to win the tournament.
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