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2018 World Cup Russia

Looking Ahead To Russia: The Current State Of Play

With less than four months to go until the opening match of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, we take a look at how things currently stand – and how the present situation may affect the odds surrounding this summer’s tournament.

Who had the most impressive qualifying campaign?

Brazil’s status as the first non-host to qualify came as little surprise. Though the five-time champions were humiliated in the latter stages of a home World Cup four years ago, the latest ‘golden generation’ has become tougher than diamond and more potent than platinum. Brazil ultimately topped the CONMEBOL qualifying group by a whole ten points, losing only once, by 2-0 scoreline in Chile, way back in October 2015.

Brazil proved unplayable after that minor setback, most impressively demolishing Uruguay 4-1 in Montevideo, and crushing Argentina 3-0 in Belo Horizonte. Further up the Americas, in the CONCACAF qualifier, Panama defied the odds with a third-place finish. In doing so, the nation’s debut appearance at the World Cup finals was secured automatically. Standout results included a 2-1 home victory against 2014 surprise package Costa Rica, and a hard-fought 0-0 draw with a powerful Mexico side.

For a team that dominated within a more level playing field during qualification, those who like to bet on international football should look no further than Aliou Cisse’s Senegal squad, as a viable underdog to win their group. With the Lions of Teranga drawn into a CAF qualifying group with Burkina Faso, Senegal had their work cut out in the chase for the one World Cup finals berth available.

Bereft of World Cup action since 2002, Senegal were under significant pressure to perform, but proved immovable at home. The result that clinched qualification was a high-tension 2-2 draw in Ouagadougou back in September, when Senegal fought back after conceding an early goal (scored by Lyon’s Bertrand Traoré) to get a point. With no odds-on favourite in Group H, Senegal have every reason to believe that they can at least emulate the achievement of the vintage 2002 squad and reach the knockout stage.

From a strictly numerical perspective, Germany’s romp to ten straight qualifying victories is without equal. No other team in the UEFA qualifying process managed this feat, but the reigning champions’ perfect return always had an air of inevitability about it. The presence of respected sides, in Northern Ireland and Czech Republic, means that Germany emerge with some deserved credit, and the gulf in class was plain to see throughout the qualification process.

Who is the favourite to win the World Cup?

The latest World Cup 2018 winner odds show that Germany and Brazil are joint favourites at 9/2. A Germany win would draw them level with Brazil on five World Cups. Joachim Löw’s men would also become the first nation since Brazil (1958, 1962) to win successive tournaments.

France represent a solid ‘third way’ at 11/2, with a raft of exceptional talents that look primed to break the nation’s propensity to alternate good tournaments with bad ones. Spain and Argentina make up the leading quintet, at 7/1 and 15/2 respectively.

Who is currently injured from the England squad?

Who is currently injured from the England squad?

There are several injured players, who would be all but guaranteed a place in the final 23 if fully fit in time for the tournament.

Injury problems continue to dog Daniel Sturridge, who has never been able to truly build on a stunning 2013/14 season with Liverpool, in which his goals helped the Reds take the title fight to the final day. Andy Carroll is also in a race against time to be fit, but his chances of making the final cut appear remote.

At the back, Manchester United defender Phil Jones remains sidelined, while Liverpool’s Nathaniel Clyne will need to take it easy over the next few weeks, with a recent back injury laying him low.

Which other big names are already doubtful to play in the World Cup?

Despite ruling himself out of World Cup action in any case, Zlatan Ibrahimovic could be, if nothing else, a beacon of hope for Sweden in a difficult World Cup group. He is currently out of action, and with his advanced age may come a stunted return to fitness. Such a slow road to recovery would make him unfit for international duties, should he feel any desire to return to action for Sweden one last time.

Benjamin Mendy, an arrival at Manchester City last summer, is set to miss a majority of what remains of this season. His form for City, when fit, has been impressive – but with the France squad already rich in talent, places in the final 23 are set to come at a great premium. Ultimately, his current lack of fitness puts his place on the plane to Russia in great jeopardy.

Who is the favourite to win the World Cup Golden Boot?

Both priced at 10/1 to top the scoring charts, Lionel Messi (Argentina) and Alvaro Morata (Spain) are the joint favourites for the Golden Boot.

Neymar is the next best bet, with Brazil’s greatest natural talent since Ronaldinho priced at 12/1 to top the charts. Cristiano Ronaldo, meanwhile, is 16/1 to light up the tournament with a wink, a pearly smile, and a hatful of goals.

Will #CR7 be this summer’s hottest hashtag, or will Messi upstage his long-term rival? Can Panama finally lift the World Cup after years of frustration?…

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