The greatest tournament in the world begins on Thursday in Moscow with host Russia squaring off with Saudi Arabia.
Here’s a group-by-group look, with odds to win the group courtesy of the Westgate Superbook.
Group A – Egypt (11/2), Russia (11/5), Saudi Arabia (40/1), Uruguay (5/8): A veteran Uruguay side is rightfully chalk. If there’s a surprise, it could be Egypt, but that depends on whether star striker Mo Salah’s injured shoulder can heal up after it cost him most of the Champions League final. Uruguay’s combination of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani up front is going to be a problem.
Group B – Iran (40/1), Morocco (16/1), Portugal (2/1), Spain (4/9): Although Spain is favored and features household names, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see the Portuguese rise up when the teams open group play in Sochi. Morocco defender Mehdi Benatia is world-class.
Group C – Australia (20/1), Denmark (9/2), France (2/7), Peru (9/1): The French are heavily favored but come off a home draw against a young U.S. side in their final warmup. It wouldn’t be surprising to see an impressive Danish team or upstart Peru persevere and win this group.
Group D – Argentina (5/9), Croatia (11/5), Iceland (12/1), Nigeria (12/1): I’m expecting Argentina to emerge as the “Group of Death.” Lionel Messi (15/2) is the favorite to win the Golden Boot, handed to the event’s most impressive performer, so I recommend staying away from him in that prop because there’s a possibility the favorite doesn’t get out to the quarterfinals. Iceland has a special group making its World Cup debut but hasn’t beaten anyone of significance since last October, so they may bring up the rear here. Nigeria looks like the class of the African teams. The Croats feature a star-studded midfield.
Group E – Brazil (2/9), Costa Rica (16/1), Serbia (8/1), Switzerland (15/2): Brazil is incredibly deep. Marcelo is the world’s best left back, Neymar is still a monster and 21-year-old striker Gabriel Jesus has a real shot at becoming a household name. At 16/1 to win the Golden Boot, I’d ride the Manchester City man who has a great shot at being the World Cup’s top goal scorer. Neymar is at 10/1, second behind Messi. The other three teams will all have a chance to finish second in the group, which will likely hinge on who finds a dependable goal scorer to break out since they’re all technically sound and defensive-minded.
Group F – Germany (1/4), Mexico (6/1), South Korea (20/1), Sweden (15/2): Defending champion Germany will have no problem here, so if you can afford it, this is a bigger lock than Brazil winning its group despite similar odds. South Korea will go as far as Son Heung-min will take it, but both it and Sweden could be vulnerable if Mexico proves resilient after its opener.
Group G – Belgium (20/27), England (23/20), Panama (50/1), Tunisia (20/1): Panama is making its World Cup debut after sneaking in when the Americans collapsed in Trinidad and Tobago and is the biggest longshot. The June 28 clash between Belgium and England should decide things. That game has a chance to be one of the top matchups until we get to the knockout stage.
Group H – Colombia (6/5), Japan (8/1), Poland (9/5), Senegal (9/2): Japan has a chance to make a special run, but have come up with one draw and four losses in its last five matches. Poland is led by elite scorer Robert Lewadowski, who will command so much attention that fellow striker Arkadiusz Milik could greatly benefit. Colombia will top the group, followed by Senegal.