Underdogs worth a punt on World Cup 2018

Picture Source: https://www.fifa.com

The 2018 FIFA World Cup is only a few months away and already millions of fans from across the world are beginning to experience the first effects of World Cup fever.

With all 8 groups determined last December in the official draw, fans are now spending their time speculating about their team’s road to the final, going over thousands of stats, filling out brackets, and dreaming of World Cup glory.

Meanwhile, bettors of every sort are also getting some action on the tournament. While for casino players that mainly means playing football themed slots offered by sites like www.ninjacasino.com such as ‘Football Star’, ‘Golden Goal’ and ‘Football Champions Cup’ in hopes of winning the jackpot, most gamblers rather win their big payout by placing bets on underdog teams that offer huge odds to lift the cup.

With teams like Costa Rica and Iceland having hugely defied expectations in the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Euros respectively – not to mention Leicester City’s absolutely unimaginable Premiere League title in 2016 – it’s worth having a look at some long shots to lift that title that might pay out a small fortune if they manage the heroic feat of lifting the cup.

Mexico

Perhaps the most perpetually promising side on this list, Mexico has been hailed as a hopeful for a deep World Cup run for the past 5 or 6 tournaments, but has been knocked out at the Round of 16 stages at every single one.

This time around, Juan Carlos Osorio’s squad consists of one of the most solid that Mexico has seen in a long time, including several Olympic gold medal winners and Under 17 World Champions. Having breezed through the CONCACAF qualifiers and produced a hugely encouraging display at last year’s Confederations Cup- until they were dressed down by Germany’s second team 4-1 that is – Mexico recently also proved they are a serious contender by drawing 3-3 in a friendly match against Belgium’s golden generation, as well as inflicting a rare loss at home to a strong Polish side.

While Mexico were dealt a tough hand by being drawn into a group containing the world champions and favorite team to lift the cup, as well as a Swedish side that left Italy out of the competition for the first time in 60 years, there is reasonably expectation that they will progress from their group and test their might against the winner of Group E.

With youngster Hirving Lozano in bright hot form at PSV since his move last summer, at odds of 125 to 1 to lift the trophy, Mexico is certainly seems worthy of a punt.

Iceland

Iceland were the sensation of the last European Championship after a dream run that saw them blasting their way into the Quarterfinals, defeating England along the way before ultimately succumbing to hosts France.

But their amazing performance at Euro 2016 was proven to be no fluke, as after the cup they went on to top a tricky World Cup qualification group that included Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey amongst others. Despite being drawn into the group that most are referring to as the “Group of Death” alongside Argentina, Nigeria and Croatia, Iceland cannot be counted out as a true contender to escape the group and go on another impressive run.

If that run were to take them all the way to lifting the cup, you can manage yourself a fantastic payout of 250 to 1.

Costa Rica

Speaking of escaping the “Group of Death”, very few people gave the tiny Central American nation of Costa Rica a chance after they were drawn into a group populated by former World Cup winners Italy, England and Uruguay four years ago. And yet Costa Rica didn’t only manage to qualify ahead of England and Uruguay, but they even topped the toughest group in the competition. From then, they went on to beat Greece before finally succumbing to Netherlands in a dramatic series of penalties in the Quarterfinals.

While Costa Rica has been experiencing a change in generations in the past few years, they managed to qualify in second place in the CONCACAF region, trailing only Mexico. Led by Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas at the back, Costa Rica are solid defensively and will pose a difficult challenge for any rival.

While few people would ever expect them to replicate their run from 2014 this time around, particularly after drawing a complicated group that includes Brazil, Serbia and Switzerland, Costa Rica has already shown its critics what it can do when everyone least expects it.

Costa Rica improving on their 2016 fairytale run and lifting the trophy pays out 500 to 1.

Croatia

Another team that found itself drawn into the “Group of Death”, Croatia has not fared well in the biggest stages in the past few years, being eliminated in the Group stage in the last World Cup and succumbing to eventual champions Portugal at Euro 2016. Not only that, but they were also forced to win their ticket to this year’s competition in a playoff against Greece, after failing to top their group and gain a direct ticket.

While all of that makes it seem like Croatia is not a viable candidate for a surprise run at the cup, that could not be further from the truth. Only a fool would rule out a Balkan team that boasts a fantastic squad which includes not only Mario Mandzukic up top, but one of the best midfield partnerships in the competition with Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic controlling the game.

Ranked as the 15th best team in the world by www.fifa.com, you can bet on Croatia to lift the cup at a juicy price of 41 to 1.

Sweden

Away from football’s greatest stage since the 2006 edition, Sweden made quite a splash after their famous playoff victory against Italy. In a hard fought couple of matches they managed to out-Italy Italy, scoring one goal and defending their slight lead with a solid defensive display.

But their famous victory doesn’t tell the full story of this Swedish team, who most ruled out the moment that Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced his retirement from the national side. In hindsight, that was exactly what the Swedes needed, as his departure forced them to find a completely different style that they quickly settled into, allowing them to come ahead of Netherlands and only a few points behind leaders France.

While most take it as a given that Germany will top Group F and Mexico is favorite to clasp the second spot, Sweden could easily manage to snag their entry into the next round and forward with solid tactics and fantastic teamwork. If you don’t believe it, just ask the Italians…

Sweden winning their first ever World Cup pay out at odds of 125 to 1.

How Much Longer Can Cech Keep Going?

Source: Petr Cech via Facebook

Petr Cech is one of the great goalkeepers of the Premier League era, and has been plying his trade in England’s top flight since Chelsea signed him from Rennes in 2004. At 35 years old, it’s a wonder how long the Czech can carry on being Arsenal’s stalwart between the sticks, but for now at least, he’s showing no signs of stopping. The question is, can he emulate his Stamford Bridge success at the Emirates?

Cech played 333 games for Chelsea and became one of the legends of the Roman Abramovich era, alongside players like John Terry and Frank Lampard. However, during Jose Mourinho’s second spell at the London club, the Portuguese decided to bring in the younger Thibaut Courtois to be the Blues’ first-choice goalkeeper. This meant that Cech only played a small part in the Premier League win of the 2014-15 season, which ended up being his last at the club. During his time in West London, the goalkeeper picked up four top-flight winners’ medals, lifted the FA Cup on four occasions, the League Cup three times, and was a key component of the Champions League winning team of the 2011-12 season.

When Mourinho relegated Cech to the bench, it seemed that the legend’s playing days may have been about to come to an end. But luckily for the player and for Arsenal, Arsene Wenger wisely snapped him up and installed him as the first choice shot-stopper at the Emirates. This has easily been one of the Frenchman’s greatest transfer decisions in recent years, as the 35-year-old has slotted in seamlessly and recaptured his best form in North London. The question is how long Cech can keep going for, and whether he can help guide the Gunners to success.

Now in his third season at Arsenal, Cech has managed to win the Community Shield twice in 2015 and 2017, along with the FA Cup at the end of the 2016-17 campaign. Whether Cech can claim silverware this term remains to be seen. Football tips have Arsenal as 100/1 outsiders to win the Premier League due to Manchester City’s domination of the division, but there is a chance that Wenger’s men may claim a prize in Europe. The Gunners topped their Europa League group by some margin, and are easily one of the stronger sides in the competition.

Since joining Arsenal, Cech has produced just over 35 clean sheet performances for the club and, in each season, has averaged over 2.2 saves per game. He is showing no signs of slowing down, and at this rate, he could easily be playing for the club for another five years.

Cech has the opportunity to improve on the legendary status he earned at Chelsea and become a hero for Arsenal. Goalkeepers have a tendency to stay in the game much longer than outfield players, with the likes of Edwin Van Der Sar, Shay Given, and David Seamen all playing past the age of 40. For the Gunners, it would be excellent news if Cech was able to follow in their footsteps.

Will the Addition of Cenk Tosun Help Allardyce Begin Writing Everton Legacy?

Source: Everton Football Club via Facebook

When Sam Allardyce signed Cenk Tosun in the January transfer window, Everton’s hopes of finishing in the Premier League’s top six this season were slim. There was a 12-point gap between the Merseyside outfit and Arsenal in sixth, who are unlikely to give up that position and are hoping to climb. But there is a chance that Everton can end the season on a high, and finish as the best team outside of the big six. This would stand Allardyce in good stead to continue at the club for the foreseeable future and possibly begin to write his own legacy there.

Considering that Everton were facing a relegation battle in the early stages of the campaign when Ronald Koeman was at the helm, the turnaround under Allardyce has been extraordinary. The manager who has famously never overseen a side dumped out of the top flight arrested the Toffees’ decline immediately after arriving at Goodison Park. In Allardyce’s first seven games in charge across all competitions, Everton’s goal was only breached twice. The former Sunderland manager picked up vital wins against fellow basement-dwellers Newcastle United and Swansea City, and managed to hold top four hopefuls Liverpool and Chelsea to draws.

Since this dramatic upturn in form, Everton are now facing up the table rather than down, and are no longer considered among the Championship-threatened sides. It’s Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion, and Swansea City who are now favoured for the drop and, at the time of writing, the Swans are odds-on at 10/11 in the football betting to finish rock bottom.

Now that Allardyce has seemingly already fulfilled his job as “Fireman Sam” with Everton out of the danger zone, the 63-year-old may be looking to build a legacy in the Northwest. He has frequently been seen as a saviour to clubs in the top flight, but rarely a long-term prospect. If he can get Everton playing some attractive football and winning a high proportion of games in the second half of the season, Farhad Moshiri may be wise to keep the Englishman at the helm in the next campaign.

This is where new signing Tosun should come in. The Toffees have been crying out for a prolific goal scorer since they sold Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United for £75 million last summer. Since then, and prior to the arrival of the Turkish striker, Everton had only managed to notch 25 goals in the league – nine fewer than Leicester City who were one place above them.

Everton acquired Tosun from Besiktas for a reported £27 million, and if he managed to fill the big Belgian’s shoes it will be an excellent bit of business. Allardyce claims that the 26-year-old is the hottest property in Europe right now in that price bracket, and the Germany-born forward racked up 41 goals in 96 league appearances at his former club.

Toffees supporters will want to see their side continue to keep clean sheets, but also to impress at the other end of the pitch. Tosun has the potential to make an instant impact at Goodison and, if he manages to hit the ground running, could help to shape Allardyce’s long-term future at the club.

Can England spring a World Cup surprise this summer?

With the biggest tournament in world football now just months away, the usual hype around England’s chances will inevitably begin. An unbeaten qualifying campaign will form the basis of any confidence and the favourable draw will certainly help fan the flames. Can England, perennial under-achievers, spring a surprise and compete in a tournament nobody expects them to succeed in?

After Euro 2016 and indeed the last World Cup, the hopes of fans in England will be lower than ever before. Failure to get out of the group in 2014 was disappointing, losing out in an incredibly tough group wasn’t the worst thing, but seeing Costa Rica advance instead of the Three Lions was.

Euro 2014 was an unmitigated disaster as minnows Iceland derailed Roy Hodgson’s side in the last 16 after a dull and uninspiring group stage. The nation’s love affair with the national side was all-but over and even the impending World Cup has done little to lift the despondent fans, already resigned to another summer of failure.

Arena de Sao Paulo” by PNG basado en esta imagen (CC BY 2.0)

Thanks to a favourable draw, England find themselves in a surprisingly easy group, too, which is the perfect tonic after facing both Italy and Uruguay four years ago. This time around, aside from Belgium, they’re facing minnows who should pose little problem. Tunisia last qualified in 2006 and have never passed the group stages and Panama are completely new to the competition. Underestimate at your peril, but with good preparation, those sides should be negotiated with ease.

Of course, Belgium are likely to win the group. They’re ranked as favourites in soccer betting tips by OLBG, but England come in as a close second. Once a team is out of the group stages, anything can happen. If the last 16 is possible, how far can England go? Waiting in the round of 16 is either the winner or runner-up from Group H, likely to be one of Colombia or Poland. It’s another generous helping hand from a rather kind draw, one that sees little benefit in winning the group. The seeds are Colombia but in truth, none of the sides lined up as last sixteen opposition are seen as the big guns.

Two of the big guns will not be waiting for the Three Lions though, Netherlands and Italy both failed to qualify. This does give the tournament a weaker look than most seasons, but many of the newer international states are now improving.

Netherlands eliminated in 2014” – By Jeffrey.Brilman (CC BY-SA 3.0)

From there the path blurs somewhat as predictions become filled with ‘if’s and ‘but’s, however, if Germany were to win their group and their last-16 tie, they would await whoever finished second in England’s group. Likewise, if Brazil were to win their group and last-16 game, they await the group winners.

At some point, one of the world’s elite will need dispatching if you’re going to win the tournament and it is at that point we get to see England’s credentials as a serious international side once again. The nation would be satisfied with a quarter-final exit at worst, something to once again give us a little bit of national pride after the humiliation of the last four years.

One significant difference between 2018 and previous seasons is the weight of expectation. Nobody truly believes this England side is capable of going very far: a mixture of ageing players who weren’t good enough in their early 20s and young, untested players not playing regular club football gives the side an unfamiliar feel. Coupled with Gareth Southgate, an uninspiring man whose greatest achievement in an England shirt was missing a penalty, they’re not a squad to get pulses racing.

Usually, the Three Lions go into a tournament under the premise that ‘England expects’. In 2018, England can only hope. Maybe that lack of expectation might just allow the side to play freely and surprise a few people.

Can Manchester City win the quadruple?

We have reached the halfway point of the season and it already has a feel, and probably is, a one-horse race to the title. For a league that has over the years gained areputation of being fiercely contested, often the race for the title boiling right down up to the final whistle, this reinforces the dominance of the team leading the premier league, Manchester City.

They say numbers don’t lie, and going along with this saying, it’s conclusive to say Manchester City are destined for the English Premier League title. Currently, Manchester City are sitting on 55 points having won all but one of their 19 games. They only dropped 2 points, during the first weeks of the season surprisingly, to a struggling Everton side. They have scored a record 60 goals in 19 games conceding mere 12 goals thanks in part to the brilliant form of new arrival, Ederson.

The impressive form of Manchester City is not limited to the Premier League, they have been doing the job nicely in other competitions too i.e. the Champions League and the Carabao Cup (formerly the League Cup) while in January they won their first game in the FA Cup as the journey to Wembley started. Pundits have already started to compare this Manchester City squad to other great Premier League squads of the past. The comparison, however, leads to one question, which is how many trophies this squad will win because it’s the number of trophies a team wins that determines if it is a great or just a good team.

A good starting point for how likely they are going to succeed is looking at the betting markets. Several bookies have opened specific betting markets solely on Manchester City and these markets include predicting if Manchester City will win the quadruple this season of the English Premier League, the Champions League, FA Cup and the Carabao Cup. The odds can be found here for this and other dedicated Manchester City betting markets.

 

Let us assess the chances of Manchester City winning the quadruple this season.

English Premier League

Leading the second-placed team by 14 points at the midway point of the season, it seems reasonable to say the title is Manchester City’s to lose. A brief look at the history of the Premier League since its inception in 1992 shows that 2 out of every three teams that have been on top of the league on Christmas day have gone on to lift the title, and that includes teams leading by a couple or even a single point. Considering these statistics, the premier league is there for City’s taking.

Another factor to take into consideration is the strength-in-depth of the Manchester City team. At the start of the season after Benjamin Mendy suffered a season-long injury, many raised concerns that City would suffer as a result as they did not have another natural left back, however, those fears were quashed as midfielder Fabian Delph seamlessly fitted straight into the role.

Looking at the Manchester City bench they have match winners. IIkay Gundogan won the Bundesliga and reached the Champions League final during his time at Borussia Dortmund. Bernado Silva was instrumental as his former team Monaco won the Ligue 1 title and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League last season. Claudio Bravo won every possible title in Spain including the Champions League as has Yaya Toure.

Crucially in Pep Guardiola they have a manager whose DNA is winning.

Champions League

In their six matches in the Champions League, Manchester City won all but one. They lost their final match against Shakhtar Donetsk which was a dead rubber as they had already topped the group. For topping the group, Manchester City received a favourable draw, as they will play against the Swiss champions, FC Basel.

Manchester City are favourites to progress but they should be waryof the Swiss champions who are playing some good football in their domestic league sitting just two points off the top.

However, the chances of reaching the final are increasing all the time for Manchester City as Real Madrid and PSG play each other so one of the big teams will fall by the wayside. At the current level of Manchester City you would give them a good chance against the biggest teams in Europe.

FA Cup

The biggest cup in England started in January. For Manchester City, the chance of winning the FA Cup is very high and they already came from behind to beat Burnley convincingly. As the competition progresses, there are higher chances of them meeting the top teams. However, unlike other teams they can afford to play their strongest team in the competition as they have a nice gap in the league.

Carabao Cup

Already in the semi-finals against Championship team, Bristol City, it’s looking likely that they will be in the final. Bristol City shocked Manchester United in the quarterfinals but a repeat against another Manchester giant looks very unlikely. If they reach the final, they face either Chelsea or Arsenal and against either team, Manchester City will fancy their chances of winning.