The much anticipated Russian World Cup kicks off imminently, opening the floodgates to a plethora of group stage football.
The Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow will host what’s sure to be a spectacular opening ceremony, raising the curtain to a feast of football, as 32 nations battle for a place in the coveted knockout stages of football’s showpiece event.
The tournament kicks off with the unfancied hosts taking on minnows Saudi Arabia, in a group lacking in star power, but boasting value when it comes to intrigue. Emphasising this, Head of Compilation at Abelson Info, Jeevan Jeyaratnam revealed that the group game arouses the most interest from him is the second round tie between Russia v Egypt.
“I am heavily opposing the Russians on their own patch, they are a dreadful side and have been for years. I fully expect them to have failed to take maximum points in the opener v Saudi Arabia and be forced to approach this game needing a victory. The Egyptians should have Mo Salah available and he could run the ancient Russian defence ragged.
“It reeks of jingoism that the ethnically German centre-back, Roman Neustadter, was omitted from the final squad. Indeed, the other ‘German’ player included in the provisional squad, Konstantin Rausch, was also left out. The inclusion of Brazilian born defender Mario Fernandes is the only defence against what could have been seen as a deeply worrying nationalist agenda.
“Whatever the reasons, it looks lunacy to line-up with a defence including 38-year-old Sergei Ignashevich. He has never excelled in the pace department, but now in his 39th year, he looks particularly pedestrian. If he starts, he will be targeted.”
Outlining how Russian vulnerabilities could lead to elevated excitement from an otherwise underwhelming Group A, he continued: “If Russia do struggle in the opening game, the atmosphere in St Petersburg for the Egypt game will be smouldering, the pressure on the home side will be immense and that could play into the hands of the welcoming Pharaohs. Incidentally, if Russia do exit at the group stage the impact on the rest of the tournament could be incendiary.”
The feeling that the current Russian side is lacking in quality, is one that’s echoed amongst many UK punters, with Oddschecker revealing that Saudi Arabia have been cut from 18/1 into 17/2 to win the opening game following an array of bets on the side.
The odds comparison site also revealed how Egypt vs Uruguay is another game grabbing attention of the punter, with Mo Salah mania meaning a fair few bet slip clicks on the Egyptian being first goal scorer – before his unfortunate injury.
Nonetheless, for the football purists the pick of the group games takes place on the second evening of the tournament, when European Champions Portugal take on a Spain side that sacked their manager only two days before the tournament’s big kick off.
Jeyaratnam commented: “Portugal v Spain on the second day of the competition is huge. As an opening group game and an Iberian derby, both sides will be eager to avoid defeat, but given what’s at stake, and the rivalry between the countries, this is sure to be a cracker.”
The Iberian derby may well give fans an early clue as to whether both Portugal and Spain are serious contenders for the Jules Rimet trophy. Current World Champions and second favourites, Germany also face two tough opening games, that could give an indication as to how serious Joachim Low’s side are about defending their crown.
Jeyaratnam continued: “It will be interesting to see how Germany cope with a tricky opening two games; against Mexico and Sweden. Indeed, their group looks tough and a slow start will see the pressure mount. If Brazil win Group E, Germany will be desperate to top their group and avoid meeting them in the first knockout stage. How they cope with this could well determine their trajectory in this competition.”
Surprisingly punters don’t seem to believe that tournament favourites Brazil will have everything their own way in the group stage, with Oddschecker detailing that in Brazil’s opener against Switzerland, 44% of all bets have been placed on the draw.
Off the back off a 14 game unbeaten run, Peru also remain a strong choice for many to upset the apple cart against a strong French side in Group C, especially given that their captain and talisman Paolo Guerrero is now available for the tournament.