World Cup Preview

The World Cup is nearly here and we preview the 2018 finals taking place in Russia.

We run through every group, every team as our football experts make their picks.

Former England international Andy Gray gives his lowdown and prediction on each team, our Football Insider Graeme Bailey picks a key player for every squad, our Football Index expert Ryan Bradford picks a one to watch for every nation and finally bet365’s Steve Freeth gives us their pick for every team.


Group A – Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay

coached by Stanislav Cherchesov

KEY PLAYER from Graeme Bailey: Igor Akinfeev
A brilliant servant with over 100 caps but still only 32, Russia need Akinfeev to be at his best if they have any hopes of progressing through the groups stages. Capable of being a stand-out performer.

PREDICTION with Andy Gray: 
I don’t see Russia having a good tournament at all, indeed for me I can see them losing every game, including the opener with Saudi Arabia, I think they are poor.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow with Ryan Bradford: Roman Zobnin
Zobnin is a versatile, hardworking and very tactically astute player who was outstanding during the 2016/17 season as he guided Spartak Moscow towards their first league title in 16 years. Cruelly though, he sustained a knee ligament at the end of that season which kept him out for several months. He has been previously linked with a move to one of the Index PB leagues and is one to keep an eye on during the tournament in my view. Also, Jose Mourinho was spotted recently at the Austria v Russia friendly and with Man United on the lookout for midfielders, so you just never know!

bet365 Pick from Steve Freeth: Russia not to qualify @9/4

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 13/1
To Qualify 2/5
To Finish Top 15/8
To Lift The Trophy 40/1

coached by Juan Antonio Pizzi

KEY PLAYER: Fahad al-Muwallad
A genuine homegrown talent, has already spent time on loan in Spain with Levante and the Al-Ittihad forward, who can also play out wide, will be eager to prove his worth in Russia

Yes they aren’t going to get out of the group, but I genuinely see them causing an upset against Russia in the opening game, they could make some history here.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi
My pick Al-Sahlawi, who interestingly enough spent three weeks training at Manchester United in April, has an excellent goal-scoring record, and found the net 16 times during qualifying (although to be fair 8 of those were against Timor-Leste…). If you’re looking to add a cheap player to your portfolio for the tournament then he may be the one to watch out for.

bet365 Pick: To win two to three points @5/2

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 2/5
To Qualify 7/1
To Finish Top 5/1
To Lift The Trophy 1000/1

coached by Hector Cuper

In the running to be only the second African player to life the Balon D’or, if Egypt are to progress, then Salah is crucial – the hopes of a nation are not all on him, but he needs to perform.

I see Egypt making the knockout stages, taking advantage of Russia slipping up, indeed they could easily win this group but I think Uruguay will have the edge on them.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Mo Salah
The obvious choice really. Salah has had an outstanding season for Liverpool, almost leading them to Champions League glory, and his share price on the Index has soared as a result. His participation in the World Cup does depend on him recovering from a shoulder injury sustained during the recent Champions League final, so be aware that there is an element of risk involved if you are looking to add him to your portfolio at this stage, but he is likely to be heavily involved in everything good Egypt do in the tournament.

bet365 Pick: Under 3.5 goals @4/6

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 5/1
To Qualify 5/4
To Finish Top 6/1
To Life The Trophy 150/1

coached by Oscar Tabarez

KEY PLAYER: Luis Suarez
One of greatest players on the planet at the moment, Suarez could take Uruguay deep into this tournament – he has performed at previous World Cups and there is little evidence to suggest that he won’t do it again. Could be one of the main men in Russia.

Uruguay could go a long way in this tournament, they will win this group at a canter – but their knockout path looks difficult – but they could easily make the final four if they play well.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Nahitan Nandez
Uruguay are hoping to rely on a blend youth and experience to strike a winning formula at the World Cup and are many people’s dark horses for the tournament. To be honest, my pick was actually going to be Federico Valverde, but coach Oscar Tabarez cut him out of the final squad so instead I have gone with Nandez. He is not much of a household name yet, given that he currently plays for Boca Juniors in Argentina, however the 22-year-old, who can play in the centre or on the right side of midfield, broke into the Uruguay side in the last few qualification matches and could be one to look out for during the tournament with his tenacious displays.

bet365 Pick: To win group @4/5

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 22/2
To Qualify 1/5
To Finish Top 10/11
To Lift The Trophy 33/1

Group B – Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran

coached by Fernando Santos

KEY PLAYER from Graeme Bailey: Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo is the inspiration for his nation, he went off injured in the final of the Euros, but he was still the heartbeat of the side – he has just lead Real Madrid to three successive Champions League trophies, could he add a World Cup to his CV, don’t write him off and is this his last World Cup? Again don’t write him off.

PREDICTION with Andy Gray:
I think Portugal will push Spain all the way in the group stages but might just miss out on goal-difference, but they could win this. I think people will underestimate them, but I don’t see a repeat of the Euros here, even with Ronaldo on form.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow with Ryan Bradford: Bruno Fernandes
Rather than go for the obvious choice in Cristiano Ronaldo, I have selected Fernandes who is currently plying his trade at the troubled Sporting Lisbon. He generally excelled for Sporting Lisbon in last season’s Europa League (his WhoScored rating was a very respectable 8.0 for the tournament) and was even able to win some PB dividends along the way which put him on many Index traders’ radar. With all the uncertainty going on around Sporting Lisbon, Fernandes has been rumoured to be looking for a way out. No doubt he will be keen to impress potential suitors at the World Cup and with a strong showing, could secure himself a move to a big European club.

bet365 Pick from Steve Freeth: Not to qualify @9/4

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 29/2
To Qualify 2/9
To Finish Top 2/1
To Lift The Trophy 25/1

coached by Julen Lopetegui

KEY PLAYER: Diego Costa
Spain have plenty of play-makes from Iniesta to Silva to Asensio, but they don’t have anyone else like Costa – if they can get the best out of him and get him back to his best, they could win this tournament.

It is hard not to rate Spain, they will do well and it would not be a shock to see them go all the way to the final, although they are not my pick to win it – but they will go deep into the tournament.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow:  Marco Ascensio
I could have picked any one of a number of players for Spain, as they have so much quality and strength in depth within their squad. I eventually plumped for Ascensio because I feel that he has unbelievable ability which still hasn’t been shown fully at Real Madrid, yet. Every World Cup there is usually a ‘break out’ star, like James Rodriguez was for Columbia at the last World Cup. Ascensio certainly has all the makings of a star and I’m backing him to shine for Spain at the World Cup and enhance his burgeoning reputation ever further.

bet365 Pick: To win Group B @1/2

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 45/1
To Qualify 1/6
To Finish Top 1/2
To Lift The Trophy 6/1

coached by Herve Renard

KEY PLAYER: Mehdi Benatia
A brilliant centre-half, Benatia will be crucial for his country. If he can marshal the back-line then they are capable of frustrating the best – which is what they will need to do against Portugal and Spain.

I don’t see Morocco getting out of the group here, but I think they could make life very difficult for Spain and Portugal in finishing third.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Hakim Ziyech
An extremely talented player who registered 9 goals and 15 assists this season for Ajax. He has a keen eye for a pass, is a strong dribbler and effective set-piece taker. According to WhoScored’s rating system, Ziyech was the highest rated player in the Eredivisie and he is sure to be on many big European clubs’ shopping list this summer. If he produces a strong showing at the World Cup, which I think he will, he should be destined for big things.

bet365 Pick: To qualify @3/1

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 7/4
To Qualify 4/1
To Finish Top 16/1
To Lift The Trophy 500/1

coached by Carlos Quieroz

KEY PLAYER: Sardar Azmoun
Known as the Iranian Messi – the young forward, currently playing in Russia, has a brilliant record at international level with over 20-goals despite only being 22. He is one to watch here, he is the key to any success Iran might have.

The big game for Iran is against Morocco, and I just don’t see where there points are coming from, I think they are comfortably finishing bottom here.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Alireza Jahanbakhsh
Another gem from the Dutch league. Jahanbakhsh has just had an incredible season with AZ Alkmaar and even made history by becoming the first Asian top scorer ever in a Western European league with 21 goals. Add that to the 12 assists he got during the season as well means he directly contributed to 33 goals in 33 games. He may not be a household name yet, but the World Cup just might be the platform to launch himself into stardom.

bet365 Pick: Under 1.5 goals in tournament @4/7

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 19/20
To Qualify 11/2
To Finish Top 33/1
To Lift The Trophy 500/1

Group C – France, Australia, Peru, Denmark

coached by Didier Deschamps

KEY PLAYER from Graeme Bailey: Kylian Mbappe
Mbappe could be as good as anyone in the world and this could be his World Cup finals, if he plays well then France could go all the way and he is more than capable.

PREDICTION with Andy Gray:
I don’t see France being troubled in the group at all, and I am sure they will make the semi-finals at least – easily could win the tournament but they are not my picks.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow with Ryan Bradford: Ousmane Dembele
This pick is similar in many ways to my choice of Ascensio in that I think Dembele hasn’t showed off his full ability yet. He excelled for Dortmund before getting a move to Barcelona last summer, but this season perhaps hasn’t gone as well as he would have hoped due to niggling injuries which have disrupted his progress somewhat. Dembele is lighting fast, has great ball control and a lethal shot on him. Trust me, Dembele is a star in the making.

bet365 Pick from Steve Freeth: Group Dual Forecast with Denmark to finish first or second @10/11

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 50/1
To Qualify 1/20
To Finish Top 2/7
To Lift The Trophy 13/2

coached by Bert van Marwijk

KEY PLAYER: Aaron Mooy
The Huddersfield midfielder has proven this season what a good player he is, he can make Australia tick and he is a real danger for any opposition, but he needs to perform to give the Socceroos a chance.

Australia have a chance here, with Denmark and Peru teams who they will think they can give a game too, can they beat both? I am not sure, I think they are destined for third at best.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Tom Rogic
The Australian squad is not filled with stars and it is hard to make a case for Australia getting out of their group in all honesty. Rogic, perhaps along with Aaron Mooy of Huddersfield, is the only player they possess with a certain ‘x-factor’ about them. Rogic will likely occupy the number 10 position in a 4-2-3-1 system for Australia and so is there is a good chance he will be pivotal for Australia as an attacking force.

bet365 Pick: Andrew Nabbout to be top-scorer in group 10/1

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 11/10
To Qualify 7/2
To Finish Top 20/1
To Lift The Trophy 300/1

coached by Ricardo Gareca

KEY PLAYER: Jefferson Farfan
Perhaps his best days are past him but he has recaptured form with Lokomotiv Moscow and on his day he can still be world-class and Peru will need him to be on his game if they have any hopes of progression.

I don’t see Peru getting much in Russia, they don’t have a very impressive looking squad to me and I think they will be competing with Australia to avoid bottom spot.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Renato Tapia
I must confess my knowledge of the Peruvian squad isn’t all that sound, so my choice isn’t made with a great deal of confidence! From my research on the squad, it would appear that Tapia is arguably Peru’s most important player. Tapia can also play at centre back but is likely to play a defensive midfield role for Peru during the World Cup. At 22 years of age, he should have the best years of his career ahead of him and with the chance of his club Feyenoord being involved in the Europa League next season, he could provide good value on the Index, even after Peru exit the World Cup.

bet365 Pick: Christian Cueva to be top-scorer 7/1

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 23/10
To Qualify 2/1
To Finish Top 10/1
To Lift The Trophy 200/1

coached by Age Hareide

KEY PLAYER: Christian Eriksen
One of the most gifted players in the Premier League, which automatically makes you one of the most gifted players in world football. Eriksen is a sensational footballer and one-player can never lead a team to success but Eriksen could lead Denmark further than some think.

I don’t think Denmark will have too many issues qualifying from this group, but they are probably going to struggle to get past the last 16.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Christian Eriksen
Almost undisputedly Denmark’s best player who they are heavily reliant on as an attacking force. Eriksen is a silky player who has a reputation for stunning goals and majestic passes. Prior to the World Cup he was linked with both Barcelona and Real Madrid and at 26 he may be looking for a big move away from Tottenham. Whatever Eriksen ultimately decides, I suspect that if Denmark do well in the tournament then he will almost certainly play a starring role.

bet365 Pick: Last 16 Elimination @17/10

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 5/1
To Qualify 4/6
To Finish Top 9/2
To Lift The Trophy 100/1

Group D – Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria

coached by Jorge Sampaoli

KEY PLAYER from Graeme Bailey: Lionel Messi
A stacked squad but Messi is the main man for his country, if he performs well he could very well take his team all the way, and if he does want to be considered the best ever – he could really do with taking a World Cup by the scruff of the neck, so this could be his year.

PREDICTION with Andy Gray:
I don’t see Argentina not winning the group, and I don’t see them being troubled before the quarter-finals but not sure they have it in them to go all the way.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow with Ryan Bradford: Lionel Messi
It’s an unoriginal and obvious choice but Argentina’s whole set up is about Messi and how to get the best out of him, so he has to be my pick. Argentina only just about scraped to the World Cup and despite having several very talented players, just haven’t been able to find the right balance around Messi. On that basis, I don’t expect Argentina to go far at the World Cup, but if they do, you know for sure Messi will be largely responsible for it.

bet365 Pick from Steve Freeth: Lionel Messi to score under 3.5 goals @Evens

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 33/1
To Qualify 1/7
To Finish Top 8/13
To Lift The Trophy 9/1

coached by Heimir Hallgrimsson

KEY PLAYER: Gylfi Sigurdsson
Iceland are very much a team, and don’t rely on any one man but Sigurdsson is by far their stand-out performer and if he turns up, he could be the key to their progression.

This group is tough and there is a case for all four teams, but I think that Iceland will just miss out on getting through here, I like Argentina and Croatia too much.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Gylfi Sigurdsson
Iceland, as they were when they beat England in Euro 2016, are likely to be very defensively minded and look to hit teams on the counter attack. Sigurdsson is Iceland’s chief playmaker and given his technical ability, is likely to be on set-piece duty throughout the tournament so could chip in with a few assists if Iceland do well. Even if Sigurdsson doesn’t shine at the World Cup, Everton under Marco Silva next season, should improve so is certainly a player worth holding on to.

bet365 Pick: Two to three points in Group @15/8

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 13/10
To Qualify 11/4
To Finish Top 12/1
To Lift The Trophy 200/1

coached by Zlatko Dalic

KEY PLAYER: Luka Modric
Some players you just sit back and admire how easy he makes the game look – Luka Modric is one of those players, a genius and one of the world’s best – Croatia could do well at this finals, but only if Modric plays well.

Croatia will threaten Argentina in this group no doubt about it, and they could easily win this stage and I do think they go through to the knockout stages but don’t think they are going to threaten the last eight.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Ivan Perisic
Heavily linked with Man United last summer, Perisic has great technical ability and a return of 17 goals in 64 international appearances is pretty impressive. Croatia have got plenty of talented players at their disposal and with a favourable group, will hope to do well at the World Cup. Perisic loves the big stage and I expect him to shine for Croatia again at the World Cup. His club, Inter Milan qualified for next season’s Champions League and so is another player to possibly hold on to after the World Cup has ended.

bet365 Pick: Luka Modric top-scorer in group @12/1

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 7/1
To Qualify 1/2
To Finish Top 9/4
To Lift The Trophy 33/1

coached by Gernot Rohr

KEY PLAYER: Victor Moses
The Chelsea man has really stepped up in recent years, and his country need him here to be the top Premier League he is – and he has all the attributes to change a game for Nigeria.

Nigeria are unfortunate to be in such a tough group, I think they could very well have got through in some of the other groups but as it stands I think they are going home after the group stage and quite possibly without a point.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Kelechi Iheanacho
Iheanacho didn’t have the best of seasons with Leicester after moving from Man City at the beginning of last season and is likely to only play a supporting role for Nigeria at the World Cup. However, towards the very end of last season it looked like he was starting to fulfil the promise he showed at Man City and with his keen eye for goal could certainly be one to keep an eye on for Nigeria.

bet365 Pick: Victor Moses to be top-scorer @5/1

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 8/5
To Qualify 9/4
To Finish Top 10/1
To Lift The Trophy 200/1

Group E – Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia

coached by Tite

KEY PLAYER from Graeme Bailey: Neymar
As he showed on home soil four-years ago, Neymar is the key to Brazil – if they are going to win this, he needs to fit and playing well, but again as he showed four-years ago he is more than capable of doing it.

PREDICTION with Andy Gray:
Brazil win this group at a canter, indeed I see them making the semi-finals without any major problems, but I think they might just come up short overall, but they are going to be there or thereabouts without any doubt for me, class act.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow with Ryan Bradford: Phillipe Coutinho
Rather than go for Neymar, I decided to sway towards Coutinho on the basis that whilst Neymar has bags of ability, he won’t have had much time to get match fit before the tournament. Coutinho on the other hand has been in good form for Barcelona and should be a regular starter for Brazil, with or without Neymar.

bet365 Pick from Steve Freeth: Nine points in the group @5/4

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 40/1
To Qualify 1/16
To Finish Top 4/1
To Lift The Trophy 2/7

coached by Vladimir Petkovic

KEY PLAYER: Granit Xhaka
He is a £30million midfielder and he was solid enough for Arsenal this season, but his country need him to step up if they want to progress.

I have found it very hard to split Switzerland and Serbia as to who will finish runners-up to Brazil in this group, it would be a shock to see the Swiss do it, but I think last 16 is as far as they an go.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Xherdan Shaqiri
Shaqiri recently confirmed he will leave Stoke and expressed a wish to remain in England, i.e the Premier League if possible. Shaqiri is an extremely gifted footballer but has often been criticised in the past for a lack of application and defensive awareness. Shaqiri will no doubt want to use the World Cup as a chance to impress potential suitors and with an attractive looking group for Switzerland, may get an extended chance to do that.

bet365 Pick: Not to qualify 4/5

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 4/1
To Qualify Evens
To Finish Top 6/1
To Lift The Trophy 100/1

Costa Rica
coached by Oscar Ramirez

KEY PLAYER: Keylor Navas
Has proven he is world class with Real Madrid in recent season. He was superb in Brazil four-years ago when his country made the quarter-finals and they will need him on top-form again just to get out of this tough looking group.

I know Costa Rica shocked everyone last time out but I don’t see lightning striking twice, and for me they go out without a point and probably without a goal.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Bryan Oviedo
A hard working and functional side that England fans will no doubt remember from the 2014 World Cup. Like Shaqiri above, Oviedo is a player who has recently suffered relegation with his club and will be looking to impress potential suitors at the World Cup. Fans of the Premier League will possibly remember him bombing up and down the left flank for Everton before agonisingly breaking his leg in January 2014 meaning he missed out on the 2014 World Cup.  He is perhaps not as likely as Shaqiri to secure a move to a PB league, but certainly one to keep an eye on.

bet365 Pick: To finish bottom @4/6

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 5/6
To Qualify 17/2
To Finish Top 18/1
To Lift The Trophy 500/1

coached by Mladen Krstajic

KEY PLAYER: Nemanja Matic
Doesn’t often grab the headlines, but his medal cabinet does not lie – a class act, who plays a huge role in whichever team he is part of – for Serbia he needs to step it up further, but he is capable of having a big tournament in Russia.

Like I said with the Swiss, I find it hard to pick between them and Serbia, but I think I just give Serbia the edge but it will be very close, I also think they have a better chance of progressing in the knockout stages, but I don’t see them going too far.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Aleksandar Mitrovic
I was tempted to go for the more obvious pick in Milinkovic-Savic, and he is certainly one to watch out for obvious reasons, but instead I have gone for Mitrovic who seems to have hit a real purple patch in form of late, scoring 12 Championship goals since the end of February which helped take Fulham all the way to Premier League promotion via the playoffs. He was Serbia’s top goal scorer in qualifying and with uncertainty over his future at Newcastle he is a player with potentially both PB and MB appeal.

bet365 Pick: Group Forecast Brail 1st Serbia 2nd @9/4

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 7/2
To Qualify 6/5
To Finish Top 8/1
To Lift The Trophy 200/1

Group F – Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea

coached by Joachim Low

KEY PLAYER from Graeme Bailey: Thomas Muller
Always under-rated by many, Muller is one of the best forwards in the world, he is a wonderful performer and if he hits form as you can expect – then he will take his country very close, if not all the way.

PREDICTION with Andy Gray:
Finally we get to my winners, and it might be a bit boring but they are so professional – they are well prepared, well drilled and for me they are going to win the World Cup again.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow with Ryan Bradford: Joshua Kimmich
An extremely talented footballer who is slowly filling the extremely large shoes of Phillip Lahm. He is an excellent crosser of the ball and is more than capable of notching up a few assists at the World Cup. I expect Germany to go far in the tournament and whilst they have a plethora of midfield talent I could have chosen, I imagine Kimmich will play the full 90 in most if not all Germany’s games which gives him the edge for PB in my book.

bet365 Pick from Steve Freeth: Germany five to six points @11/4

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 50/1
To Qualify 1/12
To Finish Top 1/3
To Lift The Trophy 9/2

coached by Juan Carlos Osorio

KEY PLAYER: Javier Hernandez
The West Ham striker is still key for Mexico, he is a top performer at international level but they will need his goals if they want to progress in Russia.

I see it being close for Mexico, and it will probably all come down to their game with Sweden but I think they might just miss out.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Hirving Lozano
Another star from the Dutch league. The 22-year-old has been linked with a move to the Premier League following a stellar season in Holland with PSV in which he clocked up 17 goals and 8 assists. He is a talented winger with excellent crossing ability and is predicted to be Mexico’s leading light during the tournament. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

bet365 Pick: Three to four points for Mexico @23/20

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 9/2
To Qualify 11/10
To Finish Top 5/1
To Lift The Trophy 100/1

coached by Janne Andersson

KEY PLAYER: Emil Forsberg
Has emerged as one of the best midfielders in the Bundesliga with Leipzig and big things are expected from him in Russia, he could be a star turn at this year’s tournament.

I see Sweden edging through from this tough group, they have experience and I think that will see them into the knockout stages, but no further.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Viktor Lindelof
To be honest, I have hardly picked any defenders or goalkeepers in my selections because generally they struggle to win Media Buzz which rather limits their ability to win dividends. However, I have gone for Lindelof here on the basis that he is likely to be first choice centre-back for Sweden during the tournament and although has cemented a first team place for Man United yet, could show the qualities which led to Man U signing him in the first place. If he does, it could help establish himself in the United team which would no doubt lead to an increase in his share price.

bet365 Pick: Andreas Granqvist top-scorer 16/1

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 16/5
To Qualify 5/4
To Finish Top 15/2
To Lift The Trophy 150/1

South Korea
coached by Shin Tae-yong

KEY PLAYER: Son Heung-min
A brilliant season in England has firmly established Son as Asia’s best player – he is a top performer who now needs to transfer that tot he international stage and I believe he could take South Korea out of the groups here.

This is a close group and I just think South Korea will be the big losers and miss out, I see them coming bottom here.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Hwang Hee-Chan
Was part of the Red-Bull Salzburg team that reached the Europa League semi-finals last season. Interestingly he has spent all of his club career so far in Austria. At 22, he has time on his side to improve and could make a name for himself during the tournament.

bet365 Pick from: To finish bottom of the Group 5/6

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 9/10
To Qualify 5/2
To Finish Top 16/1
To Lift The Trophy 750/1

Group G – Belgium, England, Tunisia, Panama

coached by Roberto Martinez

KEY PLAYER from Graeme Bailey: Kevin De Bruyne
The best player in the Premier League, and one of the greatest players on the planet – one of the reasons I believe Belgium will win this tournament – he is a joy to watch and could light up the finals with ease.

PREDICTION with Andy Gray:
I think it is hard to pick between England and Belgium, but I am siding with England but I do think Belgium have potential to progress, I am just not sure how far.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow with Ryan Bradford: Eden Hazard
Hazard is a world class player and you can expect him to be heavily involved in Belgium’s attacking play. You would expect Belgium to get through the group, with England hopefully, and so there should be at least 4 PB games for him to be involved in. He has been heavily linked with a move away from England so could also provide so MB potential in addition to any PB.

bet365 Pick from Steve Freeth: Group forecast England 1st/Belgium 2nd @7/4

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 33/1
To Qualify 1/10
To Finish Top 5/6
To Lift The Trophy 11/1

coached by Hernan Dario Gomez

KEY PLAYER: Jaime Penedo
Panama’s number one has extensive experience and one of the few players currently plying his trade in Europe. Penedo is a class act and Panama will need him to be at his best if they have any hope of getting anything from the World Cup other than platitudes.

I just don’t see how Panama are getting anything here, I don’t see them getting a point or a goal, but at the very least it will be a great experience for the country.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Michael Murillo
Panama have nothing to lose at the World Cup as there is very little expected of them. This makes them potentially very dangerous. Having said that, I just can’t see them making any real impression in the tournament. They are likely to set up very defensively so if you are looking to add a Panama player to your portfolio then a defender might be the way to go! Murillo is a decent right back who likes to get forward and could catch the eye of a European club depending on how he performs at the World Cup.

bet365 Pick: Zero group points @2/1

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 17/25
To Qualify 9/1
To Finish Top 40/1
To Lift The Trophy 1000/1

coached by Nabil Maaloul

KEY PLAYER: Wahbi Khazri
A Sunderland man had a great campaign on loan in France and he has a proud record for his country, he can game changer and his country will need him to be at his best – he is one to watch in Russia.

I don’t see Tunisia making it through but I suspect that they will make life difficult for both Belgium and England.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Wahbi Khazri
Another Sunderland player who will be looking for a move elsewhere during the summer. He spent last season on loan at Rennes and scored 9 times and assisted twice in 23 Ligue 1 games. At 27 years of age, he could still potentially offer something to a top European club and might be your best bet in the Tunisian squad.

bet365 Pick: Two to three points @8/5

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 7/4
To Qualify 4/1
To Finish Top 14/1
To Lift The Trophy 750/1

coached by Gareth Southgate

KEY PLAYER: Rahem Sterling
The Manchester City forward has progressed in the last 12-months under Pep Guardiola to make him England’s most dangerous player. Sterling has the world at his feet and could easily become his country’s stand-out and most important performer in Russia.

I see England winning this group, I believe they are the dark horses for the whole tournament and could go far. They have real potential and have looked good, and will start by winning the group.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Harry Kane
Perhaps England’s one and only genuine world class player. England are likely to be heavily reliant on Kane for goals and his performances will be key to England’s chances. Much of the media attention will be focused on Kane, who has been named England’s captain for the tournament. If England go far in the tournament there is a lot of MB potential for Kane. Although he is fairly expensive to buy on the Index, he represents both a good short and long-term hold in my view.

bet365 Pick: Sterling top England goalscorer @6/1

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 25/1
To Qualify 1/8
To Finish Top 6/5
To Lift The Trophy 18/1

Group H – Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan

coached by Adam Nawalka

KEY PLAYER from Graeme Bailey: Robert Lewandowki
One of the best forwards in the world and for me a very good bet to be top-scorer, Poland could very well be one of the dark horses in Russia but if they are to be Lewandowski has to be at his best.

PREDICTION with Andy Gray:
Very close call on whether Poland can beat Colombia to winning the group, I see them making the last 16 but not much further.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow with Ryan Bradford: Arkadisuz Milik
Has recently returned to fitness and form after an extended injury break. He is perhaps unlikely to start for Poland during the World Cup assuming Poland play their preferred 4-2-3-1 formation with Lewandowski leading the line. However, he can play as an attacking midfielder too and has shown in the past that he is a great foil for Lewandowski. I think there is scope for improvement in Milik’s share price given that he has only recently returned from injury and with Napoli again qualifying for the Champions League for next season, should be a good longer term hold as well.

bet365 Pick from Steve Freeth: Not to qualify @13/10

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 11/2
To Qualify 4/7
To Finish Top 7/4
To Lift The Trophy 50/1

coached by Aliou Cisse

KEY PLAYER: Sadio Mane
Sadio Mane is one of Africa’s finest players, little doubt about it – Mane could add to his growing reputation with a big tournament – getting Senegal to the group stages would be a huge achievement, but he is capable.

I am not too sure what Senegal have to offer, I can see them finishing bottom here and going home without a point.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Ismaila Sarr
Although much of the focus for Senegal will be on Sadio Mane, after a long season with Liverpool I have decided to pick Sarr as my player to watch out for as I feel he has slightly better potential for share price growth. He rejected a move to Barcelona last summer and rumour has it they are still tracking him. The 20-year-old, who plays for Rennes in France, may not be a guaranteed starter for Senegal but should get sufficient opportunity during the World Cup to show his raw talent.

bet365 Pick: Sadio Mane top-scorer @9/4

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 11/5
To Qualify 5/4
To Finish Top 9/2
To Lift The Trophy 200/1

coached by Jose Pekerman

KEY PLAYER: Radamel Falcao
Captain for his country and a key figure, but most importantly he is back to form, showing with Monaco that he is over his injuries – he has the potential to have a huge World Cup, and if he does then Colombia could go far.

As I said a very close call between Colombia and Poland to win the group but I think the Colombians will egde it and I can see them making the quarter-finals.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: James Rodriguez
James was the break out star of the 2014 World Cup and Columbia will be looking to him once more for inspiration during this World Cup. He was directly involved in just under half of Columbia’s goals in qualifying with 6 goals and 4 assists and so should be in and around the PB action if Coumbia do well. Rodriguez is currently half way through a two year loan deal at Bayern Munich from Real Madrid so if you are prepared to hold for the long term, there could be some MB to be had next summer should he look to move away from Madrid.

bet365 Pick: To win the Group @11/8

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 38/5
To Qualify 4/11
To Finish Top 11/8
To Lift The Trophy 40/1

coached by Akira Nishino

KEY PLAYER: Maya Yoshida
The Southampton is a class act, and Japan need to make strong in defence if they want to progress so Yoshida becomes their key performer and he is capable.

I think that Japan have a chance of progressing but not sure they will, I believe they will get the better of Senegal but Poland and Colombia will have too much for them.

FOOTBALLIndex – One to follow: Shinji Kagawa
If you are still looking to add a Japanese player to your portfolio for the World Cup, I would point you in the direction of Shinji Kagawa. He is an effective playmaker who has experience of playing at a very high level, although he hasn’t played a great deal of football for his club Borussia Dortmund this season. That could mean he is fresh for the tournament though and certainly has the ability to do well.

bet365 Pick: To finish bottom @6/4

WORLD CUP ODDS from bet365:
To Finish Bottom 8/5
To Qualify 2/1
To Finish Top 15/2
To Lift The Trophy 300/1

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