After failing to qualify for the past two World Cups, Russia returns to the game’s biggest stage as a 1-2 group betting favorite to advance to the round of 16 for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union.
It has been a marked turnaround for Russia since the hiring of Fabio Capello, former boss of England’s national side. And the respect from oddsmakers here proves that this is not a passing fancy.
With an emphasis on defense, Russia finished atop their World Cup qualifying group, edging out Portugal on goal differential, while allowing only five goals against in their 10 qualification matches.
Russia received a favorable draw for the 2014 World Cup, joining Belgium, South Korea and Algeria in Group H. The Belgians, whose youth movement has paid immediate dividends, are a strong 4-7 favorite in group betting, followed by Russia at 9-4.
South Korea could present an obstacle to Russia’s advancement to the knockout stage at Brazil 2014. The Koreans struggled during World Cup qualifying and sit a distant No. 55 in FIFA’s World Ranking.
But they gave Russia all they could handle in a recent friendly, forcing a young Russian squad to come from behind to post a 2-1 win. While Russia will field a stronger team at Brazil 2014, they cannot underestimate the experienced Koreans, who will be playing in their eighth consecutive World Cup tournament.
The most important key to success for Russia will be their group-stage match against Belgium, which promises to be an epic struggle between Belgium’s dynamic offense and Russia’s stifling defense. If Russia can put points on the table against the young Belgian squad, they will have a real chance at claiming top spot in Group H.
That would help them avoid a potential round-of-16 matchup against Germany, 5-9 favorites to win their group and listed among World Cup futures betting favorites with odds of 11-2.
While Russia’s vaunted defense will keep them in every game, to ensure advancement beyond the group stage they will need to muster more offensive production than they have since Euro 2012. Apart from running up the score in qualifying matches against lightweights Luxembourg and Israel, Russia has failed to fill the net against mostly weaker competition.
The Russian squad sports odds of 66/1 in props wagering to be the highest-scoring World Cup team. For that to happen, they will need huge goal production from players such as striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov, the most prolific goal scorer in Russian Premier League history.