It’s often the group stage that is the making of a team at a major international tournament.
Drawing what looks like a straightforward group is naturally desirable, but early contests against lesser nations can often pave the way for some pretty lacklustre showings in the latter stages. By contrast, some tough clashes early on can see a team battle-hardened and better prepared for those high-pressure games in the final knockings.
The group stages make for a fascinating spectacle. It’s the best bit of the entire World Cup, really. They provide us with back-to-back football, a myriad of different cultures to sample and, with the pressure not quite as intense as it is in the latter stages, arguably the most entertaining matches.
So as we stand on the brink of the World Cup group phase, let’s take a look at who the favourites for the title in Brazil will be pitted against and how they look likely to fare in their opening three games.
All odds are courtesy of Odds Shark.
|Group A: Odds to Win Group|
Expected to progress from the initial stage with consummate ease, a closer look at Brazil’s early opponents might tell a different story.
As the hosts they’ll take their place in Group A and will get the tournament underway against Croatia on June 12. Then they tackle Mexico and Cameroon in their remaining two games. While it’s difficult to see the Africans posing many problems for Brazil, in Croatia and Mexico, the Selecao have a pair of potentially difficult opponents in their other two matchups.
Croatia may have endured a torrid qualification period, but under the tutelage of Niko Kovac, they have rediscovered some cohesiveness. In Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, they have two of Europe’s outstanding playmakers, and just in front of that mercurial duo, Mateo Kovacic is a young player capable of causing plenty of problems.
As for Mexico, they’ve fashioned a reputation as something of a bogey team for Brazil, as noted here by the BBC’s John Bennett:
They too endured a difficult qualification phase, and they have enough energy in their ranks to cause problems for the hosts. Manager Miguel Herrera looks likely to implement a style founded on this industry, and they look likely to be an enterprising, attacking outfit at the World Cup.
Brazil should still have enough to progress from the group, but backing them to be group winners at 1-4 would be dangerous. They won’t be quite as sure a thing as many pundits are making out.
|Group F: Odds to Win Group|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||6-1|
Alejandro Sabella looks set to unleash a plethora of Argentinean attacking riches this summer, and an offensive foursome of Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi should see them have enough to make it out of Group F with plenty left in the tank.
They’ll be taking on World Cup debutants Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nigeria and Iran in their opening three games, and it’s difficult to see any of those nations containing such a stellar Albiceleste front line.
The Bosnia and Herzegovina side do have some intriguing attacking players that should be able to cause problems for the best of sides, with the likes of Miralem Pjanic and Edin Dzeko very difficult to handle. But they have a host of problems with reliability and know-how at the back that could see them come undone.
Nonetheless, the World Cup's official magazine editor, Thore Haugstad, thinks the Bosnians can give Argentina problems if they adopt an attacking approach:
By comparison, Nigeria and Iran are both pretty well organised. They'll look to sit in deep, limit space in behind and then spring on the break. But they don't have supreme defenders in their armoury, and skilful, intricate operators like Aguero and Messi will find a way through.
Argentina are the same price to get out of their group as Brazil. At this juncture, it's the Albiceleste that look the best value at that price.
|Group B: Odds to Win Group|
The current world and European champions find themselves in one of the most difficult groups in the tournament. Alongside Vicente Del Bosque's wonderful La Roja squad will be Netherlands, Chile and Australia.
Admittedly, the Socceroos could be the whipping boys of this competition as they look to integrate a host of young players into their squad. But the Dutch and the Chileans could cause problems for the 2010 winners.
Louis van Gaal's side also have a refreshing feel about them, but while the next Manchester United manager has looked to bring in some youthful exuberance, experienced and quality figures such as Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben remain. On their day, that duo are enough in themselves to cause chaos in the ranks of any side.
The intriguing match in this group will surely come when Spain meet Chile, though. Jorge Sampaoli's team play a vibrant, aggressive and intense style, and it'll be interesting to see how opposition fare against them in the stifling South American heat.
Spain look in for some tough tests, but they remain a quality outfit. Their ability to keep possession and subsequently keep the opposition chasing the ball will be vital given the climate, not to mention their winning mentality and tournament nous. Your money would be safe if you backed them at 37-50 to top Group B.