There is an argument that the upcoming World Cup in Russia will see the greatest concentration of quality players in many decades. It’s hard to measure such things, but it is undeniable that there is an incredible array of talent going to Russia. Some teams, such as Germany and France, may well be bringing their strongest squads – littered with Champions League stars – to the finals in a generation. Others, like Belgium, are bringing the strongest squad in their national team’s history.
In terms of odds, there is a tight group of teams at the top, with bookmakers more or less split over Germany and Brazil as favourites. The best price from betting sites comes in at around 19/4 (888sport, Unibet) for both teams. Brazil are as low as 4/1 with some bookmakers. France are more or less unanimously the third-favourites, with odds coming in around 6/1.
Bookmakers look to have erred in pricing Spain
However, among the favourites, the standout value bet must be Spain, who can be found as big as 7/1 with several bookmakers. It is simply hard to fathom that such an accomplished side is not priced closer to Germany and Brazil. Of course, plenty of punters will point to the 6-1 demolition of Argentina in the recent friendly, but there is perhaps even more evidence than that of Spain being back to their best.
Indeed, under Julen Lopetegui, Spain have become a new-look side, not dependent on the tiki-taka style of play that was so successful in the past. In a way, Spain have mirrored Barcelona’s changes: less time on the ball and less passing, but much more ruthlessly effective. They were imperious when going unbeaten in a tough qualifying group (containing Italy), conceding just three goals along the way. It is that defensive prowess, led by Ramos and Pique, that could see them progress through the knockout stages.
Belgium look a steal as ‘next-best’ bet selection
Looking then at the teams who are considered ‘just outside the favourites’, we have Argentina (9/1), Belgium (12/1) and England (16/1). While some will be tempted to back Argentina for the Messi-factor, they really have been awful since finishing as runners up in 2014. In fact, they are lucky to have qualified at all. England too are tempting at 16/1, but you would imagine they would need some luck to get past the stronger nations.
No, it is Belgium who offers the real value. 12/1 for one of the best – and most balanced – squads in world football. The crucial thing to remember for backers of Belgium is that their golden generation – De Bruyne, Hazard, Lukaku, Vertonghen, Courtois, Mertens and so on – are all at their peak. They have been playing together for years. This really could be their time.
Belgium can make history in Russia
Why are Belgium not a lower price considering their talent? Bookmakers sometimes have an issue with precedent: they price Belgium high because Belgium have never won major tournament before. However, you could make an argument that Belgium have a stronger side than, say, the co-favourites Brazil. This is a once in a lifetime squad with a once in a lifetime opportunity to win the World Cup. They really can do it.
So, there you have it. There are some very good sides at the world cup and it is always difficult to pick a winner. But if you are looking to back a couple of sides that offer both value and a decent chance of success, you could do a lot worse than Belgium and Spain.