Eight teams will contest this month’s Confederations Cup, giving football fans and punters something to get excited about during an otherwise barren summer. It is a bit of an odd quasi-competitive tournament that provides hosts Russia a dry run ahead of next summer’s World Cup, but it features some strong teams and some of the world’s best players will be on show. Hosts Russia automatically qualify, as do World Cup holders Germany, and the remaining six berths are filled by the winners of the various confederations championships from around the world. This means you see minnows like Australia and New Zealand mixing it with heavyweights like Portugal and Chile. It should make for an interesting mix, and it will be great to see the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Alexis Sanchez terrorising defences.
The eight teams have been divided into two groups. Group A features Portugal, Mexico, Russia and New Zealand, while Group B contains Germany, Chile, Cameroon and Australia. The winner of Group A will face the runner-up of Group B in one semi-final, and the other will be contested by Group B’s winner and Group A’s runner-up, before the final on July 2 in St Petersburg.
The first round of group stage matches sees four fixtures: Russia v New Zealand, Portugal v Mexico, Cameroon v Chile and Australia v Germany. The final game seems a bit of a mismatch, with holders and World Cup favourites Germany taking on a nation not exactly known for its footballing prowess, but there are some competitive matches shaping up too. One word of advice: perhaps it might be prudent not to stake too much on the first round of fixtures. It might be better to treat it as an exercise in ascertaining how seriously each of the eight teams is taking this competition. For example, will Cristiano Ronaldo start for Portugal? How good will Germany be? They have left out most of their key players and will field a youthful, inexperienced side. Then in the second round of fixtures, once you have gauged how competitive each team is, you can increase your stake.
The first match sees hosts Russia take on New Zealand and they really should win this one. Russia are 17/2 fourth favourites to win it with 10Bet, while New Zealand are all the way out at 350/1, the complete outsiders. Home advantage should help the Russians, plus they have far superior players as New Zealand is another country that does not have great footballing tradition. They have just two players of note – West Ham defender Winston Reid and Leeds striker Chris Wood – and Reid will miss the tournament. Russia -1.5 on the Asian handicap looks a good option here and 188Bet has the best odds: 2.02.
European champions Portugal have a tough start to their group against Mexico and you could well see these two teams qualify for the semi-finals, at Russia’s expense. Portugal are blessed with talent such as Ronaldo, Man City new boy Bernardo Silva, Rui Fonte, William Carvalho, Joao Moutinho, Andre Gomes, Pepe and Bruno Alves, and they are deservedly pre-tournament favourites, priced at 5/2 with Bet365 and various others. But Mexico are a plucky side and very good in group stages: they took seven points at the last World Cup and at Copa America, before faltering in the knockout stages. Portugal often get off to a slow start and come into their own in the latter stages, so a Portugal win is not a foregone conclusion. A better bet might be on Ronaldo to score at any time, which is 2.38 at 888 Sport. He is in the goal scoring form of his life and his extreme competitiveness means he never takes his foot off the pedal, so he will cause Mexico all sorts of problems. He also looks good at 2.75 with Betfred to finish top scorer in the tournament.
African champions Cameroon meet South American heavyweights Chile in what should be a fascinating battle. Cameroon are a decent, well-organised side, but they should be no match for Chile, who have emerged as a force to be reckoned with in
recent years. The fact that they are at this tournament instead of Argentina or Brazil says it all. In Alexis Sanchez they have one of the best players in this tournament and Arturo Vidal will run the midfield. Chile to win this one outright at 1.80 looks great with Paddy Power.
Finally, Australia will face a Germany squad that is light on caps but full of youthful exuberance and packed with promising stars. The heavy hitters are conspicuous by their absence – no Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, and on and on and on. But there is plenty of talent in the squad, from Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Arsenal defender Shkodran Mustafi to Man City forward Leroy Sane and RB Leipzig sensation Timo Werner. This is a great chance for these youngsters to stake a claim to break into the 2018 World Cup squad, and they have a strong leader in captain Julian Draxler. They may not win the tournament ahead of a full-strength Portugal or Chile, but they should easily beat Australia. Their star man is Tim Cahill and he is well past his peak, and they cannot hope to progress in this competition. The 1.45 on a straight Germany win looks good at Bwin, or you can push it to 1.73 at Paddy Power if you go Germany -1 on the Asian handicap.
A treble of Germany, Russia and Chile looks a good option. Some of the games in the early stages of tournaments like this are cautious, nervy affairs and do not see a great deal of goals, so looking to the unders is often a decent strategy early on.