World Cup qualifying has now ended and we know which 32 teams will battle it out for glory in Russia next summer. A host of big names will be missing, including Italy, the Netherlands, Chile, Turkey and the Ivory Coast, while Iceland and Panama will be making their debuts at the World Cup. The teams will be divided into eight groups of four and the draw takes place on December 1 at Moscow’s State Kremlin Palace. So who are the favourites to win it and how are the likely to fare? Here are the leading contenders:
The 2014 champions breezed through qualifying, winning all 10 games in comfortable fashion, and they are among the favourites to defend their crown. They are as low as 4/1 with some bookmakers, 5/1 with most and best priced at 11/2 with Paddy Power. They have an outrageously talented squad – which their reserve team proved by winning last summer’s Confederations Cup – and will be a force to be reckoned with in Russia next summer, but the odds are a little low for a team without a superstar striker.
Some bookmakers have Brazil as joint favourites to win the World Cup, but Bet Stars has a market leading 6/1 on Neymar and co. They too were in sensational form as they topped a qualifying group featuring the likes of Argentina, Colombia and Uruguay, and are blessed with a wealth of attacking talent. Premiership stars Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus supplement Neymar’s talent to deadly effect, but question marks remain over the tightness of the Brazilian defence. Fans will still be haunted by their 7-1 thrashing at the hands of Germany in the last World Cup and will hope for an enormous improvement this time around.
Several bookmakers, including Paddy Power, Betway and Bwin, are offering 6/1 on France and that looks extremely tempting. Brazil are great going forwards but suspect at the back, while Germany are great defensively but lack a top class striker, but France excel in every department. Hugo Lloris, Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti and Laurent Koscielny keep things tight at the back and N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba form arguably the best midfield partnership in the world, while up front they have so many fantastic options: Kyliann Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud, Ousmane Dembele, Alexandre Lacazette, Kingsley Coman, Thomas Lemar, Nabil Fekir, Anthony Martial… the list goes on and on. Right now at 6/1 they look a great option as they have the best squad on paper.
Julen Lopetegui’s men went unbeaten in their European qualifying group and beat Italy 3-0 along the way. They are the fourth favourites, best priced at 8/1 with Bwin and 188Bet, and they are blessed with a wealth of talent from leading teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. The likes of Sergio Ramos, Gerard
Pique, Sergio Busquets, Isco and so on will have to put their differences aside and ignore the political situation developing in Catalonia if they are to succeed in Russia, but there is plenty of flair, dynamism and creativity in this squad and they will be a threat next summer.
They just about scraped through qualification amid poor results, but Argentina are next in the betting at 17/2 with Bwin and 188Bet (8/1 with various others, including Bet Victor and Paddy Power) and that is largely thanks to the presence of Lionel Messi. He will be desperate to wrestle back the World Player of the Year title from nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo, and what better stage to prove his mettle on? He is ably supported by the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria, so Argentina are sensational going forwards, but again there are question marks over the defence.
Belgium look a really interesting option at 14/1 with Coral and Sky Bet as they can combine Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Yannick Carrasco and Romelu Lukaku going forwards, while Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Thibaut Courtois will keep things tight at the back. European champions Portugal (25/1 with William Hill) are in the mix thanks to the striking talents of Cristiano Ronaldo, but he alone might not be enough to carry the team. A few patriotic punters may back England at 20/1 with Ladbrokes and various others, but that would be extremely optimistic. No other team looks capable of winning the World Cup, and France looks like a great option right now.