The opening stage of Brazil 2014 features eight groups of four teams apiece, the top two of whom go through to the second round. Each of the groups contains a seed, drawn from the top seven nations in the world, plus Brazil themselves as hosts. Who will come out of top of each group?
Brazil are the hot favourites here, best priced at just 1.25 with Bet365. That the hosts landed in one of the easier qualifying groups may or may not be coincidence, but the fact is that Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon are not in their class and it would be a very major upset if they didn’t win this group.
This is one of the toughest of the groups, with current holders Spain and 2010 runners up The Netherlands paired together, along with Chile and Australia. The young Chilean side could be a real fly in the ointment here and this group could end up being decided on goal difference (or, if you want to put it another way, whoever scores most against Australia, the lowest ranked side in the tournament). Spain are best priced at 1.8 with Totesport and the Netherlands at 3.25 with Paddy Power. It is probably still safest to stick with the Spaniards at this stage.
This should be another easy South American win, with Colombia in better form than any of their opponents. Greece should be no threat but their encounter with Japan could be interesting. The Japanese had another good qualifying tournament and have a settled and talented side. Ivory Coast provide something of an unknown element as they’ve never lived up to expectations in a finals tournament and would be a risky bet here. With all of this in mind, Colombia actually look quite good value at 1.83 with Paddy Power.
The hardest group of all features Italy, England, seeds Uruguay and Costa Rica. Any of the first three could qualify, and whilst the Costa Ricans will not delude themselves as to their chances here, they could cause enough problems for one of the three fancied sides to be out of contention long before the final games. Italy look the best bet here. There’s no particular reason to prefer them over any of the others, other than that England have never beaten them in a finals competition before and they have that bit more experience than the Uruguayans. Back them at a best price of 2.75 with Stan James.
The problem with Group E is that it has France in it. Over the past four tournaments they have gone from the sublime (1998, 2006) to the ridiculous (2002, 2010) and back again, and it is just too much of a risk to bet on them doing anything at this stage. Switzerland are actually the seeds in this group and at odds of 4.0 with Betfair they should be the better bet. Ecuador and Honduras, the other group members, are really playing for pride.
Group F contains the tournament second favourites Argentina and, again, a fancied South American team should make it comfortably into the next round. Iran should pose no problems for them and Nigeria are just too inconsistent to risk backing. The real wild card here, though, is Bosnia-Herzegovina, who are the only side in the tournament not to have been to this stage before. They boast a number of very experienced professionals, as well as a number of talented youngsters. Whilst it is a bit of a stretch to think that they could win this group, odds of 8.5 with Ladbrokes do look very attractive, especially when the best price you will get on Argentina is 1.25 at Coral.
On paper this looks to be one of the toughest groups, with Germany and Portugal battling it out for top spot. The Portuguese didn’t have the best of qualifying tournaments, though, and even in their playoff win over Sweden looked very much like a one man side. That’s a disadvantage at this stage, even if that one man is Cristiano Ronaldo. The Germans look to be on top of their game and serious contenders for the trophy and even at odds of 1.57 with SpreadEx are hard to resist.
The final group is perhaps the most intriguing. Belgium slipped into the seeded position somewhat under the radar and have been one of the most improved teams in Europe over the past four years. The Russians, meanwhile, had a poor end to their qualification campaign and had to go through the playoffs. They are a better side than that, though, and at 3.5 with SkyBet are a better soccer wager to win this group.