World Cup Slate Goes from Opening Snoozer to Quite a Doozie

Martin Green

Monday, June 11, 2018 2:36 PM UTC

Monday, Jun. 11, 2018 2:36 PM UTC

The World Cup returns this week after a four-year absence, and excitement levels have reached a fever pitch across the globe. Let's check out the first four fixtures and find betting value.

World Cup: Groups A & B First-Round Picks

After such a long wait for the World Cup to begin, fans might have expected a blockbuster match to get things underway, but instead the draw left us with Russia vs. Saudi Arabia. They are the lowest-ranked teams at the tournament and it might be a bit of a snooze-fest, but the quality soon picks up. In the first two days we will be able to see Mohamed Salah, Luis Suarez, Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo in action, and from a betting perspective it will be huge.

Russia vs. Saudi Arabia

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Russia is the tournament host so its team did not have to qualify for the World Cup. That is just as well, as the Russians have been very poor of late and they might not have made it through. Manager Stanislav Cherchesov has been set the formidable task of reaching the semifinals as a bare minimum, and that looks highly unrealistic. However, the Russians may benefit from passionate, partisan home crowds, familiar conditions and some, shall we say, questionable refereeing. Tournament hosts typically exceed expectations – just look at South Korea and Sweden – and they should have enough about them to beat Saudi Arabia on Thursday (11 a.m. ET). The Saudis are the +50000 outsiders for this tournament and should offer little in the way of attacking threat. The odds on Russia to win are short, so you could try Russia and "under" 3/5 goals at -109 with sportsbooks like Betway, as this is unlikely to be a high-scoring fixture.

Egypt vs. Uruguay

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The attacking quality ramps up significantly for the second game of the World Cup (Friday, 8 a.m. ET), which pits Salah’s Egypt against a Uruguay side featuring a dynamic attacking partnership of Suarez and Edinson Cavani. Uruguay is -175 with William Hill and -164 with BetOnline, and that could make a good double with Russia. They have a better all-round team than Egypt, with Atletico Madrid’s Diego Godin marshaling the defense and Lucas Torreira anchoring the midfield. Egypt could be without Salah, their star player, for the opening game after he injured his shoulder in the Champions League final, although he may come off the bench. Aside from Salah, Egypt is bereft of quality, and Uruguay should win this one. Suarez is +210 to score at any time and that looks like a great option as he should run rings around a suspect Egyptian defense.

Morocco vs. Iran

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Another distinctly underwhelming game takes place Friday (11 a.m. ET) when Morocco and Iran lock horns. Both teams look poor, and they are expected to be thrashed by Spain and Portugal in Group B. This one could be an early wooden spoon decider, and Morocco could well claim victory. They have a solid defensive pairing in Juventus’ Medhi Benatia and Wolves’ Roman Saiss, and a pretty exciting playmaker in Hakim Ziyech, and that could see them overwhelm the Iranians. They are on a long unbeaten streak that could give them confidence, so the +130 on a Morocco win looks good.

Portugal vs. Spain

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This is the first blockbuster game of the World Cup (Friday, 2 p.m. ET), pitting European champion Portugal against a Spanish team bursting with talent from Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. The Portuguese can call upon the attacking services of World Player of the Year Ronaldo, and the likes of Bernardo Silva provide a solid supporting cast, but overall Spain has a far better team. It features a world-class player in almost every position: a spine of David De Gea, Ramos, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets looks extremely strong, David Silva, Thiago Alcantara, Isco and Andres Iniesta are full of creativity and Diego Costa is a real handful up front. Spain to win at -105 looks good, and both teams to score also looks interesting at -130.

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