World Cup Handicapping: Concerns over the Favorites
by Trevor Whenham - 5/22/2014
There are some very good teams among the favorites at the World Cup this year. None of the teams are without flaws or reasons for concern, though. Here is the biggest reason for concern for each of the seven favorites in the tournament ( odds are from Sportsbook.ag):
Brazil (+300): Pressure. The Brazilians would likely be favored no matter where this tournament was played. At home, though, expectations are about a millions time more intense than they would otherwise have been - and that's saying something. The home crowd will be a big boost for this team - as long as things go exactly as expected. If they show any hint of mortality, though, things could get ugly in a hurry. In each of the last two World Cups the team has entered with the burden of massive expectations on their shoulders, and they have gone home in the quarterfinals both times. They need to do better this time around, and at this price there will be a lot of very unhappy bettors if they fall at all short.
Argentina (+400): Pressure of almost being at home. Argentina is no less soccer-crazy than Brazil, and it's right next door, so the locals will have even more expectations than usual. The pressure for Argentina to succeed is particularly intense now because of their talent and because of how long it has been since they haven't disappointed. In the four-World Cup stretch starting in 1978 the team won the tournament twice and lost in the finals another time. In the five tournaments since, though, they have failed to advance beyond the quarterfinals. Patience is wearing thin, and the players know it. If they don't handle the pressure well then the collective heads of all Argentines could explode.
Germany (+500): Frustration. At some point frustration is going to set in for this team, and it is going to get in the way of their top performance. This team has been at their peak for more than a decade, and they have nothing to show for it but close calls. They have finished third in the last two World Cups and second in the one before that. They were semifinalists in Euro 2012 and lost in the finals in 2008. They just can't seem to get it done when the pressure amps up. They need to shake that habit here or their window will slam shut before they ever win anything.
Spain (+650): Complacency and age. The team has won the last three major tournaments they have played - the 2010 World Cup and the last two European Championships. That's a streak that stretches back to 2008, and it has been done with much of the same core in place. You have to question whether their age is starting to catch up to them. They aren't suddenly going to be too old to do anything, but there is a good chance that they won't be quite as sharp as they have been. More significantly, you have to question whether the hunger will still be there after all this success. It takes a whole lot of sacrifice, focus and determination to win a tournament like this, and the team might not feel quite the urgency to go as far as they need to after all of the success they have had. They need to overcome that potential for lethargy to shine again here.
Belgium (+1300): Youth and inexperience. Expectations are very high for this team. People both in and outside of the country are calling this their new golden age as a new generation of players is showing massive potential. The problem, though, is that there is no experience to go with the youth. 2002 was the last time Belgium played in the World Cup, and they haven't won an elimination game since 1986. This is a young team facing a lot of pressure, and they are the subject of a whole lot of hype. If they make the mistake of reading the headline and believing them then they could be in for a whole lot of sorrow. A lot of people seem to feel like this team has arrived - and the lofty odds certainly suggest that. Personally, I feel more like they need this tournament to learn how to be dangerous next time out in Russia.
Colombia (+2000): Avoiding self pity. This team had a chance to really make some noise. They were playing close to home, and they had a true superstar leading the way. Then fate dealt them a cruel blow - that superstar, Radamel Falcao, went down with an ACL injury in January. Initially he promised that he would be ready to go for the World Cup. In mid May, though, he finally came to terms with the reality that though he should be able to play he will be far from his best. The team still has plenty of talent and could make some noise, but they will really struggle if they let self pity over the loss of Falcao at his peak creep into their mindset.
Reality. It wasn't long ago that France was one of the very best teams in the world. In the last World Cup, though, they were completely embarrassing -
they wound up 29th. Their qualifying experience for this tournament was almost totally humiliating. They finished second in their group and then only
barely advanced thanks to their second-round playoff matchup - they lost the first game 2-0 to Ukraine and needed to fight back and win the second game 3-0
to narrowly advance in the total points series. The fact is that this team hasn't been performing at the level they once did, and don't appear to have the
talent on their roster to do so at this point. That's not good news for them, and it's bad news for the bettors who rely on reputation to choose their
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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