2018 World Cup Soccer Odds and Expert Picks: Group E
Brazil should be the Golden State Warriors - the deep, talented squad that makes a joke of tournaments. Lately, though, they have been more like the Rockets, or at least the pre-2018 Rockets - a consistently-talented and dangerous team that always finds way to get in their own way when things really matter. Well, yet again the Brazilians, the co-favorites in the tournament at this moment, have things set up well for them. They are talented and deep, and they have a manageable group. There aren't a lot of excuses. But they haven't had a lot of excuses since last winning in 2002, and they have found ways to disappoint. Will this be more of the same or a return to past glory? And which of these three challengers is best positioned to give them a test?
Group E at a glance
Best team: Brazil. Obviously. They are the co-favorites in the tournament, and though you could argue that perhaps they aren't quite as good as they have been in recent editions of the tournament, they are still fierce, creative and dangerous. There is one potential reason for concern as we'll see below, but for the most part this is a team that looks ready to do some damage.
Worst team: Costa Rica. I mean, come on - it's Costa Rica. They have less than five million citizens, so they can't be expected to be a world power. Just being here is impressive. Of course, they can't be ruled out entirely. Remember what happened in 2014 - incredibly they won their group, sending both Italy and England home. Then they beat Greece in the round of 16 before losing to the Dutch in the quarters in penalty kicks. It was an amazing run, but it feels more like lightning in a bottle than the beginning of a dominant era.
Best game: Brazil plays Costa Rica in the second game for both teams in what is the quintessential David vs. Goliath showdown. Costa Rica will have no fear and nothing to lose. If Brazil is tight or dismissive then it could get scary. It will be more fun than any other game in the group at least.
Predicted order of finish:
Team-by-team Breakdown (odds to win Group and tournament from BetOnline.com )
Brazil (+450 to win tournament, -400 to win Group E): There is a giant asterisk here - with the team and, to an extent, the group because the most important player in the group - and perhaps in the whole tournament - is suddenly in an uncertain state. Neymar suffered an ankle injury in late February, and as I write this a couple of days after it happened it has just been announced that he will be getting surgery. He is expected to miss six to eight weeks, which will give him at least that long again to get ready for the World Cup. But if there are complications in the surgery or his recovery then it would change this team significantly. He isn't the only guy capable of playing, of course - guys like Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho are big cogs offensively, and the team is defensively sound. But the absence of a transcendent talent like Neymar would be crushing. We'll assume that he will be fine, though, in which case this team is so much better than the rest of the group that it is almost unfair. Brazil's focus needs to be not just on qualifying, though, but on reaching their potential in the elimination rounds - something they haven't done since last winning it all in 2002. This is a top-heavy tournament with lots of contenders, so they will have to be ready to play some strong ball to win it all and earn their position as co-favorites heading into the tournament. If Neymar is healthy, though, I feel cautiously optimistic.
Switzerland (+8000, +600): The Swiss have made the round of 16 two tournaments in a row, so they are worthy of respect - though they haven't exactly advanced easily. They are a solid enough team, and besides having one of the most awkward names in the tournament, Xherdan Shaqiri is a heck of an offensive talent. They have an upside of probably the quarterfinals, but this isn't a team I can trust easily. They should advance, but I have them in prime position for an upset.
Serbia (+12500, +750): A number of circumstances - some in turn bizarre, sad or frustrating - have kept this team from qualifying for the last three tournaments. They made it this time around, though, and I feel like they could have something a little special going on - not winning the tournament special or anything, but perhaps advancing. They have a mature, deep veteran lineup, and they looked really solid in qualifying. They will have to take care of business because there are no gimme games here, but they are capable, and I like them. Brazil doesn't have to lose sleep, but the Swiss should be worried.
Costa Rica (+25000, +1600): After that impressive 2014 run the team looked strong in qualifying. They beat the Americans twice (but who didn't, really?) and played Mexico to an impressive draw. They are a rare team that relies on their keeper to be the biggest star, but they have a very experienced team in front of them. Don't sleep on these guys, obviously. They just won't be able to sneak up on anyone this time around.
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