2018 World Cup Soccer Odds and Expert Picks: Group G
It's almost as if the soccer gods felt sorry for the long-suffering English fans and wanted to give them the best chance they could of advancing after so much disappointment on the world stage in recent decades. Or maybe the organizers are concerned about the soccer hooligans from England and didn't want them to have reason to riot until later in the tournament when they have consumed too much vodka and are worn out. Or perhaps those soccer gods just hate England so much that they put them in this group so that their early departure this time around would be particularly painful. Whatever the cause, it's clear that Belgium and England were both gifted with a very manageable group here. If one or both don't advance into the elimination rounds it will be entirely their own faults. There are no legitimate excuses, and there should be no drama - BetOnline has Belgium at -800 to advance and England at -600.
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Group G at a glance
Best team: Belgium. They were the first team to qualify out of Europe, and they did it in grand style, tying Germany with 43 goals scored while allowing just six. They went through to the quarterfinals in 2014 and are hungry to go deeper - and they are capable as well.
Worst team: Panama. They are very lucky to be here and only qualified because of the total and utter incompetence of the American team. They are ranked 56th in the world and are quite likely very outmatched.
Best game: Belgium and England meet in the final game of the group, which should, unless the world has fallen off its axis by then, determine the order in which these two teams advance to the knockout round. Belgium has just one win against England in 21 tries all-time along with 15 losses and five draws, so they will be looking for serious revenge.
Predicted order of finish: Belgium, England, Tunisia, Panama - just as the odds suggest.
Team-by-team Breakdown (odds to win Group and tournament from BetOnline.com)
Belgium (+1200 to win tournament, -120 to win Group A): The team wasn't satisfied after being knocked out in the quarterfinals of Euro 2016, so they fired manager Marc Wilmots and replaced him with Spaniard Roberto Martinez, who had been fired as the boss of Everton before taking this job. Martinez has never been to the World Cup as a player or coach, but he qualified strongly, and he has been a commentator for ESPN at the last two events. He has a lot of talent to work with on this team. Romelu Lukaku (+1800), Eden Hazard (+5000), and Dries Mertens (+5000) are all viable bets to lead the tournament in scoring, while Kevin De Bruyne (+6600) may be their best and most important player. With that much firepower they are an attacking team, but they are competent while defending as well. At times they have struggled to embrace their identity and will have to have that sorted out here. But they are well positioned to advance, and a good bet to win the group. Of note, the core of their team mostly plays in the EPL, so England's management, players and fans will have familiarity with what they are about to face.
England (+1600, +115): They finished 26th out of 32 teams in 2014. They have made it past the quarterfinals just once since winning the tournament in 1966 - and they finished only fourth when they did in 1990. They haven't made a decent run at Euro since 1996 and have never done better than a third in 1968. Not to kick them when they are down, but this nation is an embarrassing group of underachievers. The talent is there. Gareth Southgate, who took over managing the team in 2016, is capable and reasonably drama free. They are young and fresh. They should have no excuses. Other than, of course, they are England.
Tunisia (+50,000, +1200): This is the fifth World Cup for Tunisia and the first since 2006. They have never made it beyond the group stage, though, and aren't likely to do so here, either. Much of their talent plays at home in domestic leagues, and none plays on top-level clubs. Their top player, midfielder Wahbi Khazri, played for Sunderland in 2016, but he has since been loaned out. They just don't stack up and will only do well against the top two here if those teams falter badly.
Panama (+75,000, +3300): This is quite possibly the worst team in the field, and this tournament isn't short on bad teams. They are making their first World Cup appearance and advanced despite just a 6-5-5 record in qualification. They are an old team, and they are just happy to be here - the nation's President declared a national holiday the day after they qualified. It's a good story but not a good team. The fact that they are here should haunt every American soccer fan for eternity.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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