The Opening Group Games
We are taking a brief look at the first game for each team in the Group stages as any later games cannot seriously be considered until we have seen the teams play once. There are some games that look certain results for the stronger sides, but there are some potential banana skins for some of the better teams and we will try to identify those here. In the past, the first twenty minutes of the opening group games, for each team, were often cagey and not a lot happened, but that changed a little in Brazil with more early goals than in previous tournaments. Of the 16 first round of Group games, only three didn’t have a first half goal, the average time for the first goal was 24 minutes, with eight having a goal before the 24th minute and eight after. One important fact to be aware of though is that in the group games, teams do not need to win by large amounts and often conserve energy so Brazil are as likely to win one nil as they are five nil, it depends on their mentality during the game. However, in the last World Cup we saw a different trend from previous tournaments with 13 of 16 first group matches going Over 2.5 goals. The table below shows the last five World Cups where 32 teams took place in the 16 opening games, (their first game only). The number of matches in that period that went Over 2.5 goals, where both teams scored and the number of the 32 teams that kept a clean sheet. As you can see the trends seemed to change in the last World Cup with more goals scored and less clean sheets. For that reason, it might be worth treading carefully in the first couple of games just to see whether teams will be reverting back to a careful approach or continuing as in the competition in Brazil, where a win in the first game goes a long way to securing qualification and therefore games opened up. Hopefully these stats haven’t confused you too much! It does show though, that Football tactics may have changed so be aware.
|World Cup Groups 1st game||Over 2.5 goals||Both Teams To Score||Clean Sheets|
|1998||7 of 16||7 of 16||11 of 32|
|2002||7 of 16||8 of 16||8 of 32|
|2006||8 of 16||6 of 16||12 of 32|
|2010||2 of 16||5 of 16||13 of 32|
|2014||13 of 16||11 of 16||6 of 32|
Russia v Saudi Arabia
The hosts, as usual, get proceedings underway and they could not have picked an easier opponent. The problem for them is that Russia are not the force they used to be and it has to be hoped that home advantage sparks the team into some decent performances, or they could go out at the group stage. They have won just once in their last eight internationals, all friendlies as they have not had to qualify. Saudi Arabia are a little unknown but they did beat Japan at home in qualifying so that shows they are no mugs. They are likely to be the whipping boys in this group though and if Russia are to get through, they will need three points here. Russia to win but it could be nerve-wracking.
Egypt v Uruguay
A lot will depend on whether Salah makes the match, if not then Uruguay shouldn’t lose but don’t discount Egypt’s ability to cause problems. They are not the most prolific side in front of goal and that could be their downfall, especially if Uruguay go ahead and the South Americans may win to nil and likely top the group.
Portugal v Spain
Portugal and Spain’s most recent head to head was the 2012 Euros that ended 0-0 with Spain winning on penalties. This will be an intense “derby” and Spain may win by the odd goal. Provided there is no early goal, this game is likely to be Unders, although the bookmakers have already factored that into the price.
Morocco v Iran
Morocco and Iran have no recent meetings and a lot of this will be guesswork. Instinct says that Morocco look a better side, especially after knocking out Ivory Coast and with a lot of European based players. At a shade of odds against, they might be worth looking at.
France v Australia
France won the most recent meeting in 2013 by 6-0 and will more than likely win here but I think it will be a lot closer and the French will be happy with a 1-0 win and three points. I can see the Aussies scoring so both teams to score is an option.
Peru v Denmark
Peru and Denmark have no recent meetings and with this game having a huge importance on it, a loss and you could be out, with France still to play. For that reason I think both would take a draw and hope to beat Australia but the three points must be tempting not only for Denmark with the Aussies up next but also Peru as with France to come they don’t want to be sitting on zero points going into the last game as they would almost certainly be out. Slight preference for the Danes and hopefully an early goal to open up the game.
Argentina v Iceland
A lot will depend on how Iceland build on their experience in the Euros. There is no doubt that they have a decent side but Argentina are a different proposition and a draw would be a great result. Argentina only averaged one goal a game in qualifying so as it is the first game and Iceland defend well, it may be a low scoring match. That said, with Messi in any side, you do not want to be playing Unders!
Croatia v Nigeria
Croatia and Nigeria have no recent meetings to go on. Nigeria qualified from a tough looking group and have plenty of World Cup experience. If Croatia take them too lightly, they could come unstuck and a lot will rest on Luka Modric’s shoulders as to how Croatia perform. I think they will go well but a draw looks a decent play here with goals.
Costa Rica v Serbia
Costa Rica were superb in Brazil and in a one off match can be a danger to anyone so Serbia and the others had better not take them for granted. Serbia should be a decent side with the players at their disposal, but often beat themselves, but if they can put it together they can qualify in this group and that means winning here. I can see them winning by the odd goal in an exciting game.
Brazil v Switzerland
Brazil need no introduction to anyone and must put the disappointment of four years ago behind them. They meet a solid Swiss side who are tough to break down so we will see exactly where the Brazilian game is at. Switzerland lost once in qualifying, away at Portugal and can give the Samba Boys a game here. This will be closer than the odds suggest and whilst I think Brazil will win, I am not interested in odds of 1.40 in their first game.
Germany v Mexico
Germany and Mexico met in the Confederations Cup last year and Germany won by 4-1. This may be the Germans toughest match of the group but they should come through unscathed. They know how to get the job done in these tournaments and along with their undoubted abilities; they can grind out a result when needed. Mexico are decent and topped a difficult group with USA, Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama but may be looking at the other two games for their points and recent friendly form has been hit and miss with losses to Croatia and a draw with Wales alongside a victory over Iceland. If the Germans score early, they could win by two or three so a little interest on the handicap Germany -1 at around 2.25 could be a play.
Sweden v South Korea
Sweden and S Korea is a fascinating game as despite no relevant meetings before, the two look pretty evenly matched. With Zlatan, Sweden would have been the pick but I really can’t call this so with South Korea available at just about 11/4, they may be worth a speculative punt.
Belgium v Panama
Belgium and Panama have not met before and Panama will surely enjoy their three matches and go home winless. Belgium can only lose this if they implode as a team and should run out convincing winners.
Tunisia v England
Tunisia and England have no recent meetings but England did win 2-0 in France in 1998 at the World Cup, one of the only two wins that England have managed in a major tournament opening game since 1996. I cannot recommend backing England at 1.36, despite the media thinking this is an easy three points, purely because of this record and Tunisia are no mugs, being unbeaten in qualifying. England should win but not for me at that price and I will play the 1-1 draw.
Colombia v Japan
Colombia and Japan met in Brazil four years ago where Colombia won 4-1 with two late goals flattering the scoreline but Colombia were worthy of the win and should triumph again. The game should see goals and decent football and Japan will have better chances in the other two games.
Poland v Senegal
Poland and Senegal have not met in recent years and this should be a decent game as Senegal are unbeaten in seven and Poland were impressive in qualifying but lost two of their last three friendlies. The bookies have Poland as favourites which is probably about right but there is not a lot between the two and I can see this being a draw.
A few statistics to ponder
I am just going to leave you with a few statistics which may help you when deciding what to trade or bet on at this World Cup.
With 794 goals across the 270 group games, the European Qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup were the highest-scoring ever, with 34 more than in 2006. Just a note of caution there, top scorers in qualifying can be a little misleading if you bear in mind that it is against different standards of opposition, but it does show which teams seem to be more attacking. So when looking at these do not just assume for example that France only 18 in 10 but Uruguay 32 in 18 so Uruguay score more goals. They in fact work out about the same even though 32 looks like a lot of goals. Brazil averaged just 2.3 goals per game with Germany and Belgium 4.3 goals per game, although admittedly against a couple of lower ranked outfits whilst Argentina scored 19 in 18, which is only one goal a game but do we really believe that a side with Messi in it will be so lax in front of goal?
In 2014 the Total number of goals scored was 171, joint best ever with France 1998 and the average goals per match was 2.67. The total number of penalty kicks awarded was 13 of which 12 were scored. There were five Own Goals scored, 187 Yellow cards and 10 Red cards shown.
In the last 10 tournaments either World Cup or Euros, that England have been at, they have drawn five of their opening games 1-1 , lost three and beaten Tunisia and Paraguay by 2-0.
Good luck with how you trade/bet and remember that when trading, if a game is not going how you imagined it would, you can trade out and re-assess or wait for another game
(All statistics and facts about recent games are correct at 31 May 2018)