The only thing more entertaining than seeing the little guy win is seeing the big guy fall flat on his face in spectacular fashion. Rest assured, we’ll be seeing both at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. At least one favorite will crash out in the Group Stage and leave Russia with their tail between their legs; this fate besets at least one highly-touted team every year. In 2014, perennial World Cup favorites England, Spain, Italy, and Portugal were all sent packing before the knockout stages commenced.
Which teams will disappoint next year, leading their countrymen down the darkened pathways to the depths of despair? Here are some top picks to implode in the 2018 World Cup Group Stage, and here are the best sportsbooks to take advantage of their impending implosion.
England finished at the bottom of their group at the 2014 World Cup and suffered a humiliating Round of 16 defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016. On paper, they have a remarkably strong squad with plenty of young talent; however, England has fallen short of their potential so many times that many expect them to choke again in 2018.
England’s national team is brimming with quality players, with the likes of Dele Alli (21), Raheem Sterling (22), Jesse Lingard (24), Marcus Rashford (19), and Harry Kane (24), just to name a few. With all this talent, why are fans so pessimistic? Because history warrants skepticism. Given their propensity for choking regardless of circumstances, England is a decent bet to eat it on the international stage yet again.
Chile has come up with some impressive results recently, despite fielding a national team which, if you just juxtapose rosters, doesn’t hold a chumbeque to other world powers. They won the Copa América Centenario last year, and they reached the finals of the Confederations Cup this year.
Their surprising recent successes notwithstanding, there is still reason to be leery of Chile’s chances. The team leans heavily on its two-star players, Arturo Vidal (30) and Alexis Sánchez (28), who are both leaving their primes. A couple bad games from (or an injury too) either player would place Chile in serious trouble; this seems entirely possible considering Sánchez’s form remains in question, and Vidal is near the usual age for retirement from international play. Russia 2018 stands to be a wild and unpredictable ride for Chile.
Italy has failed to advance past the Group Stage at the last two World Cups and have consistently failed to meet their high international expectations. Despite being gifted with a pretty weak group in 2010 (Paraguay, Slovakia, and New Zealand), Italy failed to win a single match and finished dead-last in the standings. In 2014, they managed to fare marginally better but still failed to advance to the Round of 16, a consequence of losing group games to both Costa Rica and Uruguay.
Regardless of recent World Cup disasters, Italy has a marginally better shot at success in 2018. Italy’s national team has a nice mix of fresh blood and experienced veterans, and the squad had a nice run at Euro last year.
At 32 years old (33 by the time the World Cup rolls around), Cristiano Ronaldo’s footballing days are numbered. Portugal has relied on him heavily over the last few years, and their chances in 2018 are inextricable from Ronaldo’s performance.
However, Portugal finally developed some burgeoning young talent, so maybe their future isn’t as bleak as it appears on the surface. Barcelona’s André Gomes (24), Man City’s Bernardo Silva (23), and Milan’s André Silva (21) will all be ready to carry Portugal once Ronaldo departs.
The national team has undergone its fair share of successes and failures as of late. Eliminated in the Group Stage at the World Cup in 2014, they subsequently went on to win the Euro in 2016. Simply put, you just never know what you’re going get with Portugal.
Spain didn’t survive the “group of death” in 2014 (Netherlands, Chile, Australia) and they were stopped short by Italy at the Euro last year. Regardless, their outlook for 2018 is relatively promising. Breakout stars like Real Madrid’s Marco Asensio (21) and Barcelona’s Gerard Deulofeu (23) could make a huge impact in Russia, and established youngsters Isco (25) and Álvaro Morata (24) are blossoming into world-class players.
The temperamental Spaniards could still flare out in the Group Stage, but they have a fair chance of going all the way and claiming their second World Cup.
Photo credit: Ben Sutherland (Wikimedia) CC License
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