FIFA World Cup 2018 is almost on us! Here’s how you could make a fortune

The long wait is finally over. Well, almost. FIFA World Cup 2018 will officially kick off at 4pm (BST) Thursday when host nation Russia crosses swords with Saudi Arabia at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.

For many football fanatics nothing comes close to the spectacle of watching the world’s best teams (and England) facing off against one another. If you are one of those who also fancies having a flutter on the footy then check out some of the best tournament tips here. They could make you a small fortune.

The Big One: Tournament Winner

The smart money would seem to be on Germany to raise the gold trophy (9/2 to win with Ladbrokes). ‘Die Mannschaft’ have finished in third place or higher in each of the past four tournaments, and of course won the trophy in Brazil four years ago, famously dismantling Brazil 7-1 on the road to victory.

The route to the semi-finals should prove straightforward for the Germans, who will in all likelihood face Spain should they get that far. On the other side of the draw, Brazil (4/1 to win with William Hill) has a more complicated journey to the semis although, led by the enigmatic Neymar Jr, the team will surely fancy their chances and would love nothing more than to exact revenge against Germany should they both reach the final.

The ‘Samba Kings’ topped their qualifying group in impressive fashion, losing just one of their 18 games to reach Russia. And having climbed the podium to lift the World Cup on a record five occasions, who would bet against them?

France is another side that could go all the way (11/2 to win with Ladbrokes). Packed with considerable talent, the team can’t be ruled out, and the 14-time participants have plenty of pedigree in the competition. However, the players didn’t have it all their own way in a pretty-underwhelming qualifying group, and this could be a worrying omen for the next few weeks.

Outside of the usual pack, and in the rare absence of tournament alumni like Italy and The Netherlands, Belgium could well prove a shrewd tip to pick up a maiden World Cup trophy (10/1 to win with Betfair). ‘Les Diables Rouges’ stormed through to the finals by winning nine and drawing one of the 10 qualifying games, scoring a mighty 43 goals in the process.

The Belgians’ odds may be longer but they certainly aren’t underdogs on paper. With Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Dries Martins up top, those devilish reds have enough firepower to frighten everyone in the tournament.

And what about the host nation Russia (40/1 to win with Bet365)? As England found in 1966, France in 1998, and Uruguay and Italy back in the 1930s, the massive lift created by ‘The Twelfth Man’ in the stands can give home teams that added boost to claim the top step on the podium. 

Having said that, Stanislav Cherchesov’s side, considered the 70th best team in the world by FIFA, is the lowest-ranked in this year’s tournament. And Russia didn’t win a single game when Brazil hosted the tournament in 2014. Those odds may be tempting but the hosts will be lucky to make it out of the group stages, in my opinion.

Twinkle Toes: Tournament Top Scorer

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, widely acknowledged as the finest two footballing talents on Planet Earth, may well be attracting plenty of money from the betting community. They are currently priced at 9/1 and 14/1 with William Hill, respectively, to be crowned top goalscorer at this edition of the World Cup.

However, the possibility of an early bath for their respective teams, Argentina and Portugal (I’m tipping neither to get beyond the quarter-finals) could well hinder both players’ chances of claiming the Golden Boot.

Instead, the combination of the strong possibility of reaching the final, combined with a not-too-taxing group stage, could make France’s Antoine Griezmann a contender to clock up the highest goal tally (10/1 with Betfair). The Barcelona-bound (well, if recent rumours are to be believed) striker notched up four goals in 10 qualifying matches, although his compatriot Olivier Giroud scored an identical number in two fewer games. And his odds are much more attractive (50/1 with Ladbrokes).

In my opinion Robert Lewandowski is the most underrated pick to secure the accolade of tournament top scorer (33/1 with Bet365). He scored more than half of his Polish team’s goals during qualifying, with the astonishing hit count of 16 representing an all-time high for any one striker in a FIFA World Cup or UEFA European Championships qualification campaign. Poland is a genuine dark horse for this year’s competition and I reckon the Bayern Munich forward could thrive.

Other notable selections are Brazilians Neymar Jr and Gabriel Jesus (9/1 and 14/1, respectively, with Sky Bet) who, like Spain’s Diego Costa (22/1 with Paddy Power), are part of teams that look pretty capable of reaching the semi finals at least.

Head vs Heart: How Will England Do?                                                       

And so to England. For those fearing the worst and expecting Gareth Southgate’s young team to fail to even escape the group stages (4/1 with Ladbrokes), they may want to consider that the team hasn’t fallen at this hurdle since the Spanish tournament way back in 1982, and that was with an extended group knockout format.

Having said that, the shambolic exit to Iceland in the UEFA European Championships two years ago shows that no nadir can be plumbed for long-suffering England fans. Surely a bet on the Three Lions is only for the brave of heart?

I think the best England can expect is to reach the quarter final stage (4/5 with Bet365), at which point I expect the Germans to put them to the sword.

If you believe captain Harry Kane has what it takes to emulate what England legend Bobby Moore achieved 52 years ago and lift the World Cup (16/1 with Bet365) you might be one of very few.

But don’t forget: England won eight of their 10 games to reach the finals and drew the other two, conceding a miserly three goals in the process. It might not be the most exciting international side but, under Southgate it certainly appears a lot stronger. If the players get the wind in their sails they could go far. If…

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