Which country will win the World Cup?
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Tens of millions will be gambled on the outcome of the World Cup, from the outright winners to the number of times Neymar spits during a game, but who do you think will lift the trophy?
If it moves, you can bet on it... and in some cases it doesn’t even have to move.
Given the truism that the bookie always comes out on top, we thought we were as well qualified as anyone to offer some advice, and perhaps some odds, to those thinking of investing in their pockets.
The hosts Russia kick it all off, and they will kick themselves if they don’t qualify, although it may be behind Uruguay and it may only be because they are at home. Anywhere else they’d be third or fourth. Mo Salah’s goals have been a highlight of the Premier League and may be enough to help Egypt cause a major upset. Uruguay have some bite (come one...) with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. They’ll be the stars.
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Portugal and Spain in the same group? Amazing. Well, it would be if there was a decent dark horse team and, with all due respect, Morocco and Iran are going to find it hard to come between them. Cristiano Ronaldo might wonder which dressing room to head for when the big two clash. Imagine him against Sergio Ramos – it could get nasty, with a bit of luck. Spain should be too good, but the highlight might well be the Big Sulk.
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France, unless they fail to turn up (they always have it in them). The Australians might find it all a bit too much, but the Peruvians are young and hungry – and they have Jefferson Farfán, who plays for Lokomotiv Moscow, if that’s relevant. Denmark got through at the expense of the Republic of Ireland in the play-offs... can they carry the memory of that big win to Russia? They do have Christian Eriksen...
Argentina had a tough gig in qualifying, and there is immense pressure on Lionel Messi to produce the goods, something the wee man has failed to do, to be honest. Sergio Aguero is still banging them in in the Premier League, but is he up to it on the world stage? Iceland had their fun at the Euros - can they repeat the trick? There’s a lot of people hope they can. Strong group this (Argentina v Nigeria AGAIN?)
Brazil had some worries over Neymar’s broken foot in February. Will that play on minds perhaps still fragile after that humiliating 7-1 defeat by Germany in the semi-finals four years ago - on home territory? Pressure could be on Philippe Coutinho. Reached quarter-finals in 2006 and 2010: are they really the force they once were? Qualifying suggests they are on the right track and this group should be all about who finishes second. And that is most likely to be the Swiss.
Look past Germany if you dare - for the whole shooting bang, not just the group. It’s been a bit low-key but just watch - suddenly everyone will see they are still brilliant. Has Asian football advanced enough for Korea to repeat their feats of 2002? I doubt it. Mexico to go through and be the swashbuckling team we love, until they get thumped in the knockout stages.
History in the making for Panama, at their first finals, but the questions will be about the two European teams. Belgium have all the star players, England will, by the time of the first whistle, have all the hype. You fancy the Belgians, and as for England, is there any reason to believe they won’t fluff their lines again – most probably in the knockout stages? Should be comfortable enough for them both. Belgium reached the quarters last time - would that be seen as success for England?
You’ll earn your beans if you call this one correctly. It’s very open but we’re going for Senegal and Poland. The rider is that they will last one game in the knockout stages (just watch Senegal blow that theory out of the water). The Poles are actually ranked seventh in the world, but they do have Robert Lewandowski, scorer of 16 goals in qualifying, a European record. Colombia have James Rodriguez – his future is up in the air, but remember him in 2014? Good, wasn’t he?