With the World Cup in Russia fast approaching, bookmakers are starting to give their odds regarding the chances the countries involved have of taking home the coveted trophy. It is interesting to peruse the line to see who is fancied and who might be given the tag of “longshot”. We take a look at three categories that could best describe one nation’s chances of winning in Russia.
Germany – You have to give them credit. A flawless qualifying campaign saw them win all ten of their matches in Group C and although they didn’t have the toughest qualifying group, winning all their games is still impressive. They had to overcome some dogged opponents in the form of Norway, Czech Republic and Northern Ireland but will face sterner tests in Russia.
They showed an impressive ability to grab goals from all over the park rather than relying on one particular scorer. They absolutely demolished many of their opponents during the campaign to reach Russia, including beating Norway 3-0 away and 6-0 at home. They also beat San Marino twice, scoring a combined 15 goals against them and beat Azerbaijan 5-1 in Germany to finish top of their group with a goal difference of plus 39. They should breeze through their group in Russia, which contains Mexico, South Korea and Sweden.
Star men – There are almost too many to speak of but Thomas Muller remains prolific, scoring five times during qualifying. Sandro Wagner also impressed and the Bayern forward was the only other German to grab himself five goals in Group C. Defensively the stalwarts of Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng remain important players at the back whilst Mesut Ozil always saves his A game for international duty.
Portugal – The reigning European champions had a very good if not spectacular qualifying campaign, ending as Group B winners. According to the different odds on Oddschecker, Portugal do have a realistic chance based on the numbers but will need to be better at the back.
They started off the qualifiers with a defeat to Switzerland but bounced back with a thumping 6-0 win over Andorra in which Cristiano Ronaldo grabbed four goals. They demolished the Faroe Islands twice, scoring 11 times, and more importantly, beat the Czechs home and away.
The final group match saw them face off against their closest group rival Switzerland which they won comfortably 2-0 to avoid a difficult playoff encounter with Northern Ireland. They finished with a goal difference of plus 28, ably helped by Cristiano Ronaldo’s amazing 15 goals during the qualifying campaign. If they can overcome a group containing Spain, Iran and Morocco then they could go far in Russia.
Star men – Cristiano Ronaldo is simply superb. He was able to lift the team during difficult games and has become a talismanic leader for Portugal. Andre Silva has played better for the national team than he has for AC Milan so far and Joao Mario and Bernardo Silva provide creativity in the midfield. It is at the back that questions remain, with 34-year-old Besiktas centre-back Pepe still one of the better players. Nelson Semedo is a good choice at right back and will be hoping to remain first choice in Russia.
Egypt – The North African nation qualified from a tough-looking group that contained World Cup regulars Ghana. Hector Cuper’s team have a number of players that ply their trade abroad and also have a couple of star performers. They opened up qualifying with an important win away against Congo before beating Ghana 2-0 in Egypt.
They suffered a shock defeat away to Uganda but bounced back with a win in the next match at home to the same opponents six days later. Mohammed Salah grabbed a brace and a late winner in the home game against Congo just when it seemed that an 88th-minute equaliser by the away side would snatch them a point.
The final match saw them grab a draw away to Ghana, which meant that their hosts failed to qualify. Egypt won the group comfortably ahead of second-placed Uganda and could be a surprise package in a World Cup group with Uruguay, Saudi Arabia and the hosts Russia.
Star men – Although Egypt are not a one-man team, the five goals that Mohammed Salah scored in qualifying were vital. He is the talisman of the side and apparently a transfer target of Real Madrid for the summer. Ahmed Hegazi is a rock at the back that has impressed in the Premier League since signing for West Bromwich Albion. Arsenal’s El Neny is a driving force in midfield and Stoke’s Ramadan Sobhi looks to have a bright future.