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Of all the first-round classifications, Group G is perhaps the most predictable. This section of the draw features two clear favourites to reach the round of 16 and two sides who are widely considered among the worst in the entire tournament. That does not mean, however, that there is no interest to be found for football betting fans.
Belgium are an intriguing case at this summer’s World Cup, with their so-called golden generation determined to go all the way to the trophy. There is no doubt that the Red Devils possess an abundance of talent in almost every area of the pitch, starting with Thibaut Courtois in goal, Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen in defence, Kevin De Bruyne and Mousa Dembele in midfield, and Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens and Romelu Lukaku in attack.
With such weapons at their disposal you would expect Belgium to be one of the favourites to win the competition, but there is significant concern that Roberto Martinez’s side will amount to much less than the sum of their parts.
The former Wigan Athletic and Everton head coach has plumped for a 3-4-2-1 formation, with Thomas Meunier and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco deployed as wing-backs. The lack of top-class full-backs within the Belgian ranks was perhaps the motivation for the system, but there is a fear that the shape will stifle some of the team’s star players, while a midfield duo of De Bruyne and Axel Witsel would be vulnerable defensively.
“Mexico were just tactically better," De Bruyne said following a 3-3 draw with El Tri last November. "Their system made our five defenders deep and we were swimming in midfield — it was five against seven. As long as there is no good tactical system for the team, we are going to face difficulties against countries like Mexico.
Belgium will still advance to the last 16 with a minimum of fuss, and their quality in attack should mean they score several goals in the group stage. Take advantage of Karamba’s odds of 5/4 on the Red Devils finishing top and England finishing second.
Gareth Southgate’s side will lock horns with the Belgians in their final group game, which many have described as winner-takes-all battle for first place. A draw in that encounter would mean top spot is decided on goal difference, though, and Belgium will probably have the edge on the Three Lions in that regard.
Optimism has certainly been rising in England after some positive performances in friendlies in recent months, but this squad is far less talented than those which represented the country at major tournaments throughout the 2000s.
That is necessarily a bad thing, however, particularly as England’s own golden generation failed to maximise their potential on the international stage. Southgate’s men have been playing cohesive, modern football in the last few months, looking to pass the ball out from the back and press high up the pitch.
There is plenty of dynamism within this team and they may actually be better suited to matches in which they are the underdogs; it would not, indeed, be a surprise if meetings with Tunisia and Panama brought stodgy, unconvincing victories.
Tunisia’s approach in their first two games against England and Belgium will have them sitting deep, denying their opponents space in the final third, and hoping to nick something on the break. They are reasonably well organised at the back but could struggle to get enough men forward in attack, and it will be interesting to see if they are able to react to going a goal down. Nabil Maaloul’s side should at least be good enough to beat Panama, so consider a wager on them finishing on three points, which is 3/1 with top football betting sites.
Panama’s current set of players is seen as the strongest the country has produced, but it is worth noting that they reached Russia despite failing to win seven of their 10 qualifiers in the final stage of the CONCACAF process. Theirs is the joint-oldest squad in the competition and they could be overrun by superior opponents, particularly as they are unlikely to control possession in any of their games.
The Canal Men will look to pack men behind the ball against both Belgium and England, but they simply do not possess enough quality to challenge for a place in the last 16. A price of 1/1 (Sportnation) on the Panamanians scoring under 1.5 goals could be a worthwhile bet for anyone interested.