The opening whistle
The FIFA World Cup in Qatar kicks off Sunday morning, ending a build-up of nervous anticipation, movement in betting odds, and worldwide debate.
Brazil is still the out-and-out favorite
As the betting markets continue to rage, several nations have been dealt blows to their odds due to injuries, while others have used the opening to move into the oddsmakers’ good graces. Brazil is still the out-and-out favorite, but what about the rest of the field?
Here’s everything that you need to know heading into Qatar.
The champs take a step back
The World Cup is divided into two sections, the Group Stage and the Knockout. The Group stage divides the 32 nations into eight four-team groups, and each team plays one another once. The two teams from each group with the most points move onto the 16-team knockout, which is a single-elimination bracket used to ultimately decide the winner.
While Brazil has been the favorite to win the tournament for the past few months, the 2018 champions, France, were close behind throughout the majority of the build-up. However, injuries to N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba earlier this year caused the gap to widen between them and their South American competitors.
three regular starters now unavailable for selection
Les Bleus were also handed an unwanted problem when presumptive starting attacker Christopher Nkunku was injured in a Tuesday training session by teammate Eduardo Camavinga. That’s three regular starters now unavailable for selection.
England and Spain have used France’s injury crisis to creep ahead in the odds, drawing dead-even with the reigning champions at +750. Neither team had a particularly impressive run in preparatory international matches and will rely on their tradition of excellence and individual talent to fulfill the oddsmakers’ predictions.
Lionel Messi’s Argentina is second at +550 to win the competition, while Brazil is still the out-and-out favorite at +320. Messi recently said that Brazil, France, and England “are a little bit above the rest.”
More World Cup odds
Another team that was expected to make a run as a dark horse is Senegal (+12000 to win the World Cup). However, talismanic forward and Bayern Munich star, Sadio Mane, was injured during a domestic competition earlier this month and could miss at least the first few games of the Group Stage.
will face much more adversity without Mane
Senegal won the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) earlier this year thanks to Mane, along with other stars such as Chelsea teammates Edouard Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly. They are still in decent shape to make it out of a group that includes the Netherlands, Ecuador, and the hosts, Qatar, but will face much more adversity without Mane.
If they finish second, they would face the winner of Group B which includes England, the USA, Wales, and Iran.
Belgium is also being grouped with the long-shot winners despite its “Golden Generation’s” tradition of excellence over the past decade. Regular attackers Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard have been dealt lots of bumps and bruises and are out of form. Belgium is currently ninth in the odds to win at +1700.
Another team that has not been mentioned, Portugal, is eighth at +1500. The Portuguese team has a very nice balance across its lineup and one of the greatest goal-scorers of all time, Cristiano Ronaldo, leading its line. However, Ronaldo has been an outcast at Manchester United—which led to a fiery interview with Piers Morgan and rumors that he will soon leave the club—meaning that he will be short of his usual match sharpness.