The 1.75 price attached to Colombia implies a 57.1% chance that they beat Japan today. We think that’s generous given the difference in ability between the two squads, and where the respective nations sit in our in-house rating system.
Japan qualified for their sixth consecutive World Cup by winning Group B in the final round, topping the table above Saudi Arabia and Australia. They lost only two games during the qualifying campaign, one in their first match against United Arab Emirates and then in their final game against Saudi Arabia, when they had already guaranteed top spot. Strong defensive performances saw them only concede seven goals in their ten matches, including keeping four clean sheets.
However the World Cup finals themself really do offer a step up in class. Indeed, Japan lost 4-1 to Colombia at the last finals, and in the six subsequent games against teams ranked in the top 20 -as per Colombia’s position- Japan have lost five times and drawn once. All but one of these defeats has been by more than one goal, highlighting the gulf in class.
Furthermore, Japan’s preparations for this tournament have been slightly overshadowed. Akira Nishiro is the newest manager at the World Cup (bar Fernando Hierro of Spain), having only been appointed in April. It was described as an “emergency measure” after removing Vahid Halilhodzic; it appears the Bosnian had lost the confidence of the players, with communication problems also rumoured and that the team did not enjoy Halilhodzic’s negative tactics.
Nishino is considered one of the greatest Japanese managers after steering Gamba Osaka to their first Asian Champions League title in 2008 and helping Japan beat Brazil at the 1996 Olympics. He had been technical director at the Japanese FA and will need to adjust to the new role quickly. On his appointment, Nishiro has insisted that a fast, attacking style would be employed.
Japan have only won two of 13 World Cup matches and things didn’t look great when losing in warm-up friendlies to Switzerland and Ghana. However, the most recent game was a 4-2 victory over Paraguay.
Japan have tended to play in a 4-2-3-1, but in recent matches switched to 3-4-2-1. They’ll look to maintain a tight ship at the back, which starts with Eiji Kawashima, the Metz goalkeeper, who has amassed over 80 caps for his country and roughly concedes a goal a game.
The defence is marshalled by two players who ply their trade in Europe. The first of these being Maya Yoshida, who has impressed in the Premier League for Southampton and is a decent goal threat as well, picking up a goal every eight games for the national team. Alongside him will likely be Tomoaki Makino of Urawa Red Diamonds. Yuto Nagatomo of Inter Milan, who has bags of experience with over a century of caps and who has already represented the Samurai Blue at the last two World Cups, will play on the left while Hiroki Sakai or Genki Haraguchi will likely be on the right depending on formation and attacking intentions. The midfield will be anchored by Makoto Hasebe, the captain with over 100 caps. He has played over 250 games for Frankfurt in the Bundesliga and also offers versatility given he can play part of a three man defence. It will also likely see Hotaru Yamaguchi, a defensive option, or Ryota Oshima in the midfield.
Typically, Japan have played a possession based game with a tough edge and under Halilhodzic, the more stylish players such as Keisuke Honda (who now plays at CF Pachuca in Mexico), Leicester’s Shinji Okazaki and Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund often found themsleves at odds with the manager over how they would fit in to this rigid and drilled style. Honda did get seven goals though, in the qualifying rounds, and will need to be in that type of form here if Japan are to get anything from the game.
Whilst opponents Colombia did beat France 3-2 recently, their other two warm-up friendlies were 0-0 draws with Australia and Egypt. They will need star-man Radamel Falcao -the country’s all time top-scorer- to be prolific in front of goal, mainly from James Rodriquez’ service today. Both have enjoyed superb domestic seasons for Monaco and Bayern Munich respectively and coach Jose Pekerman will be confident his team can improve on their 55.5% win ratio under his stewardship.
The very reason Pekerman has come under criticism in Colombian media, is what can help his team win today: a pragmatic style of play rather than worrying about beautiful football. Getting to Russia wasn’t an easy ride for the cerebral manager, and Colombia didn’t secure the final CONCAF qualification spot until the last round of fixtures. That being said, it’s a notoriously difficult section which contains perennial tournament contenders Brazil and Argentina, as well as a reemerging Uruguay and the recently dominant Chilean force.
Probably the most worrying factor to come out of the qualification process was the lack of an established back line. Ospina enters as the definite number one in goal. But there are a host of defenders, including established international Cristian Zapata, highly promising starlet Davinson Sanchez, and new Barcelona signing Yerry Mina all vying for positions in the heart of that defence.
If Colombia do go a goal up and want to solidify their team, watch out for the ‘Colombian Kante’, Wilmar Barris of Boca Juniors. Some media outlets are adamant he should indeed take over from 33 year old Abel Aguilar in midfield alongside Carlos Sanchez of Fiorentina. In addition to the aforementioned Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado of Juventus offers a good attacking threat on the right hand side, often cutting onto his left foot.
Colombia -1 on the Asian Handicap could be a good play if the odds hit 2/1 quite early on. South American sides have beat Asian sides in nine of the last ten World Cup matches, with six of those victories clearing the -1 Asian Handicap. The outright win is the real bet though, now at 1.81 with BlackType.
It's reported that Tite is looking to remedy the slow turnovers from defence to attack by bringing the creativity and dribbling ability of Philippe Coutinho into midfield instead of Manchester City's Fernandinho. Regular Premier League viewers need not worry as Casemiro, and to an extent, Paulinho, can do a fine job of breaking up play and providing defensive solidarity.
Moreover, this will mean William would play on the right of the forward three. His directness & goal threat give me even greater confidence on Brazil getting the job done and maybe with a two goal difference.
We've not even mentioned Neymar, the third best player in the world, and Gabriel Jesus, who looks to be a cucumber-cool youngster with a deadly eye for goal.
My worry would be that Marcelo doesn't pretend to try and defend at left back, and Thiago Silva is past his best. His centre-half partner, Miranda, isn't terrible, but Marquinhos of PSG is favoured over the Inter Milan stopper by many in Brazilian media.
Switzlerand are well-drilled, as shown by their 1-1 draw with Spain in the recent friendly. With 11 clean sheets in their last 15 games, it would be unlikely that Brazil will absolutely tank them. Though it must be said, this aforementioned sample size includes friendlies against weak opposition (Greece, Panama and Japan) as per the Swiss FA's strategy to protect their FIFA ranking before draws are made for group pools.
We'd imagine that they play with two holding midfielders today: Behrami and Xhaka - another one of those players who plays much better for country than club. This points to a tactic of trying to frustrate the opposition and ensuring that no matter what, a heavy defeat does not occur. Goal difference could end up being vital in this group, especially if Brazil justify 1-x-2 favouritism and pick up 3 victories.
Shaqiri is the creative force for Switzerland and moments of magic like that against Poland in Euro 2016 are always possible. With the most international goals in the squad (20), he'll have to do much on his own though as he may feel familiar in having frustrations at the lack of quality to match his ability. Haris Seferovic will lead the line, and he has had a pretty poor season at Benfica, after initially getting a few goals after his move. Steven Zuber who will probably play on the left, has a goal in him, and scored twice during seven qualifiers.
Manager Petkovic, who has been at the helm for 35 games, has never presided over a defeat bigger than 2-0. That would put me off backing Brazil on anything bigger than -1.5 on the Asian Handicap at 2.35.
A slightly more conservative option is siding with Brazil -1.25 goals, at 2.07 with Bet365. With a 3 point stake, we'll see a half-loss if Brazil win by just one goal, or do not win the game. If Brazil win by two goals or more, we'll double our money.
Whilst Morocco v Iran is very much an entree to the main course of the first full day of fixtures at the World Cup the game provides a lot of intrigue for fans to see how the underdogs within the group will perform. Think of this as a light starter to the bigger main course of Spain v Portugal later in the day, writes Alex Everson.
Morocco (500/1) and Iran (1000/1) know that defeat will make progression tough for either side, given the unfortunate draw they have been given alongside two relatively strong European sides.
Morocco come into the game as favourites (13/10) in Saint Petersburg, with Iran as 3/1 outsiders. Despite the lack of market support for Iran, they have been given the moniker of the strongest Asian side by multiple pundits coming into this World Cup, having been the first qualifier into the summers world cup. They are a very tough side to beat, losing just three matches from 42 since the 2014 World Cup.
Iran appear to look as a bit of a mess organisationally, with their kit supplier, Nike, having restricted supply of their World Cup kits and boots due to sanctions imposed against Iran by the United States. This has left squad members trying to purchase, or even borrow boots just days before their opening match, along with cancellations of two friendlies in the lead up to the tournament.
The attacking play of two Eredivisie stars will be trying to break the deadlock: Morocco’s attacking midfielder Hakim Ziyech of Ajax, who won Dutch footballer of the year, and Iran’s Alireza Jahanbakhsh, top scorer in the Dutch top flight last season
Both sides having proven their defensive capabilities during qualification, will remain confident of restricting chances to the opposition. Iran only conceded twice in their ten qualification matches, with Morocco not conceding any goals during their six matches. However, despite the strength Morocco have at the back, their obvious weakness comes from their goalkeeper, Munir Mohamedi who made only one league appearance for Numanica in the Spanish Segunda last season.
The main weakness for the Asian side is due to suspension, with central midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi being banned for the first game because he was sent off against South Korea in their final qualifying game. Iran are likely to miss his high work rate that he displays for club side FC Rostov.
This is Iran's fifth World Cup appearance, with only one victory in their only four appearances: a 2-1 victory in 1998 against USA. They will see the opening match as their best opportunity to change this record. Morocco also have a low win rate at previous world cups, having won just two previous World Cup games in 13 attempts.
With the defensive minded nature of both sides being evident, we can expect both sides to play a very tactical game, which may be decided by just the odd goal. With this in mind, it seems prudent to lean towards the outsiders in this game and oppose the North African side, who did struggle to score in qualifying, with three 0-0 results in their six games.
The goals markets currently are expecting a very low scoring game, with U2.5 currently trading at 1.45, not leaving us with much room to try and attack this market. The U1.5 market is at 2.41, however, this does not leave much us much buffer if an early goal goes in, therefore leaving goal markets alone in this market seems sensible given the prices.
Iran can be found in the Asian Handicap market at just over evens (2.04) for a +0.25 start at Bet365, and a small stake of one point on this is advised. This would give us the benefit of taking a half stake win if Morocco don't manage to topple Iran, and a full stake win if Iran take all three points.
The fixture between host nation Russia (66/1) and rank outsiders Saudi Arabia (1000/1) is not a match that would normally arouse the interest of football fans around the globe. However, given it is the curtain raiser of the FIFA 2018 World Cup, the eyes of all seven continents will be watching with interest come 4pm Thursday 14th July.
A capacity crowd of 81,000 will cheer on favourites Russia (odds on at 1.44) in the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow. Nothing but a win will suffice and this is reflected in the market deeming the opponents an 11.0 shot. This lack of respect for Saudi Arabia is partly due to 21 of their 23 players plying their trade in the Saudi Professional League. Only Salem Al-Dawsari (Villarrreal) and Faha Al-Muwallad (Levante) play abroad. Indeed, in qualifying The Green Falcons lost three of five on their travels, highlighting their players’ preference for staying at home.
Russia know a loss will make it very unlikely they can make it through the Group. However, avoiding defeat should not be the aim - nothing but 3 points should be on the agenda. A precious win, coupled with the likely Uruguay defeat of Egypt, means Russia would be in a great spot going into their 2nd game. Egypt would then have to play an unnatural attacking game, in their push for points, meaning Russia can look to keep it tight and break.
Therefore, in tomorrow’s match, surely manager Stanislav Cherchechov will allow Aleksei Miranchuk and Alan Dragoev the opportunity to play just behind Fedor Smolov in an attacking formation. Although, given his substitute spot in the friendlies versus Austria and Turkey recently, Miranchuk might be pipped to a starting spot by Yuri Zhirkov -once of Chelsea ‘fame’- or Aleksandr Golovin of CSKA.
Russia’s lack of competitive matches makes it hard to analyse where this team is at. However, we can point towards The Confederations Cup, where Russia performed badly. Only nine players survived from The Euro 2016 squad, but the results were just as bleak, with a Group stage exit.
In Saudi’s nine friendlies this calendar year, they’ve been out-shot roughly 80-140. That sample size does include games against much stronger opposition than Russia. The matches against Germany, Italy, Belgium and Peru make up about 90 of these shots conceded. However, bar the drubbing against Belgium, and an odd loss to Iraq, results haven’t been overly shoddy.
Manager Manuel Antonio Pizzi will have to do something that has not happened in the last 10 World Cups: guide his side to a victory against the host nation in their opening game. Indeed, Saudi Arabia have not won a match in their last three World Cup appearances (1998, 2002 and 2006), drawing two and losing seven matches.
With all this in mind, and on the understanding that this really is a match between two poor teams, played under intense pressure and spotlight, we might see a low scoring affair. As with all potentially low scoring affairs, it’s an opportunity to get an underdog onside.
A cautious watching brief is advised, with just one point risked on Saudi Arabia +1.5 on the Asian Handicap at 1.75 (3/4) with BlackTypeBet. This means that as long as Saudi Arabia don’t lose by more than one goal, we’ll kick off The World Cup with a winner.
This would have landed in six of Saudi’s nine friendlies this year and all four of Russia’s friendlies this year. Obviously in friendly matches the results are of little consequence; however we don’t have much else to go on in terms of Russia matches and Saudi’s games against other Gulf located countries aren’t really a representation of the step up in class they’ll encounter over the next fortnight.
Let’s hope the former Russian international who are called this side ‘the worst in Russian history’ are indeed correct.