It’s getting tighter at the top as teams start to disappear from the World Cup now, but Brazil have remained out on their own as favourites throughout with France tucked in behind.
Argentina are the latest movers behind those two, though, having put their Saudi Arabia wobble behind them to top Group C and dodge the unpleasantness of a last-16 clash with France.
Why not have a quick look at the whole of the current top 10 in the betting, then? We could think of literally no reason not to do it, and so we have done it. Teams ranked by best odds currently available at oddschecker.com
Always up there, aren’t they? Always There Or Thereabouts. It’s Brazil! Carnival, Sex, Pele! But when it comes to the World Cup, they’ve been really quite underwhelming for a couple of decades now. Since Ronaldo’s Redemption in 2002 they’ve only made it past the quarter-finals once and given what happened next on that occasion would probably rather they hadn’t.
Still the only non-Europeans to triumph since Diego Maradona dragged Argentina to glory in 1986 and right now they do once again look the likeliest to break that cycle of European dominance having won their two opening games to cruise into the last 16.
Favourites before a ball was kicked and the assorted struggles of various severity for others mean not even an injury setback for Neymar can make a dent on their status out in front. Neymar Schneymar. The facts are that Tottenham’s fourth-choice attacker is the best and most important one for the World Cup favourites who are actual Brazil, sorry if that offends.
France have an absurd strength in depth that makes their status as clear second favourites behind Brazil very fair indeed.
After briefly looking like they might be about to go a little bit France by falling behind to an Australia side seemingly made up entirely of Scottish Premiership and former Scottish Premiership players, Kylian Mbappe then happened and Didier Deschamps’ side absolutely sauntered to a 4-1 win. Then Mbappe turned it on again to down Denmark.
We’re still not sure France are a side we’d want to be backing when they’re particularly well fancied, and while the half-arsed defeat to Tunisia in the final group game was barely a wrinkle in the grand scheme, it did rather threaten our own previously stated claim that France’s second team would have a good crack at winning this whole thing.
Messi’s Last Chance at the Big Dance. Argentina have a formidable squad that blends youth and experience perfectly, and hadn’t lost a game since the 2019 Copa America before they came a cropper against Saudi Arabia last Tuesday. Mercifully for La Albiceleste, they bounced back to beat Mexico on Saturday night, even if it was all a bit franticand then beat a Poland side more interested in avoiding bookings than scoring goals.
The upshot is that without ever being thoroughly convincing Argentina are now safely through and importantly in the Group C winners’ section of the draw. It matters. Instead of a last-16 clash with France they now face Australia, and with a quarter-final against a nondescript Netherlands or the USA once again look well placed for the last four at the very least.
It seems somehow old-hat to think of Spain as serious contenders these days. They’re somehow a team that rose to astonishing prominence and widespread acceptance as the very best in the world and then just suddenly sort of weren’t anymore, really, without ever being short of good players or anything.
The semi-final run at last year’s Euros wasn’t ever really truly convincing, but did hint at a return to major form after a very meh run. And giving Costa Rica an absurd 7-0 thrashing is, we think all can agree, a pretty good start to a tournament. Especially after what happened to Argentina, but especially after what happened to Germany. Even in drawing with the Germans they looked pretty sodding good.
Hard to see them having any trouble with anyone from Group F in the last 16, frankly, where a lively Morocco are on course to eliminate one of the ancient creaking European powerhouses of Belgium and Croatia.
There is a strange sort of powerful “Southgate’s England” about the fact a result that almost certainly put them into the last 16 of the World Cup – they would have to have been absolutely battered by Wales to miss out – came from a performance that sapped all the energy and excitement from that giddy 6-2 thrashing of Iran a whole *checks notes* four days earlier.
But now England are back…after a 3-0 win over Wales that was all the things that game against the USA was not. And a last-16 clash with Senegal should pose very few problems. France, though? That’s a different quarter-final matter. Come on, Poland.
Was their victory over Ghana any more convincing than Netherlands’ against Senegal? Probably not but it’s been enough to see them leapfrog the Dutch anyway, probably due to mounting fears that Cristiano Ronaldo might win the tournament by himself out of pure spite, the prick. Into the last 16 after beating a weirdly-meek Uruguay.
Are we… is it… could this possibly… have we reached a point in football where actually it is possible to write off the Germans?
For a team with such a formidable record in major tournaments, though, recent efforts have been spectacularly shonky. After reaching at least the last four of six majors in a row between 2006 and 2016 they have gone out in the group stage and last 16 at their last two attempts and after the late collapse against Japan have now lost their opening game at two successive World Cups. They’d previously lost their opening game just once in 18 World Cups. It’s both confusing and enjoyable.
They were sixth favourites before kicking a ball, slipped down to ninth after defeat to Japan, before climbing back up to seventh after Costa Rica blew their Group E wide open. The second round of fixtures could have gone ever so badly but a Japan defeat in that game and Germany’s own spirited, impressive draw against Spain at least puts them in theoretical control of their own fate.
Weren’t brilliant in beating Senegal and were really quite poor in a 1-1 draw against Ecuador. That their odds have suffered far, far less for these two events than England’s have for following the Iran thrashing with a dour draw against the USA says something about the national character of the English, in a way. Still feels very much like it’s the more conspicuous struggles of those directly below them in this list that is keeping the Netherlands afloat, but winning your group is winning your group even when it’s the weakest one in the tournament. We’ve got a sneaky feeling for the USA in that second-round game, though.
Shifting just ahead of Belgium and Uruguay – the last-16 qualified USA and Senegal are 11th and 15th – on account of their comeback win against Canada. John Herdman’s side very briefly made the most recent World Cup runners-up look their age until Luka Modric and the lads decided they had tuckered themselves out enough before taking control. Croatia proceeded to prove they do, indeed, still got it.
This is far from a flawless team but Modric and Mateo Kovacic do give them a chance, Dejan Lovren is the finest proponent of his art and people seem to keep saying things that fire them up, so you never do know. The game against Belgium was always an eye-catching group game given the calibre of player on show, but the fact both are teams clearly past their best and the fact it is almost an eliminator make it an absolute cracker. Two ageing heavyweights fighting from memory.
Denmark’s demise drags Belgium back into the top 10 even though their own continued involvement beyond the group stage must now likely come at Croatia’s expense after the increasingly tarnished Golden Generation came so dramatically unstuck against Morocco. It’s still technically possible for both Croatia and Belgium to emerge from Group B, but it’s unlikely. We’re really not at all far from the USA being in the top 10 here, you know.