Though much depends on which half of the draw each favourite falls, with only two of the seven (England and Belgium) in the same group, it is certainly plausible that each of our favourites can make it to the quarter-finals; close analysis of the probable quarter- and semi-final fixtures can help illuminate which is best placed to lift the trophy in Russia.
Here’s a look at all seven nations with a realistic shot of winning the 2018 World Cup:
Germany – 5.50
As holders and tournament specialists it should be no surprise that Germany are favourites (at the time of writing) to win the 2018 World Cup. They have reached the semis in four consecutive finals and lifted the trophy in 2014. Their history with the event breeds a confidence that produces continued success, and they benefit from the stable leadership of Joachim Low. Germany are not without their flaws, however, failing to beat Brazil, Spain, France or England in recent friendlies and falling at the semi-finals of Euro 2016. They also lack an experienced out-and-out striker, though that didn’t hamper them in qualification. Die Mannschaft won all ten qualifiers, scoring 43 goals, and have brought through plenty of younger players to balance with the experience in their ranks.
The emergence of Leon Goretska, Leroy Sane and Timo Werner gives a new dynamism to their attack, ensuring the disappointment of Euro 2016 doesn’t linger in the camp, but more importantly they have a pretty straightforward route to the final. They should easily top Group F before playing Switzerland in the second round and England in the quarter-finals, whom they have beaten in four consecutive knock-out matches. Spain or Argentina await in the semis, by which point that typical German confidence will be sky high.
Brazil – 5.75
Brazilian coach, Tite, has overhauled the dull football of the Dunga era and managed to get Brazil playing with a swagger again. They have easily the most talented first 11 in the tournament, mixing creativity with power in central midfield, plus enjoyed a ruthless qualifying campaign.
Paradoxically, Neymar their biggest star is also their most disruptive influence but one of the most positive aspects of Tite’s last two years has been Brazil’s ability to ease the pressure on the Paris Saint-Germain star. Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, and Gabriel Jesus are all at the top of their game, allowing Neymar to take a quieter role on the left wing.
The biggest issue facing Brazil may be the lingering shadow cast by the 7-1 semi-final defeat by Germany on home soil. The psychological impact of the total capitulation, one game from the final they felt destined to reach, cannot be underestimated.
If the Selecao can get that monkey off their back, they have enough attacking flair to easily poke holes in the shaky Belgian defence when the two sides (potentially) meet in the quarter-final and against Mexico in the second round. France await in the semis, which could swing either way.
On talent alone France would have strong claims to top the World Cup outright betting bitcoin at Cloudbet. The main reason that isn’t the case is their head coach Didier Deschamps, who is somehow still the manager despite his conservative tactics, poor decision-making, and general underachievement in charge of Les Bleus.
France could be about to throw away a golden generation – although their talent is such that the likes of Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe, and Antoine Griezmann might win it for the French in spite of their manager.
There is a frankly ridiculous amount of talent in the France squad. N’Golo Kante and Pogba should be able to dominate any midfield battle, while Ousmane Dembele and Anthony Martial should provide game-changing speed from the bench. The key word here is “should”: Deschamps just hasn’t been able to get the component parts to click, and full-back remains a real problem area. Croatia in the second round shouldn’t be a problem, but in the next round Portugal’s defensive grit could see a repeat of the Euro 2016 final, where French hearts were broken in Paris.
Spain – 7.50
The 2018 World Cup marks the end of an era for an ageing Spanish squad, many of whom have been there and done it on the biggest stage, but who are in the twilight of their career. Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, David Silva and Andres Iniesta won’t play at another World Cup and adding in their problems up front (Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata are both struggling for game time) La Roja are only fourth favourites to lift the trophy with a semi-final against Germany a significant barrier to overall success.
There is still reason for optimisim; Isco’s hat-trick in a 6-1 friendly victory over Argentina in March (the opponents they will likely face in the quarter-finals) a case in point. Isco, Thiago, and Marco Asensio are the future of Spanish football; their wonderful possession play, linking with Silva, will hypnotise the majority of their opponents this summer, the question is whether Spain are good enough to go all the way.
Argentina – 10.0
Despite the possessing the world’s best player for a generation, Argentina represent the ‘best of the rest’, a nation who could go all the way to the final but only by leaning heavily on Lionel Messi to do so. They endured a very difficult qualifying campaign as Jorge Sampaoli’s highly complex attacking tactics asked too much of a lopsided squad; they don’t possess the right defenders to play with such a high line, although Nicolas Otamendi’s dramatic improvements under Pep Guardiola have certainly improved their cause.
That humiliating 6-1 defeat to Spain, coupled with a 4-2 loss to Nigeria, should have confirmed to the world that Argentina cannot win in Russia. Sampaoli’s crazy tactics just aren’t suited to a team without a balance of talent, particularly when the nation is under immense pressure to deliver in what might be Messi’s final World Cup.
Argentina possess World class quality beyond Messi with the likes of Paolo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel di Maria, and Sergio Aguero, but that has been true for the last three tournaments where, despite making the final in 2014, they have been unable to replicate the Maradona era. The likely quarter-final with Spain is a mouth-watering prospect that will be a true test of the South American’s credentials.
Belgium – 12.0
Belgium is another nation potentially held back by their head coach. This is the final chance for their golden generation, and yet the Belgian FA decided that the best man to fix their longstanding issue of a strong attack and a weak defence was Roberto Martinez - a manager famed for his strong attacks and weak defences.
Belgium’s 3-3 draw with Mexico and 4-3 win over Bosnia Herzegovina highlighted the ongoing issue, and it would appear Martinez is doubling down on his principles, recently using a 3-4-3 with wingers in the wing-back slots.
Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, and Romelu Lukaku might score them plenty of goals in the early rounds, but Brazil are likely opponents in the quarter-finals with a quick counter-attacking style that could cause problems. Overcome the Selecao and maybe the Belgians might develop the belief that they can deliver on the abundance of talent they possess.
England – 17.0
Of the four main favourites - Brazil, France, Germany, and Spain – England will probably be in the easier half; a likely second spot in Group G should mean Germany in the last eight and Spain in the semi-finals.
Most of the England first 11 is coached at club level by Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, or Mauricio Pochettino, three of the world’s most astute tacticians who share many of the same values. It is not a coincidence that Guardiola was managing in Spain and then Germany when they won the last two World Cups; it is not inconceivable the same pattern will be followed.
Despite the lowered expectations, Gareth Southgate has one of the most balanced teams in the tournament, plus can use the nation’s underdog status to play low-scoring counter-attacking football in the latter stages – as they did in recent friendly draws against Germany, Brazil, and the Netherlands.
That tactic however, could rely on progress on penalties which everyone knows is not England’s forte. Regardless of England’s ability to score from 12 yards, to win this tournament this will at some point need to produce a winning performance against a world class side, something that they have been unable to in competitive format since 1966.
The World Cup outright winner bitcoin betting market at Cloudbet is fascinating given the absence of a dominant team. There are strong arguments both for and against most of the favoured teams, perhaps reflecting the continued globalisation of the game.
Some may argue that the best result would be a fairytale winner – like Greece at Euro 2004 – in which case look for a team that can defend its way to glory. The hosts traditionally punch well above their weight – remember South Korea in 2002 – but it is stretching plausibility to make a case for Russian success, given their failure to get out the Group Stage in their last four attempts, and the lack of competitive matches that comes of being the hosts.
France may lack the cohesion to beat Brazil or Germany – defeat in a home Euro 2016 final underlined that - while Spain are a shadow of the 2010 Champions, leaving the Brazilians and the Germans – on different halves of the draw – as probable finalists.
The nations most likely to disrupt the final that current odds imply are England, Argentina and Belgium. Success for any of that trio requires either singular brilliance – such as Messi, Kane, De Bruyne - or the emergence of a winning mentality that has been so noticeable by its absence.