Mark O'Haire World Cup Diary: Three fancies to finish the group-stage with a flourish

6 min

Farcical, shambolic, ridiculous, chaos – all words used to describe VAR in the BBC studios after Iran’s match with Portugal on Monday night. Even Portugal’s head coach Fernando Santos admitted it, “got a little weird”.

For the majority of the 2018 World Cup, Video Assistant Referees have made a positive impact on the competition, highlighting and overturning wrong decisions for the better. Like any top-level sport, eliminating errors by officials has to be a priority and football – the global game – should be leading the way.

But we’re stuck in the dark ages of traditionalism. After all, the referee still has the final say on all of these decisions – if you feel a poor call has been made, it’s not VAR’s fault, it’s the referee.

I appreciate VAR haters are unhappy about the time it’s taking to make these decisions, and the flow of the game being interrupted, but I take the opposite stance.

It can liven up the most meaningless match; it adds drama, it adds tension and above all else, entertainment.

VAR was the ‘star of the show’ on Monday night in Portugal’s 1-1 draw with Iran.

For sure, there are areas to be worked on. Like rugby, it would be great to hear communication between the referee and the team in the bunker analysing the images, and supporters inside the stadium must also be privy to such images and comments.

But don’t let one contentious night cloud your view on VAR.

Back to betting and overall we’ve enjoyed a prosperous World Cup as the group-stages head to a conclusion. Matchbook Podcast listeners have been treated to numerous winners and Insights columns have also returned a healthy profit, although it’s important to keep our feet firmly on the ground.

The competition enters its trickiest punting phase with pool games wrapping up and the knockout stages commencing this weekend. Nevertheless, there are still opportunities to attack before the lucky 16 head into the second phase of the tournament.

On Wednesday night in Nizhny Novgorod, Switzerland can justify their claims as 1.74 favourites against Costa Rica. Vladimir Petkovic’s posse have performed with aplomb in their opening two games and know victory against the already eliminated Central Americans would put them in contention for top spot.

Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri have been cleared to play and Die Nati should enjoy themselves against a Ticos team that has now lost eight of their last 10 outings and failed to beat both Honduras and Panama during qualification.

Earlier on Wednesday, Germany should be backed to overcome a -1.75 Asian Handicap hurdle at 1.73 when they meet South Korea. Joachim Low’s world champions kept their World Cup defence live with a dramatic comeback victory over Sweden last Saturday night and that could prove a turning point.

The four-time winners now know they must overcome by South Korea by two or more goals to guarantee their place in the Last 16 and you wouldn’t bet against Die Mannschaft producing the goods when it mattered most.

Timo Werner and Marco Reus were influential during the second-half against the Swedes in a tactical reshuffle that saw Mario Gomez lead the line and a similar approach could work wonders against the beleaguered Koreans.

Meanwhile, Tunisia’s tussle with Panama on Thursday night holds more punting appeal than England and Belgium’s encounter. The North Africans are desperate to secure their first World Cup finals win since their debut in 1978 and are generous 1.88 shots to do so.

From the outset, Panama were described as one of the worst teams in the competition and the Central Americans have done nothing to dispel such theories.

The Central Americans have been slaughtered 9-1 on aggregate despite asking England or Belgium to click into top gear.

Recommended Bets:

  • Switzerland v Costa Rica – Switzerland to win (1.74)
  • South Korea v Germany – Germany -1.75 (1.73)
  • Panama v Tunisia – Tunisia to win (1.88)

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