There’s been some serious fall-out from the opening game of the 2018 World Cup.
Russia’s 5-0 shellacking of Saudi Arabia in Moscow provoked many supposedly wise and senior football bods to suggest the Asian outfit didn’t deserve their place at the game’s top table.
The absence of Italy, Netherlands, USA and Chile was highlighted, as these so-called experts and pundits suggested FIFA should do-away with the current fair and competent qualification methods and simply select 32 countries based on reputation, heritage and history.
Once more it’s an example of goals often clouding clarity.
I appreciate it may come across as sour grapes seeing as I had backed the hosts to win by 1-0 and 2-0 correct scores in this parish earlier this week, but were Russia really five goals better than their hapless opponents?
Expected Goals would certainly contest such a final score. The unfashionable metric for measuring team strength returned 1.68-0.20 supremacy figures in Russia’s favour – yes, Saudi Arabia offered little to nothing in forward areas, but the home nation hardly sliced and diced the Green Falcons.
The media narrative will buy into the argument that Russia must be a much meaner, more ruthless group than we first forecast, while Saudi Arabia should be jettisoned off before suffering the ignominy or embarrassment of a repeat.
The truth is, Russia just aren’t *that* good so don’t allow yourself to be lost in the hysteria that exists on Twitter, on television or in the newspapers.
Moving back to punting matters and Sunday has real potential to be much more than just a fun day – I’m pretty sure there are ways to make this a handsome pay-day with Group E and Group F making their tournament bows respectively.
Costa Rica meet Serbia in Samara, in what appears to offer us one of the best opportunities across the first round of group games.
The Eastern Europeans have been chalked up as 1.99 favourites to take maximum points here and that’s just far too big a price to ignore.
With Brazil expected to take the top spot in the pool, it’s all to play for and Mladen Krstajic’s men pack enough punch to take down their obdurate opposition.
The Balkan boys serenely came through a qualification pool that contained Ireland, Austria and Wales and boast just the right blend of youth and experience to suggest they could have serious claims in reaching the knockout stages.
In contrast, Costa Rica look unlikely to recreate their 2014 exploits. Los Ticos are an ageing group with many of their key personnel struggling for form and fitness. The CONCACAF team failed to record a victory against any of their regional rivals who also made it to Russia, while no qualified nation averaged a worse xG return.
Elsewhere, Germany start their quest to extend their streak of topping each World Cup finals pool since 1986 with a contest against Mexico in Moscow on Sunday night.
Die Mannschaft are renowned fast starters and I believe there’s enough evidence to back the defending champions repeating the feat here.
Joachim Low’s charges eviscerated the Central Americans with a second-string side in Russia 12 months ago during Confederations Cup duty and the 1.83 available on Germany overcoming a -1 Asian Handicap hurdle has to be considered with El Tri struggling at the back.
There’s no doubting Mexico’s ability in attacking areas but Juan Carlos Osorio’s troops have tended to struggle defensively against elite teams.
Nestor Araujo and Diego Reyes have already been ruled out for El Tri and the CONCACAF giants have managed just four competitive clean sheets in 15 recent outings.
If Germany even come close to fifth gear, we could see Mexico’s defensive deficiencies ruthlessly exposed and I’m backing Die Mannschaft to make a strong start to their title defence here.
Costa Rica v Serbia – Serbia to win (1.99)
Germany v Mexico – Germany -1 Asian Handicap (1.83)