Mark O'Haire World Cup Diary: Three Lions pack enough punch to down debutants

6 min


If ever an image summed up the pressure of a nation on a player’s shoulders, it was the pictures of Lionel Messi prior to Argentina’s contest with Croatia. The skipper rubbed his forehead with his eyes closed; appearing the epitome of a superstar riddled with stress, almost aware of the horror show about to unfold.

For those of us who are fully signed up members of the Lionel Messi GOAT society, it was a painful watch. The Barcelona forward carries the hopes of 44 million people and it seemed to take its toll in a quiet and ineffective individual performance during La Albiceleste’s 3-0 reverse.

There were reports during the week that Messi has been feeling so down after last Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Iceland that he refused to attend a barbecue organised by Argentine staff, instead of staying alone in his hotel room. As a football fan, it’s painful to see the mini magician so isolated and deflated.

The sight of Lionel Messi being crowded out by Croatian players was a common one on Thursday night.

However, such pleasantries can only extend so far and Argentina’s collapse helped bolster our betting coffers as the South Americans surrendered their opportunity to take the top spot in Group D.

As well as supporting Croatia to avoid defeat in that fixture, we’re now in a strong position to seal an attractive pay-day should the Blazers complete the effort and finish top of the tree. Every cloud, and all that…

Moving on to Saturday’s action, Mexico standout as a solid selection to make it two wins from two when they meet South Korea in Rostov. The Central American giants produced a thrilling performance to shock defending champions 1-0 in their opener, putting them in pole position in Group F.

Obviously, the significant emotional and physical energy expended during that famous victory needs to be considered but there’s clear mileage in a price that’s crept ever shorter since last week’s action.

This is a contest I highlighted pre-tournament and I still make Mexico around a 1.60 mark.

El Tri have triumphed in five of their last eight outings, three of which arrived alongside clean sheets. Juan Carlos Osorio’s troops dismissed claims of defensive deficiencies with an excellent rearguard performance in the second-half against Germany and that should stand them in good stead against average opposition.

South Korea have been hit by key injuries coming into the competition but their display against Sweden was pitiful. The Taeguk Warriors failed to fire a single shot on-target, often appearing uninterested in even attempting to get forward in a lifeless and directionless effort. They’re there for the taking.

Elsewhere, as suggested in the Matchbook Podcast, England should have few problems overcoming a generous -1.75 Asian Handicap at 2.09 on Sunday. The Three Lions might be missing Dele Alli but they still pack enough punch to see off the obdurate Central Americans with room to spare.

Gareth Southgate’s side failed to take advantage of Tunisia kamikaze high line in the first-half of their 2-1 victory in Volgograd, and while Panama will sit deep and aim to frustrate, England must have serious aspirations and the obvious ability to win this contest by at least a two-goal margin.

A win by exactly two goals returns a half-stakes profit, while a victory by three or more goals sees our selection return a full pay-out.

For me, the offer to make money by backing England to win by a two-goal margin against arguably the worst side in the competition is just too good to turn down.

Recommended Bets

  • South Korea v Mexico – Mexico to win (1.73)
  • England v Panama – England -1.75 Asian Handicap (2.09)

Click here for Matchbook’s latest World Cup markets