It was two out of two for me in the World Cup semi-finals with France beating Belgium and England off to a fast start versus Croatia. Our England didn’t have much a sweat with them opening the scoring after just five minutes. This was another pleasing win especially after doubling my initial stake of one point to two given the overriding trend in England’s favour.
I mentioned I thought this was the best way to oppose Croatia’s fitness, and it proved right as backing England -0.25 would have seen us lose half our stake despite the game playing out in the manner expected. Having backed France to qualify, it was also pleasing their performance merited a final place. They outshot Belgium 19 – 9, winning the expected goals 1.76 – 0.54.
I mentioned rating Roberto Martinez worse than Didier Deschamps and he has to accept responsibility for this performance. Belgium have clearly underachieved given the talent available and his selections were a part of the reason why. In such a crucial game he named Nacer Chadli, a winger who played just five times for relegated West Bromwich Albion last season, at right-back.
He also played defensive midfielder Marouane Fellaini in the number 10 position. He could have played natural number 10s in Hazard or De Bruyne there, and selected Mertens or Carrasco as natural wingers. He could have adjusted during the game to this type of formation. But instead, he waits until the 91st minute to bring on Michy Batshuayi who’s been on fire for Dortmund this season!
A one-sided final means encore Les Bleus
It’s a shame England couldn’t go on to make the World Cup final after taking the lead, but they failed to capitalise on their quick start without even managing another shot on target in the remaining 115 minutes. And therefore Sunday sees the World Cup final contested between France and Croatia. France are 1.96 favourites, the draw is 3.34 and Croatia are 5.10.
Given it is a final, as expected we have a low goal expectancy of just 2.05 meaning a goal line of 2.0 with unders as a favourite. And despite it being a World Cup final, it’s a pretty easy decision for me who to back here. I backed France v Argentina, I backed them against Belgium and I opposed Croatia in the semi-final so I have to be with France again at these prices.
Beating Belgium, Uruguay and Argentina in the knockouts it makes for impressive reading. While Croatia once again had to go about things the hard way, being taken to extra-time for the third game in a row, having conceded first in every one. It surely has to take its toll on the players both physically and mentally, and their list of conquests in England, Russia and Denmark doesn’t inspire huge confidence.
Yes, their midfield is impressive but their centre-back pairing of Lovren and Vida is a level below, with Lovren fortunate his club side puts up with his inevitable errors and Vida plying his trade in Turkey with Beskitas where he struggled to get in the side behind 35-year-old Pepe and 33-year-old Dusko Tosic. Giroud beat Lovren in the air to score for Chelsea against Liverpool as recently as May and it would be dangerous to underestimate him here despite having yet to score in Russia this summer.
An interesting concept to further underline France’s superiority is to compare transfer values of both squads using respected website Transfer Markt. They value France at £972M and Croatia at £328M. France’s share of the overall figure represents 75% – they are 1.49 to lift the trophy – or 67%. France also have the upper hand in reserve with Fekir, Dembele and Thauvin all of whom were unused in the semi.
So I have to be with France again, and I’m happy to back them in the match odds, having negotiated all three knockout ties in normal time and Zlatko Dalic now having conceded the 1st goal in 7 of his 12 games in charge, as well as playing three consecutive extra-times.
Over the last two World Cups (128 matches), 55% of matches have been won by favourites – which would equate to odds of 1.83. The average odds of these teams is 1.85. We can back France at 1.96 for a chunky two-point bet quite happily here.
Finding some extra value for the final
There’s a couple of other markets where there looks to be some French value and in particular those involving Antoine Griezmann. Kylian Mbappe is an odds-on favourite to win the golden ball, followed by Luka Modric, but Griezmann is available at double figures, and with the award not being decided until after the final, I think the disparity in prices is too big.
Mbappe may have had more of the headlines due to his electric pace, but they both have scored three goals with Griezmann adding two assists to Mbappe’s zero. They also share two Man of the Match awards apiece. In terms of performance data, Griezmann is outshooting Mbappe 3.3pg to 1.0pg and is more key to the way the team plays.
Griezmann is on set-piece duty and plays on average 10 more passes per-game than Mbappe. Other than his performance against Argentina and glimpses in the Peru game, Mbappe hasn’t been outstanding and playing out of position on the right-wing surely won’t help. Arguably he’s more of a shoo-in for young player of the tournament.
If France win and Griezmann performs better than Mbappe in the final, there’s a good chance he could win the golden ball. On the same lines, it is worth an investment in Griezmann winning the man of the match award too. He scored twice in the Europa League final and was top scorer at Euro 2016 so he has form on the biggest of stages.
Regular readers will know my aim is to side with sustainable edges when possible because long-term the value will pay and the profits will take care of themselves, which is exactly what I’m doing again here. I first noticed Griezmann was an excellent prospect when he was playing for Real Sociedad back in 2010 and it would be a great way to fulfil his potential by leading his country to World Cup glory.
- France 1.96 – 2pts
- Antoine Griezmann to win the Golden Ball ~13.0 – 0.5pts
- Antoine Griezmann Man of the Match 8.5 – 0.5pts
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