Belgium? Country of 11 million inhabitants, roughly the size of Greater London or New York City? Yes – little Belgium are currently hotter favourites for the World Cup with the bookmakers than previous World Cup winners Italy, France, England and Uruguay.
Only four countries are more favoured than Belgium: hosts and five-time winners Brazil, perhaps inevitably, are odds-on. There can be little argument here; host nations of course typically fare well, while Brazil are – well – Brazil. The ghost of 1950 is still there, though whether that nightmare memory of losing on home turf serves as inspiration or heightens the nerves for the Brazilians remains to be seen.
Next up are Brazil’s most bitter of rivals, Argentina, who will also fancy themselves on South American soil, albeit a hostile one. And even if Messi says his reputation doesn’t depend upon World Cup glory, you’d be a fool to believe that: he will be giving everything to put the crown on a fantastic career and lift himself alongside Maradona in his nation’s pantheon.
Then there’s the Germans. Never rule them out, of course: major competition after major competition, there is almost never anyone as consistent, as determined to put on quality display after quality display. Head coach Joachim Low recently demonstrated he is not afraid to put aside reputation to take men inform, jettisoning Mario Gomez in his preliminary squad.
Perhaps surprisingly, the team that has dominated international football for the past half dozen years are only the fourth favourite for the 2014 World Cup according to the oddsmakers: Spain. Despite an all-Spanish Champions League final looming, the feeling is perhaps that Spain, like Barcelona, have passed their moment of prime. That, though, could perhaps lend itself to the Spanish, who may enjoy coming up on the rails rather than feeling the pressure again to be expected to defend their 2010 World Cup triumph.
And then comes little Belgium, a plucky contender featuring a plethora of youthful talent led by Eden Hazard. Don’t rule them out, even if it would be the greatest surprise in the history of the World Cup should the European minnow lift the World Cup for the first time.
This variety of contenders, big and small, is perhaps why commentators are noting that the amount of FIFA prop bets that sportsbooks are releasing are through the roof. A spokesperson for WCAction.com noted that “We haven’t seen these many FIFA World Cup betting options in any of the previous World Cups and the betting public is obviously not complaining.”
With just over a month until kick-off for the World Cup, expect little to change in the odds until the first ball is actually kicked – and then, of course, all bets are off!