Mexico to halt hosts' progress
Ben Coley and Matt Brocklebank preview Tuesday's World Cup games with Belgium and Brazil considered too short.
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Belgium have been the subject of an almighty antepost plunge over the past few years but Matt isn't sure they'll have things all their own way about an Algeria outfit who've proven to be hard to break down in the past.
Mexico's record against Brazil helps make Ben's case for taking on the hosts while there's also some mileage in backing South Korea to win their first game against Russia.
Check out our match previews below.
- 1pt no goalscorer in Belgium v Algeria at 16/1 (William Hill) - buzz about Belgium may be too strong and Algeria defend well
- 1pt Brazil and Mexico to draw at 5/1 (General) - hosts weren't overly convincing in first game; Mexico do well against them
- 1pt South Korea to beat Russia at 16/5 (bet365, Betfair) - little between these and young Koreans look decent value
Belgium v Algeria (Group H, Belo Horizonte, 1700 BST)
There will be a great sense of anticipation for many ahead of Belgium's opening 2014 World Cup clash with Algeria, but I can't help but feel the expectations surrounding Marc Wilmots' side are way too high.
Good luck to those who were part of the wholesale gamble which saw their odds of lifting football's greatest trophy topple from 250/1 four years ago to around 16/1 by the time last week's opening ceremony came around.
The emergence of several star players since Spain triumphed in South Africa was bound to have a major impact on Belgium's outright price, with the likes of Thibaut Courtois, Vincent Kompany and Eden Hazard performing to an extremely high standard domestically almost on a weekly basis.
But international tournament football, and the pressures that come with it, is an entirely difference beast and this side lack experience on such a stage.
A glance at their recent warm-up results also shows we shouldn't be expecting the Belgians to set Brazil alight.
Friendly defeats to Colombia and Japan, plus a draw with Ivory Coast, probably tell us more about the Red Devils than their comfortable qualification campaign which came courtesy of a group also containing Wales, Croatia, Scotland, Serbia and Macedonia.
Granted Belgium didn't lose a game en route to the finals, winning eight of their 10, but they didn't blow many teams out of the water as seems to be the general perception and I'm not expecting fireworks despite being 1/2 favourites to beat supposed Group H whipping-boys Algeria.
Respective odds of 4/1 and 6/1 for Romelu Lukaku and Hazard to open the scoring seem fair though aren't exciting enough to entice in what I expect to be an extremely trappy affair.
Algeria are as big as 7/1 to claim an unlikely win and 53/10 in the draw no bet market but they will not be pushovers if the last World Cup is a decent indication of what we should expect.
A miserable African Cup of Nations campaign has since come and gone but they conceded just two goals on the big stage four years ago in a group consisting of England, USA and Slovenia, and keeping things tight will be their number one objective here.
In attack they lack obvious quality but Islam Slimani and Hilal El Arbi Soudani scored eight of their side's 13 goals during the qualifying group stage and clearly know where the net is.
If Belgium can overcome the occasion and hit the ground running then they could ultimately prove far too strong, but there is a lot to suggest goals will be at a premium and I can't resist a small play on what looks a juicy 16/1 for there to be no goalscorer.
Verdict: Belgium 0 Algeria 0 (MB)
Belgium have won one of their last nine World Cup games (3-2 v Russia on 14 June 2002), drawing five and losing three. They have kept one clean sheet in these nine games: v Netherlands in 1998 (0-0).
Belgium are unbeaten in their last two World Cup group stages, in 1998 and 2002 (W1 D5).
Algeria have failed to score in their last five World Cup games, attempting 71 unsuccessful shots since their last goal on 3 June 1986 against Northern Ireland.
Belgium are unbeaten in two previous internationals against Algeria, winning one and drawing one (both friendlies).
Only Spain (3) conceded fewer goals than Belgium (4) in the 2014 European World Cup qualifiers.
Brazil v Mexico (Group A, Fortaleza, 2000)
First plays second in Group A and it's a match for which Brazil are just a shade too short at around the 1/3 mark.
Phil Scolari's side did enough to just about justify favouritism when beating Croatia in the opening game of the World Cup, but it wasn't the fluent, dynamic performance many had expected from the hosts and this is probably a slight step up in grade.
Indeed, in some ways it was a performance similar to that which Brazil produced when last they met Mexico, a game which, like this one, took place in Fortaleza. That day, goals from Neymar and Jo were the difference as Brazil advanced to the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup, but the class divide implied by Mexico's price here was not on display.
Mexico have long produced excellent football against Brazil. That defeat was only their second in the last eight competitive internationals between the sides and with Mexico winning six of them, there's plenty in the form book to suggest this isn't the one-sided cakewalk many will expect.
Oribe Peralta's goal was enough for Mexico to win their opening game against Cameroon, one played in appalling conditions which coach Miguel Herrera suggested prevented his side from truly opening up and producing the type of football they're capable of.
Admittedly, El Tricolor were poor in qualifying and their preparation for the finals was less than straightforward, but 1-0 defeats to Bosnia and Portugal read well enough to offer some encouragement and, while Brazil are of course the more likely winners, I'm keen to oppose them.
The way to do so may be to go with the draw at 5/1. Far from a disastrous if less than ideal result for Brazil, it's one Mexico would certainly take and they're solid enough to do so granted a little luck. Five of their 10 qualifying games ended all-square and at the price a small bet is advised.
Those expecting a straightforward win for the hosts should consider Neymar to be man of the match at 6/5. It sounds a short price, but the award is based on votes on the FIFA website and the big-name players are at a distinct advantage. If he scores (10/11 any time) then he'll almost certainly land man of the match honours too, even if Oscar may again produce the truly world-class performance.
Verdict: Brazil 2 Mexico 2 (BC)
Brazil and Mexico are meeting for the fourth time at the World Cup. The Seleção have won their three previous meetings with a combined score of 11-0.
Brazil and Mexico last met in the 2013 Confederations Cup, at the same venue as this game, the Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza. Luiz Felipe Scolari's men won 2-0 thanks to goals from Neymar and Jô.
Oribe Peralta has scored nine goals in his last seven competitive appearances for Mexico, including the winner in the opening group stage game of this tournament.
Neymar has scored 33 goals in only 50 appearances for Brazil and has six in his last four appearances for the Seleção.
Russia v South Korea (Group H, Cuiaba, 2300)
Russia have been well supported to take a big step towards qualification from Group H with victory over South Korea.
All eyes in this particularly weak group have been on Belgium, but neither Russia nor South Korea are without hope of topping the standings.
Both bring with them coaches with World Cup experience - 2002 hero Hong Myung-bo for Korea and former England boss Fabio Capello for Russia - and have some encouraging pages to their formbooks even if Korea were lacklustre in qualifying.
Russia on the other hand qualified top of a group which included Portugal, and while Capello has been hit by the loss of influential skipper Roman Shirokov he does still have options in both midfield and attack that should make his side dangerous opponents in Brazil.
South Korea's qualifying exploits certainly don't quite stand up to the same level of scrutiny and having lost 2-1 to Russia late last year, it's easy to see why money has come for the European side. They do, quite simply, deserve to be favourites and to the man in the street they probably look a good bet.
While ultimately falling at the first hurdle, many will recall Russia's exciting opening to the last European Championship in which Alan Dzagoev made a name for himself but we must not forget that South Korea have advanced beyond this stage in two of the last summer finals, most recently chasing home Argentina in South Africa.
Even more relevant for the Asian side may be their bronze medal performance at London 2012, one in which several members of this squad - who also played together in the 2009 World Youth Cup under Hong - featured, and it may well be that they're better prepared as a unit than a Russia side who Capello admits already have eyes on the next World Cup, for which they act as hosts.
Certainly, the drift on South Korea which sees them now available at a shade over 3/1 makes them an appealing proposition to small stakes.
Verdict: Russia 1 South Korea 2 (BC)
Russia have only kept one clean sheet in their last six World Cup games, it was against Tunisia on 5 June 2002 (2-0).
This is South Korea's eighth World Cup in a row (since 1986); only Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina and Spain can boast a longer streak currently.
The one previous meeting between Russia and South Korea came in a friendly in November 2013; Fabio Capello's side won 2-1.
South Korea have kicked off each of the last three World Cups with a win: v Poland in 2002, Togo in 2006 and Greece in 2010.