Brazil to rule the world
Brazil are our outright tips for success at the World Cup, with Portugal the potential value pick.
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A World Cup in Brazil. It's going to be fun isn't it?
But do you profit from the events that are about to unfold, that is the question we want to answer in this preview of the 32-team tournament's outright market.
We'd all like a Greece Euro 2004 moment - a winner at a three-figure price - but basically major shocks don't happen in World Cups.
In the last five tournaments, nine of the 10 finalists started out at 14/1 or lower - the one team outside that price range being Germany in 2002 who, believe it or not, went off as 20/1 shots.
While some may find that time period arbitrary, it's a good one to look at as global football has changed a lot since 1990, the last tournament outside the time range.
Most significant has been player flow. It became much easier for Europeans to play in other countries as a result of the Jean-Marc Bosman case which began in 1993. The advent of the English Premier League, now a huge cash cow and force in world football, also played its part, while increased globalisation has resulted in African and Asian players finally being recognised and got many more of them playing at the top level.
Take the 14/1 price 'rule' and apply it to this tournament and you can immediately whittle the field down to four - hosts Brazil, Argentina, holders Spain and Germany.
Belgium, a side who haven't played tournament football since 2002, are next in the betting at 22/1.
It's hardly a foolproof rule to work by but in all honesty, the winner does look highly likely to come from the leading quartet in the market.
The other stat you will have heard all about is that every time the tournament has been staged in South America (four times), it has been won by a team from that continent.
The last time that happened was back in 1978 when continental travel was nowhere near as common as it is today so huge weight should not be applied to this.
However, there can be little doubt some teams will be suited to the conditions better than others.
Anyone who saw last year's Confederations Cup in Brazil will know that and it is this tournament which has helped me decide that the hosts are the team to beat over the next month or so.
Brazil won it and in fine fashion, beating Uruguay, Italy and Spain, who were demolished 3-0 in the final, along the way.
They bossed games, leading at half time in each and scoring 14 times in five outings.
Neymar was the star of the show and the poster boy of the host nation is second favourite in the top scorer markets this time around.
He's come in for some criticism since his move to Barcelona but let's remember that he's played a slightly different role there where Lionel Messi is the main man and so much goes through the Argentine.
Back in the yellow shirt, I expect him to rise to the occasion.
Of course, this is no one-man team though.
Chelsea's Oscar can be a magical little player 'in the hole' behind a rather un-Brazilian like player in Fred. More of a target man, he's still a player who knows where the goal is and he outscored Neymar in that Confederations Cup tournament to finish as top of the charts with five goals.
Even Jo, much-maligned by Premier League watchers, gets game-time and scores goals for this team for whom Tottenham's Paulinho has long been a solid performer.
Attacking full-backs Dani Alves and Marcelo - one of the Real Madrid heroes of the Champions League final - are reminiscent of the Cafu/Roberto Carlos axis which rampaged forward in Brazil's 2002 winning run.
"Perhaps the ace in the pack is on the touchline in boss Luiz Felipe Scolari. He guided Brazil to the World Cup in 2002 remember, experience that could be absolutely priceless in the pressure-cooker environment that awaits."
Some may have concerns over David Luiz and Thiago Silva in central defence, but it's an established pairing at this level and they ensured Brazil conceded just three times in five games 12 months ago.
However, perhaps the ace in the pack is on the touchline in boss Luiz Felipe Scolari. He guided Brazil to the World Cup in 2002 remember, experience that could be absolutely priceless in the pressure-cooker environment that awaits.
Brazil have an easy-looking group (Mexico, Croatia and Cameroon) to get themselves into the tournament with after which things start to get more tricky.
The prices suggest the 2010 runners-up Netherlands will be their last-16 opponents. Spain and Chile are other options. A quarter-final with Germany also looks a possibility.
However, whichever way you look at the draw, you can always come up with a tricky match at some stage for any of the contenders.
I'm of the opinion that Brazil are the best side at this event and are capable of seeing off all-comers, whichever stage of the tournament they may meet at.
They've already shown they can deal with the best - in addition to those Confederations Cup results they've beaten World Cup pretenders Portugal, Chile and France in friendlies - and to me are worth backing.
The price isn't thrilling - around 3/1 - but they look the most likely winners and so I will confidently back them.
Argentina certainly don't appeal as much. I'm particularly worried by Sergio Aguero's injury-disrupted season.
While he may have scored 28 times in 34 games for Manchester City, the fact is that stat was built before Christmas, since when Aguero has been in and out of the treatment room. I simply can't see he'll be at his best in Brazil and that has to be a blow to Argentina's hopes.
Many eyes will be on Lionel Messi - the Golden Boot favourite - but with that comes huge pressure, something he didn't deal with wonderfully in South Africa four years ago.
Also, he comes in off probably his worst season for several years at Barcelona. Even I know this sounds a fairly harsh assessment given he managed to net 41 times for the Catalans, but regular followers of La Liga will know that his effect this season was not as good as it has been in previous years and a key factor in Barca failing to win a trophy.
Packed with attacking talent, it could be that Argentina won't need those two to fire. Gonzalo Higuain (my personal pick for top-scorer honours) and Angel Di Maria are capable of leading most sides going forward.
However, the way they set up with three up front could leave them vulnerable going the other way - that was certainly the case in South Africa where they looked great early on before Germany took them apart in the last eight.
Moving onto the other two major players, Spain look the most likely European winners to me, although how long their golden spell of success can continue has to be open to some question.
The holders and reigning two-time European champions were notable strugglers in the heat at times in the Confederations Cup.
This year, plenty of their players were playing deep into May with a later league finish than most and Real Madrid were in the Champions League final.
The engine room of the team - Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Xabi Alonso - are all over 30 now, as is Fernando Torres, who could well lead the line with Diego Costa an injury doubt after his impressive campaign with Atletico Madrid. It should also be remembered he's hardly played in this team since his controversial 'switch' from Brazil.
Unless you've already got Spain at a bigger price, I'd leave them alone.
The same goes for Germany, who were dealt a body blow a couple of days ago with the loss of Marco Reus, who tore ankle ligaments in a friendly (likewise France have lost Franck Ribery in a major setback to their chances).
Germany have plenty of talent in the midfield area but they would certainly have wanted Reus available.
Other star names have had injury problems - keeper Manuel Neuer, midfield general Bastian Schweinsteiger and sole squad striker Miroslav Klose among them.
They scored plenty of goals in qualifying but they've had some iffy results in recent friendlies.
They've also been handed a bad draw in terms of their venues with three games in the hotter north, including two at 1300 local time (it is worth noting that Italy face a similar scenario).
I don't see them cruising through in a tough group which includes Portugal, Ghana and USA and even if they do top it, they will likely end up in the same half of the draw as Brazil, who I much prefer to back.
While my search for a winner has focused on the top four in the betting, I'm not naive enough to rule out the other 28 teams entirely.
There are nine teams offered a double-figure price and it is these to whom many of you will be looking for a spot of value.
The team I like the look of from this sector of the market are Portugal.
They've proved to be consistent tournament performers in the past decade.
Defeat to the aforementioned Greece in the Euro 2004 final is as close as they've been to winning a trophy but they've been knocking on the door ever since with semi-final appearances at the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2012.
Eventual winners Spain edged them out on penalties in the latter, while their Iberian rivals also accounted for them in the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup en route to lifting the trophy.
Still, they've beaten some good sides in tournament play and the squad which arrives in Brazil is one which, in the main, has been together for some time.
FIFA Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo is clearly their star man and capable of winning matches virtually on his own - see their play-off success against Sweden.
He's been nursing a knee problem but he'll certainly be giving everything to make sure he plays and have an impact given he's currently at the peak of his powers and will be 33 at the next World Cup.
I'm prepared to take the risk with his fitness, knowing a positive update in the next few days could well see Portugal's price shorten.
The rest of the side should not be underestimated, of course.
Helder Postiga may be remembered in England for a poor spell at Spurs but he has a decent scoring record at international level with 27 goals in 68 games, while Joao Moutinho in midfield was a key man in Monaco's runners-up finish in Ligue 1 and is packed with plenty of experience at this level.
There have been some criticisms of the defence but Real Madrid's Fabio Coentrao is a fine left-back, while the no-nonsense central pair of Bruno Alves (who has been scoring with regularity in he past couple of years) and Pepe have helped the side to plenty of clean sheets, including two in warm-up games against Mexico and Cameroon.
If Portugal do win their group - and as already explained Germany look opposable favourites in it - then it is likely they would have to beat one of Belgium or Russia and then either France or Bosnia to reach the last four. That's more than possible.
Yes, they are probably going to have to beat a top-quality side at some point to reward the long-odds support, but they look the best of the bunch for those searching for value.
- The opening game of the World Cup gets under way at 2100 BST on Thursday, June 12.
Before then we've got more previews for you with David John previewing the top goalscorer market on Tuesday, Ben Coley picking our the tournament's best specials on Wednesday and Nick Hext looking at bets surrounding England on Thursday.
We've already got team-by-team guides, so for the best World Cup betting advice, make sure you stay logged on to sportinglife.com.