Our writers pick out their best World Cup bets ahead of the start of the tournament in Russia.
The big hitters of Brazil, Germany, France and Spain will all be battling it out as favourites but previous World Cup stalwarts in Italy and the Netherlands will be rare absentees.
As for England, they enter as 16/1 shots for glory and Gareth Southgate's young side will be hopeful of upsetting the odds when they make the trip east across Europe.
The tournament got under way on June 14 with hosts Russia thrashing Saudi Arabia 5-0 in Group A, with games every day until June 28. The knock-out stages follow before the final in Moscow in mid-July.
Before the start of the tournament, Sporting Life writers picked their best bets, with odds from Sky Bet, alongside their selections for the winner and Golden Boot.
Winner: Brazil (9/2)
The message is simple: get Brazil on side in some capacity.
They are odds-against to reach the semi-finals, 9/4 to get to the decider, and 9/2 to lift the trophy four years after that harrowing defeat at the hands of Germany on home soil.
New manager Tite has turned their fortunes around since then and with a lot less pressure on superstar Neymar due to the thriving support provided by Philippe Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino, there’s a real freedom to the team.
They can also defend, as their utter domination in a strong qualification section proved.
Brazil have only lost once under the current boss (a friendly v Argentina) and will be extremely hard to beat in Russia with a returning Neymar back in the fold.
France and Spain are afforded maximum respect but Brazil look to have the perfect blend of experience and youth and could hardly be more hungry after what happened at the last World Cup.
Golden Boot: Edinson Cavani (25/1)
Cavani has made a name for himself banging in goals against relatively low-grade defenders in the French top flight and his record for club and country over the past couple of seasons is immense.
Russia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are all likely to set up to be cagey against Uruguay, but with Luis Suarez alongside him Cavani should be able to do some damage in an incredibly weak Group A.
Quite how far they go is questionable, but Uruguay were second only to Brazil in South American qualification and do look like they could outperform their odds.
Banker: Olivier Giroud to score anytime in France v Australia (evens)
World Cup banker bets are a dangerous business as playing the patient, long game appeals more given the length of tournament and number of variables at play.
However, one shortie appeals on day three of the competition when France and Australia meet at the Kazan Arena, home of Rubin.
The Australians have had some joy against France in the past, winning 1-0 at the 2001 Confederations Cup, but they were on the end of a 6-0 hiding when the sides last met and, having needed an intercontinental qualifier to make it to Russia, look to face a daunting opener.
Olivier Giroud scored twice in that 2013 thumping and will fancy his chances of getting off the mark at the first attempt given some of Australia’s shambolic tendencies at the back (see the goal conceded against Honduras).
To cap it off, Rubin’s ground was designed by the same architects behind the Emirates, so former Arsenal man Giroud is fancied to feel right at home in his surroundings.
Longshot: Brazil to beat Spain in the final (28/1)
The case for Brazil is already made and I’m willing to take a punt on them edging past Spain in the final.
Spain were bitterly disappointing at the last World Cup but have regrouped quite impressively during qualifying and still have that tournament-winning core in terms of playing personnel at the heart of the team.
They have a potentially handy route to the semi-finals but some of their key players have endured long, hard seasons and going all the way might just prove a bridge too far.
Winner: Germany (5/1)
They may have struggled in recent matches to pick up results, but Germany know how to get the job done at major tournaments.
Their success in 2014 was the reward for years of building, and despite losing a couple of experienced heads, the squad they currently possess is exciting and full of talent.
Their group of Mexico, South Korea and Sweden should provide them with little issues and their potential Round of 16 clash wouldn't be problematic either.
Brazil seem the real threat to them defending their crown. The South Americans are favourites but they won't meet until the final and I believe that Germany will remain world champions at the end of July.
Golden Boot: Robert Lewandowski - Poland (33/1)
I've gone for a bit of a bigger priced selection here and Robert Lewandowski is tempting value at 33/1.
Poland are in the open Group H, where they will fancy their chances of progressing. Leading the line will be Lewandowski, who has enjoyed another terrific season with Bayern Munich, scoring 41 goals in all competitions.
Lewandowski is rumoured to be on the way out of Bavaria this summer, and the World Cup provides a perfect opportunity to put himself at the forefront of the shop window. He can fire Poland to the knockout stages where they'd be dangerous, particularly to a potentially vulnerable Belgium should they meet in the last 16.
Banker: Group B - straight forecast - Spain winner, Portugal runner-up (6/5)
Group B looks pretty straight forward in terms of the two teams who will be qualifying.
Spain and Portugal should progress to the knockout stages without too much trouble, and the first game between the two will set-up who should win the group.
Spain are the team to beat in Group B, and should have enough to get past Portugal and secure top spot.
Longshot: Brazil & Germany to meet in the final (11/1)
They're the two best nations heading into this tournament, and the bracket means that they can't meet until the final if they both top their groups.
I'd back Germany to edge the final, but 11/1 looks fantastic value on the two sides meeting in Moscow in mid-July regardless of the outcome.
For the bet to land, it would mean that Germany likely knock England out in the quarter-finals. Sorry Gareth.
Winner: Brazil (9/2)
Standing on the shoulder of tipping giants here, but many good judges I know tell me Brazil are going to be very hard to beat and I'm taken with the case.
Tite has evidently helped this side move on from the horrors of 2014 and with Neymar potentially fresh and ready to star as Ronaldo did 20 years ago, they look to have all the tools required to go the distance, particularly given there defensive improvements.
They look absolute good things for the semi-finals and we can reassess then, when they will be 6/4 shots. Nothing to lose in getting stuck in now.
Golden Boot: Philippe Coutinho (50/1)
Available at 50/1 with Sky Bet and bigger in places, Coutinho looks worth an each-way bet to bag five goals and a place - with Golden Boot honours not out of the question.
A model professional by all accounts, he's the type to quietly produce a World Cup-winning supporting role behind Neymar and seven goals in his last six games for Barcelona highlight a player who is peaking at the right time.
There is a slight risk that Tite employs him deeper than Barcelona do, but that may help Coutinho arrive in dangerous areas unnoticed while his ability from distance could also be a factor.
Banker: Russia to progress from Group A (2/5)
You said banker, I give you banker. Host nations invariably progress and Russia should have no problems beating Saudi Arabia, while doubts around the fitness of Mo Salah - not to mention his ability to carry an entire nation on his shoulders - suggest they'll also be good enough to see off Egypt.
If you want to boost the price back them and Uruguay in a dual-forecast at 8/11.
Longshot: Andres Iniesta to win the Golden Ball (40/1)
The last winner of the Golden Ball who came from the winning side was Romario in 1994, with the likes of Diego Forlan having won it and Davor Suker, Wesley Sneijder, Hong Myung-bo and David Villa on the podium.
Sadly, it's a win-only market so there's no scope for a really wild each-way bet, but Andres Iniesta looks worth a small go at 40/1.
This Spanish legend is playing in his final World Cup and Spain will be in the opposite half of the draw to standouts Brazil should they top their group at the expense of Portugal, which they are fancied to do.
A likely run of Russia, Argentina, Germany gives them genuine hope of making the final in my book and Iniesta is sure to be instrumental in a side which could be lacking an out-and-out goalscorer. And, given that this is basically a popularity contest, should Spain reach the semi-finals alone that makes him a massive player.
Winner: Brazil (9/2)
I'd love to pull a surprise name out of the bag but this Brazil side looks just too good to me. History tells you that one of the market leaders will win the World Cup and this uber-talented squad just doesn't have any real weaknesses to pick away at.
I don't expect too many shocks in this World Cup - Spain, Germany and France look really strong but from front to back, from two world-class keepers to Gabriel Jesus and Neymar up top, Brazil look the business.
They strolled through qualification, banging in goals but also keeping them out at the other end, and unlike four years ago they are more than just Neymar, with Jesus, Coutinho, Firmino and even Paulinho all able to help carry the goalscoring burden. They're a complete side and just too hard to oppose.
Golden Boot: Thomas Muller (25/1)
There's definite value to be had in this market such as Robert Lewandowski, who sticks out at 33/1 after 16 goals in qualifying, including three hat-tricks, and a wide-open Group H for Poland.
Just ahead of him in my thinking though is Muller, who has scored more World Cup finals goals than any other player lacing up their boots in Russia this summer, and already has one Golden Boot tucked away at home.
He scored five in South Africa in 2010 to grab the award, and five last time out to finish just behind James Rodriguez - giving him ten goals in just 13 games at the tournament.
So we've got the leading scorer in the field, playing for the defending champions, priced at 25/1? Yes please.
Banker: Uruguay to win Group A (4/5)
This was even-money when spotted but even at the slightly shorter price, for me, is probably the safest bet of the tournament.
Russia are hosts, but that's the only thing they've got going for them as their team is pretty ordinary to say the least, while Saudi Arabia are the dictionary definition of whipping boys in this group.
Egypt could be the only stumbling block but Mohamed Salah will most likely miss their opening game against Uruguay. Even with him there's just too much talent in this La Celeste side who are a class above the rest.
Longshot: Andres Iniesta to win the Golden Ball (40/1)
As we've discussed on our World Cup podcast, this award offers some more juicy value once you understand that it's a FIFA-approved shortlist that members of the media then vote on to select their winner. The recent roll of honour shows huge footballing names (and Diego Forlan) but not players who excelled so much at that particular tournament.
So the key here is to find a team who'll make at least the semi-finals and pick out the story, and while Neymar's return is right up there, departing Spanish icon Iniesta is well worthy of what should be called a lifetime achievement award.
Spain should go far, and although I don't think they'll win it they'll go deep enough to allow FIFA to give Iniesta a lovely leaving present.
Winner: Belgium (9/1)
I���ve already written an analysis of why Belgium can make history this summer in a previous column so I’m going to stick to my guns for three key reasons.
Firstly, their squad is jam packed with quality that would get in many other top sides – De Bruyne, Hazard, Lukaku, Alderweireld and Courtois – while the likes of Fellaini, Vermaelen, Kompany, Vertonghen and Mertens are among the many others with experience of playing for elite clubs in big occasions.
Secondly, the core have grown through three major tournaments together now and are no longer a wet-behind-the-ears Golden Generation. I believe they’ll finally 'arrive' for good in Russia.
Finally, their own nation doesn’t saddle them with negative baggage from the past. They’ve never known it this exciting and this kind of positivity can do wonders from a psychological perspective.
Golden Boot: Romelu Lukaku (16/1)
The Manchester United striker was the third highest scorer in the European World Cup qualifiers with 11 goals and he’ll be leading the line for this attacking Belgium side in Russia.
With an abundance of creative talents behind him, including Premier League assists king Kevin De Bruyne, he’ll have plenty of chances come his way against Panama, Tunisia and probably England.
Usually six goals can be enough to scoop this gong and he could be halfway there before a potential meeting with Japan in the last 16.
If they go as far as I think then it’ll be in the bag but even a semi-final run might be enough for Lukaku.
Banker: Group E straight forecast: Brazil-Serbia (9/4)
You may question this being a banker considering Serbia are third favourites in the group behind Brazil and Switzerland.
But the Serbians are not to be underestimated and have plenty of talent in their ranks with Matic, Milivojevic, Milikovic-Savic and Tadic combining an ideal blend of brawn and creativity in midfield.
Newcastle striker Aleksandar Mitrovic was banging in the goals during qualifying while there’s high-class experience at the back with Aleksandar Kolorov and Branislav Ivanovic.
I think they’ll have too much for Switzerland and Costa Rica in the fight to finish behind Brazil.
Longshot: Serbia to reach the semi-finals (9/4)
World Cups do regularly through up surprise semi-finalists even if the winners and runners-up tend to be the usual suspects.
I'm interested in a few outsiders to reach the last four – Sweden (16/1), Serbia (18/1), Egypt (28/1), Peru (28/1) and Iceland (40/1) – but it is the Serbians who I feel strongest about.
I reckon they’ll overcome either an out-of-sorts Germany or Sweden in the last 16 before coming up against either England, Colombia or Belgium. In two of those scenarios, I’d be confident they can take that all-important step to the semi-finals.
Winner: Brazil (9/2)
Let's not over-complicate things here. Brazil are the ones to be on and in truth, 9/2 looks very fair.
It's far too easy to look at these tournaments and search high and low for a big-priced side to give you a run for your money but, if you're wanting to back the winner, Brazil are by far the most likely to provide that.
While their qualification was an utterly dominant stroll in the park, another key factor here is that this Brazil team boasts a squad with the perfect blend of youth and experience; a number of hungry players approaching the peak of their powers mixed with a few wise old heads.
At the back, Marquinhos (24) and Miranda (33) form a formidable central defence while the midfield includes Casemiro (26) and Renato Augusto (30).
With the outstanding Neymar (26) approaching full fitness again, he and Gabriel Jesus (21) will provide the most potent attacking threat.
For many of these, their time is now and the manager is a genius, too.
Golden Boot: Gabriel Jesus (14/1)
Sticking with Brazil, I will nominate Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus.
Jesus netted seven times in qualifying for Brazil, as well as enjoying a fruitful season in the Premier League, and he is expected to play as the central striker in Brazil's frightening front-three.
Much of the attention is likely to centre around teammate Neymar but Brazil coach, Tite, has already placed a huge amount of faith in Jesus and expect that to be rewarded in the coming weeks.
Banker: Russia to beat Saudi Arabia to nil (19/20)
The hosts could have hardly handpicked an easier opening match and they should start with a comfortable victory.
Saudi Arabia are the lowest-ranked side in the competition and with Russian captain and goalkeeper, Igor Akinfeev, marshalling his back-line between the sticks, it will be a major shock if his side don't win to nil.
Longshot: Iran to reach the quarter-finals (22/1)
On the face of it, Iran look up against it with Group B also containing Spain and Portugal.
However, Portugal were one of the most underwhelming European Championship winners of all time when lifting that trophy in 2016 and could easily come unstuck here.
The experienced Carlos Queiroz has built a well-drilled and resilient Iran side, one which went unbeaten in qualifying when only conceding twice in ten matches.
Iran won't be easy to break down and in Sardar Azmoun and Alireza Jahanbakhsh - last season's Eredivisie top scorer - they boast a bit of an attacking threat, too.
Winner: Spain (11/2)
Brazil were my pick up until a couple of weeks ago, with a change of heart in favour of Spain. It will be their first tournament under the management of Julen Lopetegui, so it is his first big test since replacing Vicente del Bosque, but they have the resources to do it.
They are one of the few nations who could field a rejected XI capable of progressing deep into the tournament, which just shows the strength of their final squad.
Lopetegui showed he was not afraid of dropping big-name players and his current team consists of an interesting blend of young and experienced footballers - with the Champions League, Premier League and La Liga titles featuring on many of their CVs.
They eased through qualifying and face a tough opening match with Portugal, which could decide the winner of Group B.
Despite a rare mistake in their World Cup warm-up with Switzerland, they have the best goalkeeper in the world in David De Gea - the Premier League’s Golden Glove winner - and have a born winner in Sergio Ramos at the centre of defence.
Behind Diego Costa, the talent in attacking midfield is most eye-catching and the likes of Isco and David Silva are well capable of both creating and scoring, in a bid to fire their nation to a second World Cup triumph in three tournaments.
Golden Boot: Luis Suarez (25/1)
At 25/1, the Barcelona forward looks a great each-way bet for the Golden Boot. He has made the headlines for Uruguay in the last two World Cup campaigns, albeit for the wrong reasons, and he could make it three in a row here.
At 31 years of age, it could well be his last World Cup, and he will be hoping to take his club form to Russia after netting 31 goals and assisting 18 for Barcelona in all competitions in 2017/18 - in what some consider a poor campaign by his standards.
Although Matt understandably opted for his strike partner Edinson Cavani, I have gone for Suarez, Uruguay’s top goalscorer since 2013, and he has a great chance to add the World Cup Golden Boot to his growing list of career achievements.
With Egypt, Russia and Saudi Arabia in Group A with Uruguay, Suarez has a real opportunity to net a handful of goals before the knockout stages. In the likely event they top their standings, Uruguay could face Portugal and there’s no reason why Suarez cannot fire them past an ageing defence to advance to the quarter-finals.
The winners of the Golden Boot at the last three World Cups have needed just six, five and five goals in 2014, 2010 and 2006 respectively. The winner in South Africa 2010 was Diego Forlan and it could well be another Uruguayan this time around.
Banker: Group A: Uruguay winners/Saudi Arabia to finish bottom (13/8)
Sticking with Uruguay, their group appears to be a formality at the top and bottom of the table.
While Egypt and Russia could be the ones battling for a runners-up spot, Uruguay should comfortably top the standings while Saudi Arabia could struggle to even get a point and at 13/8 this looks a great price.
Longshot: Winner/Golden Boot forecast: Spain/Luis Suarez (200/1)
With such confidence in my individual selections for the winner of the tournament and Golden Boot award, combining them in a double at 200/1 looks like terrific value.
The top scorer does not always come from the winning nation and all it takes is a flurry in a couple of games to be right up there.
Spain could be on the opposite side of the draw to favourites Brazil should they beat Portugal to top the group and there is absolutely no reason for them to be afraid of any team in their path.
Published at 1300 BST 07/06/18 - odds taken from Sky Bet and are subject to change
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