World Cup odds: the intelligent punter's guide
Who should you put your money on? And who'll win the Golden Boot? Our guide to the World Cup odds
With the World Cup under way at last, what odds are available and who should you be putting your money on to win on 13 July?
As I wrote when the draw was made in December, there are three key stats to bear in mind:
First, no team from outside South America has ever won a World Cup held in the Americas - and there have been seven of them.
However, it's also worth noting that in the last five World Cups held in the Americas, the beaten finalist has been European. So if you fancy a European side, make sure you back them each-way.
Second, look for a team that has already won the tournament. Since its inception in 1930, just eight different countries have won the World Cup. Since 1962, there have only been four 'first time' winners: England in 1966, Argentina in 1978, France in 1998 and Spain in 2010.
Third, 'top tier' host countries have a great record. In 19 World Cups, the hosts have either won - or finished second or third - on 11 occasions.
So it's no surprise that five-times winners Brazil, managed by 'Big Phil' Scolari, are tournament favourites at 3-1.
Now let's take a closer look at the World Cup odds for all 32 teams…
It’ll be a huge surprise if Brazil don't win the Group, but a case of sorts can be made for all three of the other teams to finish in second place. The bookies make Croatia marginal favourites to qualify ahead of Mexico, despite the latter's better recent record at progressing beyond the group stage in World Cups, with Cameroon their choice to finish last.
BRAZIL: Best odds 3-1. To win group: 1-4. To qualify: 1-20.
Tournament favourites and worthy ones at that. In the seven World Cups held in the Americas they've won three times, finished runner-up once and third once. Manager Phil Scolari led them to World Cup glory in 2002 and with home advantage and a team brimming with talent they are clearly going to take some beating.
CROATIA: Best odds: 200-1. To win group: 9-1. To qualify: 11-10.
Only just scraped into the finals via a play-off victory against Iceland but although they have a talented midfield and sound defence, goal-scoring could be a problem: they only bagged 12 in qualification. If they do get out of the group in second place they face a difficult task against the winners of Group B in the next round. That said, on their day they can be a match for anyone.
MEXICO: Best odds: 200-1. To win group: 9-1. To qualify: 6-4.
One of the most consistent World Cup performers, they’ve qualified for the past five tournaments and got out of their group on each occasion, but every time they’ve exited at the first knock-out stage. In fact the only times they’ve ever gone beyond the first knockout stage and reached the quarter-finals were in 1970 and 1986, when they had home advantage. Exit at the round of 16 looks the likeliest outcome.
CAMEROON: Best odds: 1,000-1. To win group: 28-1. To qualify: 9-2.
The Indomitable Lions have won just one game at the World Cup finals since their memorable run to the quarters in 1990 and face a tough battle for second place behind Brazil. An experienced team, with the 33-year-old Samuel Eto’o leading the line in attack, their spirits will be boosted by their recent 2-2 draw in Germany. But they will probably need to beat Mexico in the opener to give themselves a chance of escaping from the group.
Australia, the lowest ranked team in the tournament, are likely to be the whipping boys, but it could be very close between the other three, all of whom are odds-on to qualify for the next round. Teams will be going all-out to win the group as the team that finishes second is likely to play Brazil in the next round.
SPAIN: Best odds: 13-2. To win group: 8-11. To qualify: 2-11.
They've won every major international tournament they’ve competed in since 2008 (two European Championships and a World Cup) and if they win in Brazil they’ll be the first team since Brazil in 1962 to win successive World Cups. Clearly they’re one of the likeliest winners – they'e still ranked No 1 in the world by Fifa - but could it just be one tournament too far for Iniesta and Co?
NETHERLANDS: Best odds: 35-1. To win group: 31-10. To qualify: 8-11.
Beaten World Cup finalists in 2010 but they were awful in Euro 2012 where they lost all three matches and finished bottom of their group. So what to expect from the Oranje now? They qualified easily enough, and any team with Arjen Robben in it has to have a chance: but their cause hasn’t been helped by injuries and if they can only finish second in the group, they’re likely to be up against hosts Brazil in the last 16.
CHILE: Best odds: 50-1. To win group: 4-1. To qualify: 19-20.
Looked excellent when they out-classed England 2-0 at Wembley last November and they've had some other very good friendly results. An exciting, attack-minded team, with the very talented Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas up-front, they can certainly cause problems for Spain and Netherlands, their rivals for qualification.
AUSTRALIA: Best odds: 2,500-1. To win group: 200-1. To qualify: 16-1.
Hard to see a repeat of their 2006 heroics when they were unlucky to lose to eventual winners Italy in the last 16. In fact, it would be a big achievement for the Socceroos - currently ranked 62nd in the world - to bag a point in a very difficult group and the 6-4 about them returning home pointless looks tempting.
Arguably the weakest group, with three of the four teams available at 150-1 or bigger to win the tournament. Colombia, appearing for the first time since 1998, were very impressive in qualification and should win, but there isn’t much between any of the other three sides.
COLOMBIA: Best odds: 40-1. To win group: evens. To qualify: 1-3.
Came second in the very demanding CONMEBOL qualifying group and among their most eye-catching results was a 4-0 thrashing of Uruguay and a 3-1 win in Chile. They also beat Belgium, quietly fancied for the tournament, in a friendly. Conditions will suit them, though their chances of making it into the latter stages of the tournament have been hit with their prolific striker Radamel Falco being ruled out with injury.
IVORY COAST: Best odds: 150-1. To win group: 15-4. To qualify: 21-20.
Failed to make it through the group stages in their previous two finals appearances, in 2006 and 2010, but that said those groups were tougher than this one. Their opening match with Japan could well prove decisive in determining which of the two proceed. The Elephants have got a talented squad - which includes the likes of Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba - but they can be inconsistent.
JAPAN: Best odds: 200-1. To win group: 9-2. To qualify: 6-5.
The best team in Asia, Japan lost in a penalty shoot out in the last 16 in 2010 and look one of the more interesting outsiders this time round. A skilful and attack-minded team they performed with great credit in last year’s Confederations Cup in Brazil, showing they can cope with the conditions, and are likely to cause problems for all of their group opponents. Likely to perform better than their odds of 200-1 suggest.
GREECE: Best odds: 350-1. To win group: 8-1. To qualify: 2-1.
Created arguably the biggest shock in the history of international football tournaments when they won the 2004 Euros and again surprised a few in the 2012 Euros when they made it to the knock-out stages. However, their record in the World Cup is poor: in their two previous performances they’ve failed to make it past the group stage. Although they‘re well organised, have a good defence and won’t be a pushover for anyone, a lack of goals is likely to prove their undoing.
A very tough group, with three of the teams priced at 33-1 or shorter to win the tournament and three of the teams ranked in the top ten by Fifa. England could hardly have been handed a more difficult assignment. Interestingly most bookies make England only third favourites to win the group, but most think they’ve a better chance than Uruguay of qualifying.
ITALY: Best odds: 25-1. To win group: 13-8. To qualify: 4-9.
Only Brazil have won more World Cups than the Azzurri and Cesar Prandelli’s team's positive showing in the 2012 Euros where they reached the final - and their good performance in last year’s Confederations Cup, when they finished third having lost on penalties to Spain in the semi-finals - suggests that they can go a long way in this competition without being quite good enough to win it.
URUGUAY: Best odds: 28-1. To win group: 2-1. To qualify: 8-13.
Fourth-placed in 2010, it has to be said that they weren’t at all convincing in qualifying, showing particular weakness at the back. While their attack is strong, their chances of going a long way in the tournament will be reduced if Luis Suarez, who scored nearly half of their goals in qualifying, doesn’t recover from a knee injury in time. Their record in World Cups which have been held in the Americas is good, with two wins (including a victory in Brazil in 1950) and a semi-final in 1970 to their name.
ENGLAND: Best odds: 28-1. To win group: 11-5. To qualify: 8-13.
Roy Hodgson got Switzerland out of the group stage in 1994 and under his management England topped their group in the 2012 Euros. So while it will be a tough ask to qualify, with the experienced Roy at the helm it’s not Mission Impossible. Getting something out of the first match against Italy looks a must: a defeat in that game really would leave the Three Lions with an uphill battle, with Uruguay coming up next. In their last four World Cups England have exited at the quarter-final stage twice and the last 16 twice, and given the obstacles they face, the 28-1 odds on winning the tournament don't look too generous.
COSTA RICA: Best odds: 4,000-1. To win group: 50-1. To qualify: 10-1.
All their wins in qualifying came at home, with the highlights being a 3-1 victory over USA and a 0-0 draw in Mexico. They will offer spirited resistance and set out to frustrate their opponents but realistically they will be doing well if they can pick up a point in such a difficult group and the 17-10 about them going home pointless looks tempting.
One of the weaker groups, with three of the teams available at odds of 125-1 or greater to win the tournament. Although Switzerland are the seeds and qualified impressively, they are available at bigger odds than France, who only sneaked in via the play-offs to win the group and qualify.
SWITZERLAND: Best odds: 125-1. To win group: 11-4. To qualify: 4-6.
Managed by the vastly experienced Ottmar Hitzfeld, who won the Champions League with Bayern Munich in 2001, the Swiss are ranked sixth in the world and should not be underestimated. Very well organised defensively, they were unbeaten in qualifying and beat Brazil in a friendly last August. There are two big concerns, however: will they score enough goals and will they cope with the stifling temperatures?
FRANCE: Best odds: 25-1. To win group: 5-6. To qualify: 1-5.
They sneaked in through the back door following a dramatic comeback in the second leg of their play-off with Ukraine but they're quietly fancied to do well. However, the loss of their best player, Franck Ribery, to injury is a big blow. Their record in the last four World Cups couldn’t be more contrasting: in 2002 and 2010 they were awful and failed to win a game; in 1998 and 2006 they made the final. Expect a more middle-of-the-road experience this time.
ECUADOR: Best odds: 200-1. To win group: 9-2. To qualify: evens.
They have a great record at home, but are less good away from Quito and their qualification form tailed off badly following a really good start. The sudden and tragic death of their striker Christian Benitez last July was another blow, but they did make it to the last 16 in Germany in 2006 and in a weakish group they’ll fancy their chances of making it through to the knock-out stages again.
HONDURAS: Best odds: 4,000-1. To win group: 33-1. To qualify: 7-1.
Rank outsiders and although they’re unlikely to go through to the next round, they did beat the USA and win in Mexico in qualification and that, as well as a recent 2-2 draw with group opponents Ecuador and their 0-0 draw with England at the weekend, suggests they may be able to pick up the odd point or even better. The conditions will suit them too.
It will be a major surprise if Argentina don’t win this, but it's harder to say who will come in second. Bosnia are the form team but Nigeria are the current African champions and the match between the two on 21 June could decide who goes through.
ARGENTINA: Best odds: 17-4. To win group: 2-9. To qualify: 1-20.
They’ve won two of the last three World Cups to be held in the Americas and their chances are very strong again. They should win the group, and if if they do they'll face the runners-up of a weak-looking Group E in the last 16. So a run to at least the quarters looks on the cards, though Lionel Messi and his team-mates will be disappointed if their participation ends there.
BOSNIA: Best odds: 200-1. To win group: 8-1. To qualify: 11-13.
Bosnia-Herzegovina, to give them their full name, were excellent in qualifying, banging in 30 goals in ten games, and they’ve continued their good form in recent friendlies, which have included a 2-1 win over Ivory Coast. Playing in their first major tournament their chances are hard to weigh up but they should have no problem finding the net with their 6ft 4in striker Edin Dzeko in great form. Looks to be between them and Nigeria for second place.
NIGERIA: Best odds: 300-1. To win group: 12-1. To qualify: 13-8.
Reached the last 16 twice in the 1990s, but didn’t make it out of the group stage in their last two World Cup appearances in 2002 and 2010. However, they won the last African Nations Cup in 2013. Although their preparation hasn’t been ideal - their only win in their last five matches was a 1-0 against Zimbabwe - they will pose an attacking threat with their direct style of play and they could be Africa’s best hope in the tournament.
IRAN: Best odds: 3,000-1. To win group: 50-1. To qualify: 13-2.
You know one thing about a team managed and coached by Carlos Queiroz - they’re going to be very strong defensively. Iran conceded just two goals in their eight qualifying matches and have been just as parsimonious in recent friendlies, keeping clean sheets in three of their last four games. They’ll be looking to grind out results, but they probably won’t have enough firepower to make it to the knockout stages for the first time in their history. The 4-6 about them scoring under 2.5 goals looks a good bet.
Germany and Portugal look to have a clear advantage over their rivals, but neither Ghana nor the USA can be written off because both have the ability to shock. It’s another tough group in which anything can happen, but it will be a surprise if the Germans don’t finish on top.
GERMANY: Best odds: 7-1. To win group: 8-13. To qualify: 1-6.
Beaten semi-finalists in 2006 and 2010, beaten in the semi-final of the 2012 Euros, and the final in 2008, the Germans have become the ‘nearly men' of world football and they deserve a major tournament win for their consistency and attractive, attack-minded football. But while they have to go on anyone’s shortlist, their record in World Cups held in the Americas hasn’t been that great, with just one final appearance (Mexico 1986) to their name. They’ve also got two 1pm starts in the stifling heat of northern Brazil to overcome. That said, an each-way bet at 13-2 should give you a good run for your money at the very least.
PORTUGAL: Best odds: 28-1. To win group: 11-4. To qualify: 8-15.
Needed a play-off to get here, but could prove hard to beat, although the fitness of their star striker Cristiano Ronaldo is absolutely crucial to their chances. Portugal suffered a shock defeat to the USA in 2002, but they’ll feel more at home in Brazil, a Portuguese- speaking country, and they’re the percentage call to finish second in the group behind Germany.
USA: Best odds: 250-1. To win group: 12-1. To qualify: 7-2.
Their recent form has been uneven and although they made it past the group stage in 2010, it's going to be a tough ask for Jurgen Klinsmann’s men to do the same this time. While they’re lively outsiders who are capable of causing a shock, they don’t look quite good enough to go a long way in the tournament.
GHANA: Best odds: 250-1. To win group: 15-1. To qualify: 3-1.
Only the hand of Luis Suarez denied the Black Stars a place in the semis in South Africa where they would have made history as the first African team to make the last four in the World Cup. It’s hard to see them getting so close this time with such a difficult group to negotiate but if they can beat the USA in their opening game (and they did beat the USA in the last two World Cups) then they should go into their final match with Portugal with at least a chance of qualifying.
Out of all the groups, the top two in this one looks the easiest to call. Although nothing is certain Belgium and Russia should make it through, leaving South Korea and Algeria to scrap it out for third place.
BELGIUM: Best odds: 22-1. To win group: 4-5. To qualify: 1-6.
Arguably the most improved team in world football in the last couple of years, the Red Devils are now the fifth favourites for the tournament. Their qualifying group may not have been the strongest, but it was no mean feat to finish nine points clear. That said, defeats to Japan and Colombia in friendlies were disappointing. Their squad - which includes Premiership stars Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany and Romelu Lukaku - looks strong and if they get the breaks it wouldn‘t be a great surprise to see them make the quarter-finals for the first time since 1986.
RUSSIA: Best odds: 125-1. To win group: 45-17. To qualify: 4-7.
Manager Fabio Capello will need no introduction to England fans, and you could say he has a point to prove after the Three Lions' poor performances in 2010. Russia were impressive in qualifying - they finished ahead of Portugal in their group - yet are available at over three times the Portuguese odds, so you could say their chances have been underestimated by the bookies. They should find their way out of the group, but if they can only finish second they’re likely to face Germany or Portugal in the next round.
SOUTH KOREA: Best odds: 500-1. To win group: 8-1. To qualify: 13-8.
Made it to the semis in 2002 when they co-hosted the tournament but it would be a massive surprise if they can make it as far this time. Only ranked 57th in the world, they weren’t at all impressive in qualification, only edging out Uzbekistan on goal difference and they lost at home to Tunisia in a recent friendly. They’ll need to up their game significantly to play a part here and will need to get something out of the opening match against Russia if they’re to have a realistic chance of progression.
ALGERIA: Best odds: 2,500-1. To win group: 25-1. To qualify: 9-2.
They've failed to make it out of the group stage in three previous World Cup appearances (though they were very unlucky in 1982 when they won two matches) and it's likely to be the same scenario again. In South Africa in 2010 they didn’t play at all badly: they held England to a 0-0 draw, and only conceded two goals, but they didn’t score any either as their possession football lacked a cutting edge. They did find their scoring boots in qualifying and also in recent friendlies so hopefully this time there’ll at least be a goal for their fans to celebrate.
Who’s going to be the top scorer at the World Cup?
It sounds obvious but you really need to be looking at someone who is likely to score goals for a team that will get to the latter stages of the competition. Since 1962 only two Golden Boot winners - England’s Gary Lineker (1986) and Russia’s Oleg Salenko (who shared it in 1994) - played for teams that didn’t make it to the last four.
Argentina’s Lionel Messi is the favourite this year, but even at 8-1 he makes plenty of appeal. His side scored 35 goals from 16 games in qualifying, with Messi top-scoring with ten, including three penalties.
Argentina, as discussed above, have been favoured by the draw and are likely to go deep into the competition. For that reason it would also make sense to include Messi’s team-mate Gonzalo Higuain in your portfolio - he scored nine goals in qualifying yet is available at more than double Messi’s odds to win the Golden Boot.
Brazil’s Fred could be overvalued too at 22-1 considering he scored five goals in last year’s Confederations Cup, including two in the final against Spain.
Of the Europeans, Thomas Muller makes most appeal at 33-1. He won the Golden Boot in 2010 and a German, Miroslav Klose, won it at the 2006 World Cup too. Goal-scoring at World Cups has not been a problem for Germany in recent tournaments: in the last three they have scored 14, 14 and 16, and with their lack of strikers this time, Muller is likely to play up front.