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World Cup 2018: Will Neymar’s Return Affect Brazil’s Odds?

Europe(2 teams) @ The Americas(2 teams)

  • Where: Cosmos Arena, Various. Samara, Various
  • When: June 17, 2018 9:00 am EST
  • Moneyline: Brazil (-400), Switzerland (+600), Serbia (+800), Costa Rica (+1800)

Injuries are a major factor in any sport’s odds. For instance, basketball book-makers won’t set odds for big match-ups until each team’s schedule is clear, even if it’s less than 24 hours out, because of potential injuries. Kentucky might play Delaware Tech in a thrash-for-cash that has no real bearing on the next game. But bookies don’t dare set lines until they find out if any of UK’s mercenaries are hurt in the tune-up.

Odds can change wildly due to injuries. The futures market for a World Cup team can jump wildly if a star goes down or returns from a swoon. Gamblers and betting books know that a FIFA tournament is a long slog, not a sprint, and a blow to a nation’s depth can be a serious factor. An important striker going down is even worse, because goals already come at a premium against 32 of the world’s best keepers.

That’s why it’s a mystery why Brazil’s futures line for Group E in Russia continues to hold steady. Brazil opened at (-400) with months to go before the 2018 World Cup. But Neymar, the nation’s brand new football mega-star, has been recovering from an injury. As June grew closer, supporters became nervous that perhaps the Paris Saint-Germain star wouldn’t be available to play in Russia…or at least wouldn’t be 100%. But Seleção’s odds to win Group E only “lengthened” half a buck to (-350).

Then Neymar returned to the pitch this week and scored a goal in a friendly. Brazil’s line to win the group shrank…to (-375). It’s not as if the group of 4 is easy pickings, with Switzerland and Serbia rounding out a quartet that includes the prohibitive favorites and Costa Rica. But still the line on the South Americans remains steady.

Why? Perhaps bookies think that the Brazilians would finish 1st with or without Neymar. But gamblers are looking for an alternative in Group E, if for no other reason than a 1-to-3.75 payoff bet seems unappealing.

Here’s a closer look at all 4 sides.

Brazil (-375 to win Group E)

Psychology is important on the pitch, especially for such a passionate up-and-down entity like Brazilian soccer. But though Tite has been crucial in restoring pride and creative freedom, the emergence of Neymar might be an even more pivotal key to the team’s recent success. The Paris Saint-Germain forward has been brilliant throughout the nation’s 9-game FIFA winning streak.

That’s qualifying games alone – no “fluff” friendlies counted in the total. Neymar has scored 53 goals in 83 matches since joining the national team. He’ll need 25 more tallies to break Pele’s record.

There’s a strong supporting cast around Juninho. Philippe Coutinho was blossomed under new management, scoring a truly amazing goal against Argentina on a 30-yard shot.

Casemiro lurks in midfield, a devilish playmaker and transition runner. His Los Blancos just won the UEFA Champions League yet again, this time with a final win over Liverpool. In goal, Alisson Becker has starred in the Italian league and has been giving the roster confidence. There must be no more collapses like the infamous 7-1 loss to the Germans in 2014.

Coaching, offense, defense, and beautiful passing once again. The Brazilians suddenly have all the bases covered going into Russia. But all winning streaks must end sooner or later. They’re hot right now, but it would be a mistake to think of the coaching change as a panacea.

Switzerland (+600)

The Swiss are the “B flight” favorites at 5-to-1 for winning Group E. They’re one of those sneaky programs that never advances to the precious-metal stage of the World Cup, but performs consistently well over the long haul. Switzerland has earned a lovely #6 ranking from FIFA.

There is no shortage of guts or ability. Yann Sommer of Borussia Montengladbach is a big asset in goal, and the backline in front of him is steady. Swiss defender Fabian Schar has scored 7 international tallies, a big number at his position. Winger Xherdan Shaqiri and veteran striker Stephan Lichtsteiner help form a gritty group that never gives up on set-pieces.

Swiss chances to win and seed well in the Round of 16 are cogent on something going wrong for the Brazilians. That’s not to say it can’t happen. It’s just got to be a combination of the underdog playing inspired football plus the favorite underachieving. Not one or the other.

Serbia (+700)

Vladmir Stojkovic is a strong goalkeeper, and Aleksandar Kolarov is as fun to watch as any defender in the sport. But the Serbians don’t have the depth on the backline to hold off opponents forever.

The nation’s hope to win Group E lies in its strikers having a banner round-robin.

Winger Dusan Tadic starred on an otherwise struggling Southampton team in the Premier League this season, and has scored 27 combined goals and assists in international matches. He will be buoyed on the attack by Aleksandar Mitrovic, who led the team with 6 goals in qualifying.

There’s no one great performer in the bunch who one would expect to score at the World Cup. The Eagles also cannot play epic defense for 3 straight matches. But if the side manages to take a lead or 2 into the 2nd halves of fixtures, then anything is possible.

Costa Rica (+2500)

The nation with the longest odds in Group E futures betting – more than twice as long as anybody else – is also the one responsible for the United States not being in the World Cup. Costa Rica dispatched of the rival Yanks while busy finishing 2nd in CONCACAF qualifying, and the team boasts Keylor Navas of Real Madrid, a hero of May’s Champions League final in Kiev, as its goalkeeper.

Oh, and the Costa Ricans won their group at the World Cup in 2014.

Why are these guys a 25-to-1 bet again? Detractors think there’s not enough striking up front, with only ham-and-egg midfielders such as Celso Borjes moving the football at a world class level. Others criticize manager Oscar Ramirez.

But try finding another nation that won its group in Brazil that is now considered a harmless also-ran in its group for Russia in 2018. The Ticos may be the most underrated World Cup team of all this year, and that perception affects odds-makers too.

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We’re liking a futures wager on Serbia or Costa Rica. The favorites will remain a bang-a-drum force to be reckoned with in FIFA, but they’re overvalued at the current odds.

Brazil could easily finish 2nd in Group E and go on to win the World Cup. Ironically, that puts betting value on the round-robin underdogs. Serbia could luck into a couple of goals in matches and ride the wave to 1st place. Costa Rica is simply 5 times better than handicappers are giving them credit for.

Switzerland is a bad idea because the Swiss open against Brazil. Something will need to happen to knock Seleção down, like say a 2-1 opening win in which Neymar limps to the bench. It’s more likely that the Brazilians will face adversity and frustration later in group play and not on June 17th.

Kurt BoyerThis article was written by Kurt Boyer

A freelance sportswriter from Missouri, Kurt has covered court, gridiron, rink and ring for 10+ years. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.

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