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World Cup: Group G Odds and England-Belgium Preview

Eastern Hemisphere(1 team) @ Western Hemisphere(3 teams)

  • Where: Fisht Olympic Stadium, Various. Sochi, Various
  • When: June 18, 2018 11:00 am EST
  • Moneyline: Belgium (-120), England (+120), Tunisia (+1600), Panama (+2500)

England National Team’s roster consists of 23 players and manager Gareth Southgate. Taken together, the group hardly counts as all of England. But the 23 are representing a rich legacy of football – and millions of the most rabid supporters on the planet.

Premier League football has been pulling in massive TV ratings, and the average punter from the United Kingdom views more than 20,000 hours of sports in his lifetime. This being a World Cup year, it’s safe to say the Three Lions will be on the radar of 90% of England’s citizenry when taking the pitch at Volgograd Arena on 6/18.

They’re representing Prince Harry, now known as the Duke of Sussex. No pressure, lads!

English football has taken its lumps over the past 2 decades of international play. 2016 was the latest blow as England was shocked by Iceland in the Euro Cup. The Icelanders turned out OK enough to play in the World Cup this cycle, which takes a small amount of the sting away.

The 2018 squad is riding on Tottenham forward Harry Kane and Manchester City midfielder Raheem Sterling. Sportsbooks have installed English as a slight futures underdog in Group G next to favored Belgium.

Group G in Russia will be dominated by the Premier League. Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City will call the shots in midfield for Belgium. England, meanwhile, will not suit up a single footballer outside of the Premiership.

Tunisia and Panama are looking elsewhere for goals and defense. Panamanian GK Jaime Penedo has 130 caps with the national team; several MLS players line up in front of him. Tunisia will suit up Yohan Benalouane from Leicester City, but the midfield is built around French club players.

Bovada’s bookies are thinking the U.K.’s vaunted pros will blow away their counterparts from America and greater Europe. Belgium is at minus-money line odds to finish 1st while England’s line is more than 10 times shorter than that of expected 3rd-place Tunisia. As usual, let’s grab a closer look before making any predictions.

Belgium (-120 to win Group G)

I’m not too worried about the debate over whether Hazard or De Bruyne should run the show for Belgium. Each will have the opportunity to shine in Russia. Hazard is the team’s captain, so he has motivation to play unselfishly and setting the best example. Besides, if the Red Devils had 9 or 10 other players who reached the heights of either popular midfielder, their odds would be even better to prevail in Group G.

At times during qualifying, the Belgian supporting cast has come close to making that a reality.

Following a quarterfinal appearance in Brazil, the Belgium National Team out-scored its World Cup qualifying group 43 goals to 6. Only a 1-1 draw with Greece kept the squad from reaching a perfect 10 wins in 10 matches.

11 tallies from the prodigious total were scored by Romelu Lukaku of Manchester United, but don’t forget Thomas Meunier who scored an amazing 5 times from his backline position. Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois is a steady hand who keeps opposing forwards guessing.

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England (+120)

The Three Lions’ recent record in FIFA matches is also quite impressive. Not only did the English go undefeated in World Cup qualifying, the squad held Brazil, Germany, Italy and Costa Rica to a combined 1 goal in friendlies following the qualification cycle. That’s an impressive stretch for an unsettled side in goal.

Southgate decided late in 2017 that he’d had enough of Joe Hart keeping for the national team and installed Everton’s Jordan Pickford as the starter in Russia.

Pickford is athletic and confident at age 24, and has won honors with the English U21 team. But it’s his status as the biggest commodity of any English goalkeeper that will have the pressure gauge on high. Clubs that invest 30 million pounds in a keeper expect more than good domestic results. A run in the World Cup knockout-stage would reward Everton’s investment with publicity and prestige, but a failure would tamp down the morale of punters once again.

Harry Kane is the only English forward anyone wants to talk about. Kane is a well-conditioned and energetic player who fires deadly shots quickly, scoring 41 goals for Tottenham in 2017-18. He’s been named captain for the World Cup, and handicappers think he’ll be asked to carry the side on his back in a fashion similar to Messi’s task with Argentina in Group D.

Tunisia (+1400) and Panama (+5000)

If there’s at least a 10% chance of The Eagles of Carthage winning Group G, then the futures line makes the African country a decent bet. But the news of a devastating injury makes me wonder why the line isn’t longer. Stellar midfielder Youssef Msakni will be forced to sit out the World Cup due to a knee injury suffered while playing for his club in Qatar. Fellow midfielders Wahbi Khazri and Saîf-Eddine Khaoui will be asked to pick up the slack.

Khazri has tallied 9 goals in his last 17 club fixtures, but he’s not the kind of striker who will carry the day if there’s a deficiency elsewhere in the attack. The remaining pair of reasons to bet on Tunisia are captain/GK Aymen Mathlouthi and the squad’s steady strength over the past 2 years of international play.

Panama’s maiden World Cup bid was secured by means of a stunning 2-1 victory over Costa Rica. The USMNT also helped by losing an all-time choker to Trinidad & Tobago.

The side’s budding star is Seattle Sounders defender Román Torres, who scored winning goal in Panama’s clinching match. Blas Pérez is another highly decorated player who scored 13 goals as a forward in Guatemala this season. Veteran striker Luis Tejada, neck and neck with Pérez in the race to be Panama’s all-time leading scorer, is hungry to go all-in on the biggest stage.

Goals have come at a premium for Panama. The Canal Men only scored 9 times during their qualifying run, putting constant pressure on Penedo to keep clean sheets. It won’t be easy against the toughest competition he has ever faced in non-friendly international play.

Group G thoughts and predictions

MSB is liking Belgium to prevail with a 1st place finish in Group G.

Bovada’s futures odds on England offer higher payout on a winner. But Belgium’s line isn’t that different. A small handful of white chips is a small price to pay for having a proven keeper like Courtois protecting your end of the bet.

If unbeaten sides from England and Belgium meet on June 28th, look for a low-scoring result with value on the under total goals and Belgium to win before penalties.

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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