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World Cup 2018 Group Picks (June 14th-June 19th)

The World Cup is here and I have to admit it feels a lot longer than four years ago Brazil were swept aside in stunning fashion in the World...

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Tennis Picks 2018 (June 19th)

After a positive week I didn't want a poor start to this new week and I have been fortunate enough to avoid that.

Monday proved to be a very effective day with the Picks making a strong start and on Tuesday I am looking to keep the momentum going.

This has been a busy evening, notably with England beginning their World Cup campaign, and so I will simply put down my Tuesday Picks below as the First Round is completed across the four tournaments being played.

MY PICKS: Novak Djokovic - 4.5 Games @ 2.00 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Tomas Berdych - 3.5 Games @ 2.10 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

Nick Kyrgios - 3.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Lucas Pouille - 2.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Matthew Ebden - 2.5 Games @ 1.83 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Andreas Seppi - 1.5 Games @ 1.85 William Hill (2 Units)
Maria Sakkari + 3.5 Games @ 1.85 William Hill (2 Units)
Petra Kvitova - 2.5 Games @ 1.83 Boyle Sports (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 5-2, + 5 Units (14 Units Staked, + 35.71% Yield)

Monday, 18 June 2018

Tennis Picks 2018 (June 18th)

After a mixed French Open with some bad selections in the second week of the tournament it was good to get the grass court season off to a strong start last week.

With plenty of winners in the books the season totals have been turned back into a positive position for the year and I am looking to build on that when two big ATP 500 events take place in Halle and Queens Club, while the WTA Tour takes in a big event in Birmingham and Mallorca.

There are a lot of big names out on the courts this past week including the new World Number 1 Roger Federer having won the tournament in Stuttgart on Sunday. However the big story has to be the return of Andy Murray who has almost filled a full year on the Tour with an injury that has taken longer to clear up than it was first expected to.

In Tennis I am not sure your favourite players have to come from the country you are born in and for me it is almost certainly the case that the ones I admire most don't come from Great Britain. However I have a lot respect for Andy Murray who has had a fantastic career and who broke through barriers many felt he would not have been able to do.

We may never see Murray back to his very best and in all honesty I am not sure how many more years he will take to the grind of the Tour.

But it is great to have him back and I hope Murray can go out on his own terms by putting together a couple of really strong years on the Tour.


Andy Murray is expected back on the court on Tuesday, but for now the Tennis Picks will concentrate on the matches scheduled on Monday on what looks a busy day through the four tournaments being played this week. I will have analysis of a few of the matches below and then add the remaining Tennis Picks in the 'MY PICKS' section.


Stan Wawrinka - 1.5 games v Cameron Norrie: The lay off from the Tour was not as long as the one Andy Murray has been through but Stan Wawrinka has struggled to find his best tennis since his own enforced break from playing competitive tennis. He had a brief return in 2018 before a few more weeks off the Tour and the subsequent return has been difficult for a multiple time former Grand Slam Champion.

An early loss in Paris has meant Wawrinka has had a little break from the Tour but at least this time he should have been able to practice and try and rebuild his confidence. It is going to take some time and Wawrinka may not be at his happiest on the grass courts, but I am going to back him to get the better of Cameron Norrie.

I have little doubt the home fans will get behind Norrie, but I also have to accept that this is a player whose background may be British but he has not spent a lot of time in the country. While other British players would have a strong grass court pedigree in terms of experience, Norrie can't say the same and even Wawrinka in his current state of mind should be a little too good for him here.

Last week Norrie was beaten in the Challenger event run in Nottingham and that has dropped him to 2-6 on the grass courts in the last thirteen months. The learning curve on the grass courts can be a tough one and an in-form Wawrinka would have been a strong favourite to beat him.

You can't ignore the doubts about Wawrinka's fitness going into the match, but playing matches is the best thing for the former top five Ranked player. Wawrinka can be very effective behind serve on the grass courts and I think he can put Norrie under some pressure with power off the ground that Wawrinka can generate.

Norrie is still learning to get the best out of his serve on the grass and I think Wawrinka is going to prove to be a little too good for him on the day.


Jared Donaldson v Francis Tiafoe: This is a very close match to predict with neither Jared Donaldson or Francis Tiafoe in great form or comfortable on the grass courts, but I did think it was Donaldson who deserved to be the favourite to win the match.

He has certainly shown a little more than his compatriot on the grass courts and so I would have had Donaldson a number of ticks shorter in the prices than you can find in this one.

In saying that Donaldson is not exactly someone you can trust fully to produce his best when he can struggle to hold his serve, but the run at the French Open has to have given him some confidence to take into the grass court season.

And where the difference can be made is through Donaldson's return game which looks to be superior to Francis Tiafoe's on the grass courts. Tiafoe has limited experience on this surface and it may be seen as a time of the season to get through as quickly as possible before both players will feel much happier about North American hard court tournaments in the build to the US Open.

Tiafoe could be comfortable facing Donaldson, which would help, but his numbers are weaker on the grass courts compared to his overall record over the last twelve months. I am not sure he will turn that around and backing Donaldson here has to be right play at the prices being offered.


Sam Querrey - 4.5 games v Jay Clarke: Coming off the clay courts and onto the grass courts is a blessing for someone like Sam Querrey who has consistently produced strong results on this surface. It is no surprise when you consider the huge weapon of a serve he possesses and the former Queens Club Champion is rightly a big favourite against the promising Jay Clarke.

Clarke is still only 19 years old and he has been granted a Wild Card into the main draw at Queens Club this week but he is yet to show the consistency to really expect any kind of upset here. In fact I think it would be a real surprise if Clarke was to even win a set against Querrey on Monday especially when you think he has already lost both grass court matches he has played this season.

The numbers don't make for great reading in those two losses, but the bigger concern for someone like Clarke is the limited success he has had on the return of serve. That is unlikely to have changed much after facing someone like Querrey and Clarke's only real hope is the first match back on the grass courts means the American is perhaps a little undercooked for this First Round encounter.

It has to be said that Querrey did not serve as well as he would have wanted on the grass courts last season, but it is still a huge strength of his game and I am not sure Clarke will even earn a break point in this one. What is more interesting is whether Querrey can return anywhere like as effectively as he did last year on a surface where you would think his limited return game would not have a lot of success.

If he does then Querrey is going to have a big chance to breeze through this match, but I have a feeling his numbers will definitely slip back to the normal levels. However this is not an opponent who should cause too many problems for Querrey and Clarke will have to play a lot higher than his usual level to stay in this match.

Ultimately I am not sure he does that having lost to two players far below the level that Querrey can produce and I think the American breaks down the young British player and covers what does look a big number on paper.


Robin Haase - 2.5 games v Joao Sousa: The last couple of times Robin Haase and Joao Sousa have met on the Tour have ended in wins for the Portuguese player, but the match on the grass courts in the First Round in Halle should favour Haase.

Neither player has a deep grass court pedigree which makes it tough to pick the winner, but Haase has had a couple of matches on the surface and generally plays better than Sousa does on this surface.

Since June 2017 Haase has produced some very strong serving numbers on the grass courts and that has to give him a chance to put some scoreboard pressure on Sousa. With an 88% hold percentage in those grass court matches Haase will feel he can make it very difficult for Sousa to break him especially with the way the latter has been returning on the grass courts in recent years.

One of the main reasons Haase has not been able to produce more wins is down to his own limited return game, but you do have to think he can have more joy against a vulnerable looking Sousa serve. You do have to give Sousa some credit for some strong numbers on the grass courts behind the serve, but there will be moments when he can put a few too many errors together and that should mean Haase has his chances to break the serve here.

The recent head to head has to be a concern but I think the surface is going to send the edge to Haase in the First Round match scheduled for Monday. Sousa has not bettered a combined 94% hold/break percentage over the last three years on the grass courts and that is a huge part of my selection which favours Haase who has played well without the results following on the grass.


Roberto Bautista Agut - 2.5 games v Jan-Lennard Struff: It was a difficult time for Roberto Bautista Agut who took to the courts in Paris just days after the passing of his mother in unexpected circumstances. You could see the emotion the Spaniard was playing with and he has had a couple of weeks to really come to terms with the loss of a parent.

This is a difficult moment for anyone in any walk of life but for athletes it is something that is played out on a worldwide platform as you have to perform in front of the paying public while dealing with a very private issue.

That is the case for Bautista Agut on his return to the Tour after the French Open but he seems to be a level headed player and I am backing him with the belief that he will be able to produce something like his best tennis. Bautista Agut has admitted he gets away from his real life when on the tennis court and his record on the grass courts suggests he can beat the home player Jan-Lennard Struff.

Bautista Agut did not have the best 2016 on the grass courts, but generally he has been very comfortable on the grass with some strong hold/break combined percentages in his matches. In 2018 Bautista Agut was back to the decent returning which makes him a tough out for anyone and I certainly think he is better on the grass than someone like Struff who was upset in the First Round in Stuttgart last week.

The defeat last week means Struff is just 3-13 on the grass courts since June 2014 and the main reason for that is the poor returning numbers he has produced. The German is still getting decent effort from the serve, but he has struggled with the combined hold/break percentage thanks to some subpar returning.

The Spaniard has won both previous matches between these two very comfortably and I think Bautista Agut's stronger grass court pedigree gets him through the First Round.


Denis Kudla - 2.5 games v Lukas Lacko: This is a rematch of a grass court match that took place in Surbiton a couple of weeks ago and I think Denis Kudla can frank that win against Lukas Lacko.

It was a dominant win the American produced against Lacko and his grass court numbers in 2018 have been very impressive as Kudla has racked up the wins.

The majority of the wins earned by Kudla have either come at the Challenger level or in the Qualifiers for the main ATP events. That is something to consider whenever Kudla plays the better opponents on the Tour, but Lacko is someone who is also very much on the same kind of level as the opponents Kudla has been beating.

Lacko has produced some strong numbers himself which makes him a dangerous opponent for Kudla, but the return game is a real weakness and that could be the difference on the day. The American has held 93% of service games on the grass courts in 2018 and that kind of success will put Lacko under some immense pressure which saw him collapse in their match in Surbiton.

I fully expect this match to be much closer than that one was, but I also like Kudla to frank his win with another one here and I think he can do enough to cover this number.

MY PICKS: Stan Wawrinka - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Jared Donaldson @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Sam Querrey - 4.5 Games @ 1.85 William Hill (2 Units)
Robin Haase - 2.5 Games @ 1.85 William Hill (2 Units)
Roberto Bautista Agut - 2.5 Games @ 1.83 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Denis Kudla - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Kristina Mladenovic @ 2.00 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

Season 2018 Update: + 12.72 Units (891 Units Staked, + 1.43% Yield)

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Tennis Picks 2018 (June 17th)

This has been a very strong week for the Tennis Picks and I have a couple to round off the tournaments as I look to put an exclamation mark on the week.

It has been a busy day all around which means I will simply place the Tennis Picks from the four Finals set to be played on Sunday below.

MY PICKS: Kirsten Flipkens @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Richard Gasquet - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Boyle Sports (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 21-10, + 16.94 Units (62 Units Staked, + 27.32% Yield)

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Tennis Picks 2018 (June 16th)

At this time it is going to be hard to put down my full analysis for the Tennis matches being played over the weekend.

After another positive day with Friday producing a positive return I have a few Tennis Picks for Saturday as we get to the Semi Final matches at the events being played this past week.


MY PICKS: Richard Gasquet - 2.5 Games @ 1.95 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Jeremy Chardy - 1.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Roger Federer - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Kirsten Flipkens - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Donna Vekic + 3.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units

Weekly Update: 17-9, + 11.62 Units (52 Units Staked, + 22.35% Yield

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Tennis Picks 2018 (June 15th)

After a mixed Wednesday, Thursday proved to be another effective day of Tennis Picks with the five completed matches returning four winners.

One of the matches, Kirsten Flipkens vs Kiki Bertens, was postponed until Friday in Hertogenbosch as the weather has affected the WTA tournament being played there. That is one of a couple of matches that has to be competed on Friday in the Second Round with the winning player scheduled to play again later in the day in the Quarter Final.

The rest of the tournaments being played this week have all reached the Quarter Final Round and there are plenty of matches scheduled for Friday as all of those tournaments reach the business end of the week.


Richard Gasquet - 2.5 games v Stefanos Tsitsipas: It is going to be very interesting to see the development of Stefanos Tsitsipas in the years ahead, but I think he is being priced up in this Quarter Final as someone who has already begun to prove himself on all surfaces.

All credit has to be given to Tsitsipas for what was a strong run on the clay courts which is an important step in his development, but he is yet to show he can consistently produce on the other surfaces. Playing on the grass courts are perhaps the steepest of the learning curves for players who are not accustomed to the surface and Tsitsipas is going to get a tough lesson from Richard Gasquet on Friday.

You have to also respect the fact that Tsitsipas has won two matches here, but both have come against players who are someway inferior to Gasquet on the grass courts and both wins were closer than the youngster would have liked. While it is important to show you can win matches when not at your best, but this is just the seventh match Tsitsipas will have played on grass and I think Gasquet exposes that.

While his opponent is learning and perhaps been a little fortunate to get past Malek Jaziri on Thursday, Gasquet was a dominant winner. Over the years it could be argued that the grass courts are the favourite surface for Gasquet who has a quality slice and strong numbers in both the serve and return department.

Gasquet won't be as strong as he was in his win over Evgeny Donskoy in every match, but he is someone who will feel he can produce enough variation on the grass to give Tsitsipas some tough looks to deal with. The Frenchman returns well enough to get more joy against the Tsitsipas serve than his last two opponents have, while Tsitsipas' 15% career break percentage on the grass courts have only been improved slightly by his 17% break percentage in his first two matches against players who simply don't play as well as Gasquet.

This could be a good looking match for the fans, but Gasquet should have the edge and I think he wins and covers a number I expected to be a little higher.


Denis Istomin-Lucas Pouille over 22.5 games: Two players who have enjoyed playing on the grass courts in their careers and who come into this Quarter Final with some solid wins behind them meet on Friday in Stuttgart.

The Denis Istomin wins over Philipp Kohlschreiber and Florian Mayer are made all the more impressive when you see the fashion in which he controlled the matches against two very good grass court players. You could say that both German veterans have declined in general, but on this surface they are not an easy out yet Istomin was the dominant winner in both matches.

Lucas Pouille is the defending Champion in Stuttgart and he was a strong winner as expected in the Second Round and I think these two players can combine for a very good match.

Istomin serves very well on the grass courts and his hold percentages have been very strong over the last few years. Where there can be some struggles for Istomin is on the returning side of the court, but if he serves as he can then it is going to be very tough for Pouille to break his game down on the grass.

That is down to the limitations that come with the Pouille returning game and is one of the main reasons I struggle to see him lasting in the top 20 of the World Rankings for the long haul. He has talent, but Pouille has to improve his break percentage to really take the next step in his career and I do think Istomin will be able to serve well enough to get through his games and into potential tie-breaker situations in the match.

The Frenchman's own serve has worked effectively on the grass in the last couple of seasons with 82% and 83% hold percentages in 2016 and 2017. With Istomin also having some problems in the returning aspect I think it will be tough for either player to retrieve a break position so there is every chance we will need a deciding set in this one.

One break may be enough to separate the two over two sets too and I will look for these two players to combine for enough holds of serve to cover the total games line, even if it is a touch on the high side.

MY PICKS: Richard Gasquet - 2.5 Games @ 1.72 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Denis Istomin-Lucas Pouille Over 22.5 Games @ 1.72 Bet365 (2 Units)
Coco Vandeweghe - 3.5 Games @ 1.95 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Donna Vekic - 2.5 Games @ 1.83 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Johanna Konta - 5.5 Games @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 13-7, + 9.26 Units (40 Units Staked, + 23.15% Yield)

World Cup 2018 Group Picks (June 14th-June 19th)

The World Cup is here and I have to admit it feels a lot longer than four years ago Brazil were swept aside in stunning fashion in the World Cup Semi Final.

That has to be the most memorable World Cup game I will ever see but I can see Brazil exorcising some of the demons with a strong performance in Russia this summer. They form part of my outright picks for the tournament which can be read here.

The first round of Group games begin on Thursday and will be played across six days as all of the Groups get underway. I've always loved the Group Stage of these major tournaments with plenty of football to sink your teeth into every day for two weeks and this has also been the time of a major tournament that I have targeted for going to these events.

Manchester United are the only team I care about deeply, so I can enjoy international football for what it is rather than the stresses that can come with club football.

This is a tournament I have been looking forward to and I really hope it does not disappoint.


The Group Stage is effectively split into three round robin matches and my threads for the Picks for the tournament will be cut up with those in mind.

That means the first thread covers the first round robin of games through to Tuesday 19th June.

After that I will have a thread for the second round robin of games from Tuesday 19th June through to Sunday 24th June and a final thread for the third round robin of games from Monday 25th June through to the end of the Groups on Thursday 28th June.

From there it will be one thread for the Second Round Picks, Quarter Final Picks, Semi Final Pick and then the Final and that should mean it is easier to follow the Picks for readers rather than a huge thread covering the whole tournament or the whole Group Stage.

And now let the feast of football begin.


Thursday 14th June
Russia v Saudi Arabia Pick: In recent years we have seen a number of host nations who will have been Seeded at the World Cup despite not being considered one of the elite teams in international football. That happened in 2002, 2010 and now in 2018 as the lowest of the FIFA Ranked teams playing at the World Cup Finals also have the privilege of hosting the tournament and playing in the opening World Cup fixture.

There isn't much excitement around the chances of Russia having a major impact at the World Cup Finals but they could not have asked for a better Group if they are being honest.

Even then I don't think there is any real belief outside of the dressing room that Russia are guaranteed to avoid the pitfalls suffered by South Africa and become just the second host nation to be beaten in the Group Stage of the World Cup Finals.

Make no mistake about it, Russia HAVE to win the opening game to have any real ambitions of making it out of this Group with the two tougher fixtures to come.

Saudi Arabia won't like being dismissed, but you can't ignore the difference in quality of this team when playing at home and away. It was seen throughout the World Cup Qualifying campaign as they needed late goals to come from behind and beat Iraq and two more late goals to finish off Thailand, but Saudi Arabia were beaten in both Japan and Australia.

Scoring goals wasn't the problem though and I think this could be the fourth straight opening World Cup game which sees both teams scoring after a long run where goals came at a premium in the first game. I expect Saudi Arabia to challenge a Russian backline which is lacking pace and this is a team who have scored in recent friendlies against Italy and Germany so playing Russia should not hold that many fears.

Russia themselves have conceded in friendly games to the likes of Iran and Turkey so it wouldn't be a big surprise if they did in this one too, although I do think the home nation can use the support of the crowd to rally together and find the big effort for the win.

Looking back at the Confederations Cup from last year, Russia did handle the occasion to beat New Zealand 2-0 but it was a close match and New Zealand had their chances too. This has the makings of a close one too and while some will decide to simply stick with both teams scoring, I am going to instead have a small interest in Russia winning a match in which both teams score.


Friday 15th June
Egypt v Uruguay Pick: The big story for the majority of fans in this Group is surrounding the availability of Mohamed Salah who is as key for Egypt as he is for Liverpool and offers their best chance of progressing out of this Group.

Prior to the injury in the Champions League Final I think Egypt would have been a popular pick to beat out Russia and join opponents Uruguay in the Last 16. It does look like Salah is going to be able to play in this Group opener, but he has to be careful with the Uruguay and Russian defenders ones who would have studied at the Sergio Ramos School of Defending and likely to leave something on the star player for Egypt.

In all honest Egypt go as far as Salah can take them as they will look to be defensively organised and hope their best player can provide the magic in the final third to break down opponents. It is a tactic that can work, but I think Egypt's best chances will come later in the Group when they face Russia and Saudi Arabia with Salah's pace likely to frighten the hosts to death.

That is for another day and in this one I think Egypt will try and frustrate a Uruguay team that is hard to read. They have talent in defensive and forward areas, but a young midfield is going to be tested on the World level for the first time and much of Uruguay's success will come down to how effective those players can be.

I think Uruguay will win this Group and I also think there is a Quarter Final team here, but they won't have it easy in the first game. Egypt will be tough to break down, but I do worry about the goal threat they can offer in this game having failed to score in friendly games against Colombia and Belgium without Salah.

I can't believe Salah is at full strength for this one and so I am going to back Uruguay to win a game which features less than four goals. I can't imagine Uruguay hammering Egypt and at odds against this looks a decent way to get behind them knowing a 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-0 set of scorelines are behind me.


Morocco v Iran Pick: When you take a look at Group B you have to imagine both Morocco and Iran are under no illusions as to their chances of splitting the two Iberian neighbours and earning their place in the Last 16. Anything less than a win on Friday will put Morocco and Iran under real pressure to earn a victory against either Portugal or Spain to have any hope of progressing out of the Group and so this game is going to take on huge significance for both.

The team that deals with that pressure the best is going to be the one that comes away with the important three points and my lean is very towards Morocco who could be one of the upset specials of the Group Stage.

Morocco are considered by many as the top African representative at the World Cup this summer and an 18 game unbeaten run will have given them plenty of confidence to take into the Finals. There was the blow of losing the bid to host the 2026 World Cup a couple of days before this World Cup game, but that shouldn't affect the players who will want to show their team is improving on the pitch having not reached the World Cup since 1998.

They were great fun to watch back then, but this Morocco team has a little more steel about them which is going to be huge for them to upset the odds and get out of the Group. Morocco did not concede a goal in their final World Cup Qualifying Group despite having the likes of Ivory Coast and Mali to compete with, and they have enough in the forward areas to believe they can break down opponents despite some of the resolute defending they will face in this Group.

Iran will be the first challenge and you cannot dismiss the work Carlos Queiroz has done with this nation which could be the best of the Asian Qualifiers. Like we saw four years ago, Iran will be set up to be well organised defensively and that means they deserve our respect having drawn 0-0 with Nigeria and lost 1-0 to Argentina in the Group Stage in Brazil in 2014.

The defeat to Argentina came very late on and it took a huge moment of Lionel Messi magic, but that shows Iran could definitely upset one or two teams in this World Cup. The main problem for Iran will always be a lack of goals and 10 goals scored in their final 10 World Cup Qualifiers indicates it is still something Queiroz is yet to resolve.

In the opener the players will be at 100% when it comes to concentration and effort which will make it very tough for Morocco, but I am guessing Iran do have some ambitions of their own. If that is the case there may be more spaces as Queiroz will know a draw is not really that positive of a result if Iran want to get out of the Group and that being true will give Morocco every chance of the win.

I don't imagine seeing a glut of goals in this one, but it may be better on the eye than expected with the opportunity both teams have to get this World Cup off to a win. I lean towards the organised Morocco having a touch more quality in the final third than Iran, but I will back them on the Asian Handicap which will return half the stake in the event of a draw.


Portugal v Spain Pick: Going into the World Cup I was pretty happy looking to lay Portugal from even getting out of the Group Stage considering how poorly the European Champions have played at the next World Cup. Four of the last six European Champions have not made it through to the Second Round at the next World Cup Finals which includes the likes of Spain and France and I wasn't convinced this Portugal side were guaranteed a spot in the next Round.

Much of that feels a lot more cloudy now and that is very much down to the Spanish Football Association decision to sack Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the World Cup Finals after it was announced the manager would be leaving to take over as Real Madrid manager after this tournament was completed.

It is now very hard to know how Spain will react and it really does feel like an event which could see the players rally together or bomb out immediately. On paper Spain have a very talented starting eleven which made them amongst the favourites to win the tournament, but the Lopetegui situation and the uneasy alliance of the Barcelona and Real Madrid players in the squad could all come to a head in Russia.

Four years ago Spain were dumped out in the Group Stage, but I think this game will give us a very good indication of how they are going to react in this tournament. I fancied Spain to beat Portugal going into the tournament and the drift on the Spanish prices are just appealing enough to at least risk backing them in some way to win this fixture.

Portugal's recent World Cup record is far from the most admirable and I can't help but think about the team winning Euro 2016 with just a single win in normal time in seven matches played there. They finished with three Group Stage draws and Portugal have won just 2 of their last 10 World Cup games in normal time.

The European Champions did score plenty of goals in their World Cup Qualifiers, but Fernando Santos is very much likely to go back to his cautious approach in the opener and hope to nick something with Cristiano Ronaldo on the break. Portugal didn't score in three of their seven Euro 2016 games in normal time and I imagine the game plan will be to prevent Spain from creating too much and hoping the counter attack is good enough to steal something on the break.

The uncertainty about Spain does make it tough to get a real good read on the game, but I imagine it will be low-scoring and I think the Spanish can narrowly earn the success. Spain beat Portugal 1-0 at the 2010 World Cup and the teams then played out a draw in the Euro 2012 tournament in a match Spain won on penalties. With that in mind I am going to have a small interest on Spain winning a game featuring two or fewer goals.


Saturday 16th June
This is THE day in the World Cup Finals where most football fans will be clearing the diary.

It is the only one featuring four fixtures played on the same day beginning with an 11am start for those in the United Kingdom and playing on through to close to 10pm in the evening.

France v Australia Pick: This opening game in Group C is expected to feature the team who will win the Group and the one that most will pick for bottom place, but I doubt it will all go swimmingly well for France.

There is some real pressure on Didier Deschamps to get the best out of this squad which should be capable of going all the way to the World Cup Final for the first time since 2006. Four years ago a young, inexperienced squad were beaten the World Cup Quarter Final, but two years ago they were Euro 2016 Finalists at home and France are expected to have used those experiences to peak for this tournament.

You have to like the starting eleven and there aren't too many weaknesses, but France will have to be careful in this Group to avoid any pitfalls. They are big favourites to see off Australia in this opening World Cup game and I do fully expect France to take the three points, but Australia will look to make life difficult for them through sheer hard work and there is an attacking threat that will have to be negated.

Australia showed that at the Confederations Cup twelve months ago when being involved in games that featured both teams scoring against Germany, Chile and Cameroon in the Group Stage. Since then they have changed managers with Bert van Marwijk taking over from Ange Postecoglu, but van Marwijk's Saudi Arabia were another team involved in plenty of games where both teams scored during the recent World Cup Qualifiers.

Scoring against France won't be easy for Australia, but I do think they can play their part here with the threat posed from set pieces a test for France who are missing Laurent Koscielny's leadership at the back. The Aussies also scored against Chile and the Netherlands in the World Cup four years ago, but they were involved in losing efforts in those games as well as when going down 3-2 to Germany at the Confederations Cup last year.

France's quality should see them get past Australia, but two years ago they conceded to the likes of Romania and Iceland at Euro 2016 on home soil and backing the French to win a game in which both teams score is worthy of a small interest.


Argentina v Iceland Pick: On paper this looks an absolute mismatch when you think the two time former World Cup Champions are taking on a team with the smallest population who have ever Qualified for the World Cup Finals.

Football is never played on paper though.

Argentina will be under huge expectations to deliver at the World Cup Finals but they look very short in the outright markets when you think of how erratically they played in the World Cup Qualifiers. In recent years Argentina have come very close to winning a big prize in either the Copa America or the World Cup with three consecutive defeats in the Final of those competitions, but it does feel like the window for success for this current crop of players has closed.

Of course Lionel Messi is capable of turning on the magic and helping Argentina come through a difficult Group and make a big run again, but defensively they look very vulnerable. Any thoughts of overlooking Iceland will quickly come back to haunt Argentina who look a little undercooked for the World Cup Finals having played just a single friendly since March.

Two years ago Iceland stunned all of Europe with their run to the Quarter Final of Euro 2016 and this is a team who are capable of upsetting 'bigger' nations with their team bond a key to the success. Iceland won't be ashamed of letting Argentina have the ball and look to counter with direct football, while they are a team that will be confident whenever they get set pieces to deliver into the box.

Recent friendly results have not been the best but they had lost 6 of 9 friendlies ahead of Euro 2016 and that didn't seem to have an affect on the performances in the Finals.

Getting out of the Group will be a big challenge for Iceland but I expect they can give Argentina a scare here and backing both teams to score looks a very big price to me. At the Euro 2016 tournament Iceland scored and conceded in games against Portugal, France and England which suggests finding chances in this game with Argentina is far from beyond their capabilities.

Holding Argentina out won't be easy but I don't think Iceland roll over for them and this could be one of the real surprises of the opening World Cup games.

However the pick from the game is looking for both teams to score at the appealing prices you can, even if that price has just come in slightly in the last couple of days. It should be a close game overall and Argentina may edge Iceland out with their superior attacking talent, but Iceland showed in Euro 2016 they can take the limited chances that come their way and I think this will be a decent watch on Saturday afternoon.


Peru v Denmark Pick: With France very much expected to be the team to beat in Group C it does look like the second place in this section is very up for grabs between the three remaining nations in the Group. Two of those will be looking to grab the edge in the opening game between Peru and Denmark and I think this has the makings of being a very, very interesting game on Saturday.

Neither team has a lot of major international tournament experience sprinkled in their respective squads, although Peru have made it through to the Quarter Final of the last eight Copa America tournaments played. That has to be given plenty of respect and especially when you think how Peru were flying in the closing of the World Cup Qualifiers that allowed them to finish above Chile and then beat New Zealand in a Play Off to take their place in Russia.

The fans have really made an effort to travel for Peru too and the dismissal of the suspension handed out to Paolo Guerrero has given this nation plenty to be excited about going into the opening World Cup game.

However Denmark will be just as confident having turned things around in their own World Cup Qualifying Group and having crushing wins over the likes of Poland and Republic of Ireland to help Qualify for the World Cup Finals. It has been some time since Denmark were competing at this level but they are a team who can score goals and who could have a significant impact in Russia this summer.

Peru scored plenty of goals, but also conceded plenty in the World Cup Qualifiers and I think their style is going to lead to some entertaining games when they are playing. They have every chance of upsetting Denmark, but have to be aware of the qualities of Christian Eriksen from set pieces which is a very strong way of unlocking this Peru team.

On the other side of the field I do think Peru can pose problems for Denmark too and I do think both nations will be looking for a vital three points which could ease their tensions when playing France later in the section. This was a fixture I had highlighted as one of the more high-scoring ones I am expecting to see in the first round robin of Group games and I am going to back seeing at least three goals shared out.


Croatia v Nigeria Pick: The preparation for the World Cup Finals has not been ideal for Croatia who have seen a long trial involving Zdravko Mamic come to an end this past couple of weeks, although one that has dragged the reputations of the likes of Dejan Lovren and Luka Modric through the mud. The hope for the fans is that Croatia can maintain their composure amidst the fire and not allow age old tensions to prevent them producing their best in Russia.

Two years ago the fans made it very clear how disappointed they felt when causing a disruption in Croatia's Euro 2016 Group game against the Czech Republic and there have to be some fears of similar scenes at the World Cup.

One nation who can sympathise with off field dramas affecting preparations is Nigeria, but this current crop of players have perhaps come in with the most serene preparations ever. Usually there are big debates at this time whether Nigeria will even turn up to play that involves not being paid their bonuses in time, but this year that has all been settled months before the tournament.

The friendly results have not really been that positive for Nigeria over the last few months, but they weren't in great nick four years ago and managed to come out of their World Cup Group and reach the Last 16 for the third time in five World Cup appearances. Doing that again would be a big achievement for Nigeria, but losing the opening game would put them behind the black ball immediately.

On paper you would think Croatia are going to be too good for Nigeria, but they have a poor recent World Cup record and the off field issues can't be ignored easily. I would still expect Croatia to dominate the ball with their midfield looking very strong, but Nigeria have the pace to hurt them on the counter attack and I do think the latter can pose problems for them.

The goalkeeping situation is a concern for Nigeria so it is hard to see Croatia failing to score in this one, but the African team can also play their part.

With the pace in the forward areas I expect Nigeria will give Croatia something to think about too and backing the two teams to both score at odds against looks the play.


Sunday 17th June
Costa Rica v Serbia Pick: Most will expect Brazil to be challenging for the World Cup title in mid-July so this Group E looks like one where only place is up for grabs between the three nations behind Brazil.

Four years ago Costa Rica surprised everyone by finishing above Uruguay, Italy and England in the Group Stage as a 50-1 shot and they would receive plenty of plaudits for the hard work that took them to the Quarter Final. While you would expect to see the transition of a squad in the time between World Cups, that has not been the case for Costa Rica and the prevailing feeling is that they are a squad on the decline having peaked in Brazil.

That is a worry for Costa Rica in a tough section and the key is to avoid a poor start considering the fixtures have set them up to play Brazil in the second round of Group games. You would almost feel a draw is not good enough for Costa Rica, but a defeat would almost certainly spell the end for them in this Group after just a single game was in the books.

They are actually playing the lowest Seed in the Group, although more than that is expected of Serbia who are back in the World Cup after going out in the Group Stage in 2010. Serbia have failed to reach their potential in the years between South Africa and Russia, but there is some young talent being given an opportunity to announce themselves on the world stage in this World Cup.

It's hard to get a read on them because they have recently changed manager and have been so inconsistent. One week Serbia are beating Nigeria and hammering Bolivia, but another they are losing to Morocco and to a much changed Chile team so it is difficult to really pinpoint what you are going to get from them in the World Cup.

Inconsistency is an apt way to describe Costa Rica too, but they are defensively sound for the most part and that could see the Central American nation grab a result here. On the other hand Serbia have some issues to address at the back, but look to be solid enough going forward which suggests these teams could cancel one another out.

Goals may be at a premium between these two nations in a game where one goal could be enough to separate them. With the tension both Costa Rica and Serbia will feel to get a result it could be a game where their strengths and weaknesses are matched up and will make it tough to find a winner. I think having a small interest in there being one or fewer goals shared out looks the way to go here.


Germany v Mexico Pick: The host nation gets to open the World Cup these days, but prior to 2006 it was the defending Champions who were given that honour. I don't think Germany will mind beginning the defence of their World Cup on the fourth day of the Finals beginning, and this is a team that looks capable of winning it all again.

Twelve months ago Germany hammered Mexico on the way to winning the Confederations Cup and a stronger looking squad is set to play in Russia this time around. The depth is such that the likes of Leroy Sane have not been asked to travel and I don't think anyone will be putting a lot of stock into the poor run of results in international friendlies prior to the beginning of the World Cup.

Prior to the 2014 World Cup Germany had won half of 6 international friendlies and so I am not sure we can use the friendlies this time around to really judge where they stand.

What I do know is that Germany tend to peak for these tournaments and they have regularly reached the business end of major tournaments for the last twelve years. From front to back they look like a team with lots of quality and I think Germany can make a very positive start to the World Cup when they face Mexico.

In the Confederations Cup Semi Final a strong looking Mexico team were beaten 4-1 by Germany and manager Juan Carlos Osorio remains under pressure. It says something when the final international friendly before the World Cup Finals sees the passionate Mexican fans boo their team off the pitch and I would be surprised if Osorio is still in charge at the end of the Finals.

While they look good enough to still get out of the Group, Mexico have regularly found the top teams too much and some of the losses have tended to be very comfortable for those nations. They can be a team that is technically very good to watch but I do worry about Mexico from a defensive stand point against the best teams and Germany are certainly one who can win this game very comfortably if they are firing in front of goal.

With the talent Germany have it is hard to see them failing to do that and I do like Germany winning this match by a couple of goals on the day.


Brazil v Switzerland Pick: On Sunday two of the favourites for the World Cup will both kick off and it is Brazil who follow Germany onto the field to get their own Finals underway. Make no mistake this is a chance to exorcise some demons after the horrific way the 2014 World Cup ended on home soil for Brazil and the fans will accept nothing less than a World Cup win to erase those painful memories.

For most of these players they won't be tarnished by the performance in the World Cup Semi Final four years ago, but that doesn't mean they won't have been stung by the result. Neymar was there but an injury meant he was ruled out of the tournament after the Quarter Final and he will come to Russia to try and show what may have happened if he had been fit for the remainder of the 2014 tournament.

The appointment of Tite has raised expectations for Brazil as he has released the handbrake which had been permanently put in place by former manager Dunga and which had seen Brazil slip to an embarrassing Copa America Group Stage exit a couple of years ago. That was the low point for the nation and Tite has managed to pick them up and produce a strong run which has seen Brazil enter the World Cup as the favourites.

Brazil have been in fine form at the front and back and they look a much more solid team all around than 2014 and certainly are the pick of the teams as far as I am concerned. I do expect they make a positive start against a tough Switzerland team who have only lost 1 of their last 9 major tournament games in normal time.

Two years ago it was Poland beating Switzerland on penalties in Euro 2016, while Argentina needed an extra time winner against them in Brazil four years ago. They Qualified behind Portugal having to come through a World Cup Play Off, but Switzerland recently held Spain in a friendly which means they deserve respect.

However they rode their luck in that game and I am not sure they can do that again when they face a Brazil team who have scored at least twice in five of their last seven games and clearly playing with confidence. Switzerland will work hard and they will try and get something from a set piece or a mistake Brazil make, but it looks a long shot and I like Brazil to win this opening World Cup game and winning by a comfortable margin on Sunday evening too.


Monday 18th June
Sweden v South Korea Pick: Any team that beats out the Netherlands and Italy to make it to the World Cup Finals has to be respected, although the Sweden form since those successes has been mixed to say the least.

A lack of goals makes it difficult to believe in Sweden when it comes to making it out of a difficult looking Group F, but they can make a very good start to section by winning this game.

I think the Sweden physicality is going to be tough for South Korea to deal with at any time, but this current squad is lacking some confidence and their World Cup Qualifying campaign was erratic to say the least.


South Korea have been struggling defensively which will give Sweden a chance in this one, and I also think the way Sweden will be set up will be difficult for South Korea to have a lot of success on the other side of the field.

My lean has been towards Sweden since the fixtures have been announced and their goalless draws against Denmark and Peru in international friendlies prior to the tournament suggests Sweden remain solid enough defensively against an opponent like South Korea. However Sweden are unlikely to blow any team away and it looks a very tempting price to back them to win a game which features less than four goals.


Belgium v Panama PickGroup G looks like a section that will be very much dominated by the two European teams in the Group while it has to be said that Panama look some way short of the quality required at this level.

They will be entering a baptism by fire in the first World Cup game when taking on the talent of Belgium who have begun to get a reputation for being flat track bullies. While Belgium have come up short in major international Finals in the last four years, they have recorded thumping wins over the Republic of Ireland and Hungary at Euro 2016 and then plundered 43 goals in 10 World Cup Qualifiers to get to Russia.

Heavy wins over Egypt and Costa Rica in the days before the World Cup will have raised hopes this team can match Belgium's 1986 squad that made the World Cup Semi Final, but the bigger tests for Roberto Martinez will come after this Group is concluded.

I can't see Belgium slipping up in this section and instead I think they will prove far too strong for Panama to open the tournament. With the attackers at his disposal and a 3-4-3 system which gets the best out of them I think Belgium are going to produce one of the bigger wins in the opening round of games which can be tight affairs.

That is no disrespect to Panama who have done wonderfully to make it to Russia for the World Cup Finals for the first time. However an older squad is going to be chasing shadows in this one and I can only see them being worn down by the talented Belgium attackers.

The crushing win Belgium had over Costa Rica, albeit in a friendly setting, will not bode well for Panama who finished with a minus goal difference in the final World Cup Qualifying Group. A 6-0 loss to Switzerland in a friendly shows how things could potentially go wrong for Panama and I do think Belgium win by a handy margin.

Backing them to cover the Asian Handicap means a return of the stakes if Belgium only win by a two goal margin, but I expect more from them and think they can cover in this one.


Tunisia v England Pick: On the 15th June 1998 England and Tunisia met in the World Cup opening Group game in a match that was won by the English 2-0 and a little over twenty years later they meet again on the world stage.

The expectations on both nations are significantly different than that day in Marseille, but the majority of fans would expect the outcome to be very similar.

Tunisia have shown they are a much improved team in the last few years and some of their friendly performances have to have given England and Belgium food for thought in this Group. In particular are the way Tunisia played against Portugal and Spain and that shows a squad that will believe they can challenge the European teams they face in this Group in Russia.

Losing Youssef Mskani to injury has clearly derailed some of the plans Nabil Maalou had for his team, but Tunisia will look to frustrate their opponents and potentially break on the counter to steal a result or two.

It certainly means England need to be careful in this opening Group game but the recent performances have been positive enough. The three at the back system has seen England be relatively strong and I think they will be able to cope with any false nine system employed by Tunisia, while the attacking players like Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling offer pace in forward areas to break down the Tunisian defensive shape.

An England defeat is hard to envision here, but I don't think this will be an easy game for them at all judging by the way Tunisia played against Portugal and Spain. The latter game was against a strong looking Spain team and it took a late goal to earn the win on that day, and so England will have to be very careful of this Tunisia team they will be expected to beat.

However I do think England will be able to do that despite their recent poor tournament record which has seen them win 1 of their last 8 major tournament games. Even that came with an injury time winner against Wales and they have also won just 1 of their last 8 World Cup games going back to 2006, but this current squad doesn't have the mental scars that others before them did have.

My feeling is that it will help England win this one by a narrow margin which would be perfect for Gareth Southgate even if the press are not going to anoint him the Messiah for that result. They have played well enough defensively to think they can contain the Tunisia threat and England have enough pace in the attacking areas to create a couple of big chances which can help them win this game.

I don't think it will be a high-scoring game so backing England to win a match featuring three or fewer goals looks the play for me here.


Tuesday 19th June
Colombia v Japan Pick: Group H looks to be a very tight Group when it comes to determining the top two teams to come out of the section, but I am very much of the belief that Japan will struggle to compete with the nations involved.

This is not a great Japanese squad and the decision to sack a manager in April with just two months to prepare for the World Cup Finals is not a great look for Japan.

While new manager Akira Nishino is trying to get Japan back to playing what has been a traditional style of football, the recent friendly results have not offered a lot of encouragement. Beating an underprepared Paraguay was a good way to go into a game with another South American nation, but losses to Ukraine, Ghana and Switzerland suggests Japan will come up short.

They also have to avoid memories of four years ago when they were crushed 4-1 by Colombia in their last World Cup game as they open the Group facing the same nation. The scoreline was perhaps flattering for Colombia when you think they scored a couple of late goals, but once again this nation arrives at the World Cup Finals with a real belief they can have an impact on the tournament.

Four years ago they made the Quarter Final, but doubts about the full fitness of James Rodriguez is a slight concern. He should still be ready to go on Tuesday but there is also the matter of poor goalless draws with Australia and Egypt in preparation for the World Cup Finals which makes Colombia look a vulnerable favourite to win this Group.

I do think they will still be too good for a Japan team but those results are a concern for a nation that made hard work of Qualifying and perhaps lacked a cutting edge. I don't think Japan will defend well enough to prevent Colombia winning this opening Group game, but the later challenges against Senegal and Poland will be much tougher.


Poland v Senegal Pick: The expectation is that Japan will be the team to beat in this Group but the other three nations are very closely matched. The draw has pitted Poland and Senegal together for the opening game in the Group and I do think this is going to be a very interesting match for both teams.

You have to like the quality Poland have in the attacking areas and they have to have been given a boost by the run to the Euro 2016 Quarter Final two years ago, especially as they were only beaten on penalties by the eventual winners of the tournament.

Poland made light work of their Qualifying Group for the World Cup Finals, but there have been some poor results too, none more so than the 4-0 defeat to Denmark. That was part of the 14 goals conceded in Qualifiers which is the most of the European Qualifiers and recent friendly results have suggested Poland have yet to get it right defensively.

Whether Senegal are good enough to expose those issues is a little more difficult to get a read on. They came out a weak final Qualifying Group and while having the likes of Sadio Mane, Senegal look like a team who will sometimes look a little ponderous in attacking situations.

The lack of goals has been a feature of their recent international friendlies but I do think they get more out of this Poland defence which has conceded twice to South Korea and Chile in recent friendly games. Neither team will want to lose which may mean a more cautious first game, but I do think there is enough attacking talent out on the field which could mean backing at least three goals is the way to go.

MY PICKS: Russia to Win and Both Teams to Score @ 4.75 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Uruguay to Win & Under 3.5 Goals @ 2.00 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Morocco - 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
Spain to Win & Under 2.5 Goals @ 3.75 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
France to Win and Both Teams to Score @ 3.70 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)
Argentina-Iceland Both Teams to Score @ 2.62 William Hill (2 Units)
Peru-Denmark Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.37 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Croatia-Nigeria Both Teams to Score @ 2.20 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Costa Rica-Serbia Under 1.5 Goals @ 2.70 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Germany - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Brazil - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Sweden to Win & Under 3.5 Goals @ 2.55 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Belgium - 2 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
England to Win & Under 3.5 Goals @ 1.95 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Colombia to Win @ 1.72 Bet365 (2 Units)
Poland-Senegal Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.30 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Group Stage Round Robin One Update: 7-7, + 4.64 Units (24 Units Staked, + 19.33% Yield)
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