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Saturday, 30 June 2018

World Cup 2018 Second Round Picks (June 30-July 3)

World Cup 2018 Last 16

The World Cup Second Round line up was set up on Thursday and the eight matches are played from Saturday through to Tuesday.

There is no doubt that England's 0-1 defeat to Belgium has had a big impact on the Knock Out Stages and I have to feel that Roberto Martinez is regretting his second team finding a way to win that game. I would have made Belgium a strong favourite to reach the Semi Final if they swapped places with England, but recent major tournaments doesn't encourage me in the same manner for England.

On paper it looks a great chance for England to reach the World Cup Semi Final for the first time in twenty-eight years, but football has never been played on paper and underestimating a talented Colombia side would be a big mistake. Win that game and England will be decent favourites to see off either Switzerland or Sweden in the Quarter Final, but make no mistake that all of those nations mentioned will be thinking exactly the same when it comes to potentially facing England.

The top half is loaded with four of the eight teams being former World Cup Winners, while the bottom half can only send Spain and England forward with that title. We also have the current European Champions in the top half of the Knock Out Rounds and picking a team to come through that section isn't easy.

Brazil were my pick at the start of the tournament to win it all, but I am looking forward to the potential Quarter Final with Belgium and the winner of that is going have a very tough looking Semi Final to contend with which makes it very difficult to predict.

The bottom half looks like it could be settled by a potential Quarter Final between Spain and Croatia... Barring those two teams dragging the other through hell and high water, I would make them a decent favourite to win the Semi Final against whoever they play, but there is a lot of football to play before we get to there.

The Last 16 will begin on Saturday afternoon with a huge game between France and Argentina and played through until Tuesday evening when Colombia face England. There is plenty of intrigue between those games and I am looking forward to seeing if the general attacking fervour of this tournament is going to continue into the Knock Out Rounds when the tension naturally ramps up three or four levels.

So far it has been a decent tournament for the Picks but the challenge is to build upon that. This looks a tough Round to determine with some close looking matches, but I am hoping to find the winners to keep the tournament moving in a positive direction from a personal point of view too.

Saturday 30th June
France v Argentina Pick: If you're a football fan and you have plans on Saturday I would cancel them.

The World Cup Second Round begins with a bang with France playing Argentina followed by Uruguay against Portugal and all four of those nations will feel they can have a serious impact at the World Cup Finals in the next two weeks.

First up is France versus Argentina and this is the kind of match the World Cup is all about. Two former World Cup Champions facing off in Knock Out Football will have the fans salivating, but it is hard to ignore how poor Argentina have been at the World Cup so far.

Argentina barely scraped through to the Second Round when scoring in the last five minutes against Nigeria a few days ago and that came when it looked like they had just run out of ideas. Better composure from the Nigerians would have seen that game beyond Argentina prior to the Marcos Rojo winner, but now the South Americans have to feel the pressure is off with their team not considered a favourite to progress past the French.

That may help produce a big performance from Argentina, but France are the rightful favourites.

While they have yet to really impress in the World Cup, France have made comfortable progress through to the Last 16 and defensively they are going to be set up to prevent giving Lionel Messi the space he desires. A midfield consisting of N'Golo Kante and Paul Pogba have the power and ability to really shut down Argentina and I think that will give France every chance to dictate the tempo of this match.

My one real concern for France is Didier Deschamps.

The manager cannot help but be cautious and that may give Argentina a little more of an opportunity to upset France in this one. However it would be a big surprise for me if France were not able to win this game with the quality and pace they have in forward areas especially when you think of how Argentina have defended in all three games they have played.

I think Argentina are also a little predictable when they go forward and France will concentrate on stifling Lionel Messi which would effectively strangle the Argentina attack.

I've always had a soft spot for Argentina so would love to see them get through this tie. Ultimately I think France are the better team and they have a little more about them all over the pitch for Argentina. Defensively they can shut down an Argentina attack which has struggled for goals over the last couple of years and France should be able to finish off Argentina on the counter attack in this one unlike what Nigeria were able to do.

However I can't be fully convinced that Deschamps' tactics won't perhaps contribute to giving Argentina chances to get plenty of balls into the box, like they did for Peru in France's 1-0 win over them in the Group. Argentina have better players than Peru who can create something from nothing, so while backing France is the play I also think backing them on the Asian Handicap at odds against is the best way to get behind the European team.

Uruguay v Portugal Pick: The Knock Out Rounds of the World Cup come with some much tension that it isn't a big surprise that teams tend to drift backwards and make sure they cut out all of the mistakes they are making.

The Uruguay vs Portugal Last 16 tie looks an intriguing one but this is not a match in which I am expecting to see a host of goals. That may surprise when you think of the Portugal draw with Spain, but I don't think Uruguay are as good as Spain going forward and they are better defensively so I would be massively surprised if the game goes in that direction.

Instead I am looking at the low scoring games Portugal had with Morocco and Iran and Uruguay's low scoring wins over Egypt and Saudi Arabia as the blueprint for how this match will go. The Uruguay crushing of Russia might change some opinions, but Portugal have shown two years ago that they are happy to sit deep and patiently wait for the opportunities to come up as teams tire.

During the run to the Euro 2016 Final Portugal won two of their four Knock Out ties in extra time and another on penalties and I expect Fernando Santos to look to make his team as hard to beat as possible. I am not sure this Portugal team defends as well as the one two years ago as the whole back five are a couple of years older and the chances created by Morocco and Iran have to be a concern for the manager.

Uruguay are not as dynamic as Morocco though and I think they are going to play more like Iran with a functional midfield looking to keep things simple. The defensive unit have shown they are going to be very tough to break down, but Uruguay do have two star strikers that could mean the difference in this game.

Of course Cristiano Ronaldo is always dangerous, but I expect Diego Godin and Jose Giminez will know all about him from their time with Atletico Madrid and they have shown they can get the better of the Real Madrid star. Portugal perhaps have a little more magic in the midfield than Uruguay, but everything is pointing to a tight encounter.

From the 2006 World Cup over a third of the Second Round ties have gone to Extra Time including five of the eight four years ago in Brazil. Picking a winner in this one is very difficult and there is every chance we are going to see an Extra Time period or even a penalty shoot out to decide the Quarter Finalist.

One goal could easily be enough to decide this one I think with neither team looking like one that will blow out the other. The one score that would concern me the most would be 1-1 and the teams playing it out through to Extra Time but realistically I think the defences will be on top and it will mean moments of magic from some of the quality players on show to separate these teams.

Where that moment comes from is anyone's guess and I am going to back less than two goals being scored in normal time. It wouldn't have been a great play in the last two World Cup Last 16's that have been played in 2010 and 2014 with 11/16 ties finishing with at least two goals in normal time. If it is 1-0 to either team you can see a situation where a team chasing the game overcommits and his punished on the counter attack, but Uruguay and Portugal strike me as safety first teams and I imagine it will be about keep ball and wasting time and making sure they remain defensively watertight if holding onto a lead.

VAR means penalties have been a little more forthcoming in this tournament which also could have an impact on the goals scored in the Knock Out ties compared with previous years and I have to factor that in. Even then I think a low scoring game in this one is the most likely outcome with these teams both likely to employ a defence first mentality to the fixture.

An early goal changes everything, but I will back less than two goals to be scored.

Sunday 1st July
Spain v Russia Pick: Is everything too good to be true about the Russia National Team after two very strong results in the Group? Some doubts about what has been going on behind the scenes were raised, but some of those would have been eased after seeing Russia lose 3-0 to Uruguay in their final Group game.

That means they have been put together with Spain in the Last 16 and this is a team who remain one of the favourites to win the World Cup despite a mixed performance in their own Group. I don't think Spain know how they have won Group B to be perfectly honest, but it does mean they go into the weaker half of the Knock Out Rounds and so have maintained their place as favourites to reach the World Cup Final.

I am not convinced that should be the case with some potentially difficult dark horses to face later down the line, but Spain should be happy with this Second Round tie.

They won't underestimate Russia after producing some ridiculous defensive errors in the Group, but I imagine Spain will dominate the ball and I am not sure the older Russian defenders will be able to stay with them throughout the ninety minutes. Spain have goals in the side, but they have will have to beware of the Russian counter attack which has proved to be so effective in their wins over Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Russia also didn't play badly in the Uruguay game after being reduced to ten men, but this is going to take another big effort to see them past Spain. They were chasing the ball for a long time in hot weather on Monday, but Russia will be able to bring in some fresh legs to help in this one.

These teams played out a 3-3 draw in an international friendly at the end of 2017 as Russia came back from being 0-2 down and 2-3 down. It should give them some belief they can beat the Spanish, but it was a slightly weaker team than the one they will face on Sunday and I think it is a big ask of the hosts who have overachieved already at this tournament.

Beating them in front of the passionate home support won't be easy for Spain but I expect the additional quality of the 2010 World Cup Winners to show up here. At some point they can also catch Russia chasing this one and I am backing Spain to win a game which features two or more goals.

Croatia v Denmark Pick: The World Cup has been pretty exciting for the most part during the Group Stage, but I am expecting teams to perhaps be a little more cautious with their play in the Knock Out Rounds.

Denmark have already shown they can sit in and frustrate teams by holding France to a goalless draw in the Group Stage which is the only goalless draw in the World Cup at the time of writing. However they were playing a team who were happy to take the point and I am not sure Croatia will be lacking the intensity that France clearly left in their hotel room.

This is a Croatia team who look capable of fulfilling the long held 'dark horse' tag at major international tournaments. As one of two teams who have won every game at the World Cup, at the time of writing again, Croatia come into the Knock Out Rounds with some confidence and it does feel like the nation is actually behind them this time unlike two years ago at Euro 2016.

They have already achieved their best result at the World Cup since reaching the Semi Final back in 1998, but there is another test for Croatia to pass. While they have gotten out of the Group Stage at the World Cup for the first time in four attempts since 1998, Croatia have not won a Knock Out tie in a major international tournament in the twenty years since their high point in international football.

Don't for a second think this group of players is unaware of that- in England we hear all the time how the national team haven't won a Knock Out tie since 2006 so it is not unrealistic to think the media in Croatia have made the point about their own national team too.

That does create a pressure on the players in a match where they are big favourites to progress to the Quarter Final in Russia. It won't be helped by facing a Denmark team who are going to look to make life as difficult as possible by setting up a strong defensive shape which will be boosted by the players feeling they can't lose at the moment behind an 18 game unbeaten run.

If Croatia get frustrated and start giving up cheap free kicks to the Danes then they could be in a for a really tough evening. Christian Eriksen has the quality to create from set pieces and that is where Denmark are definitely a threat in this match, although they don't look a team blessed with a lot of goals if you can keep tabs on Eriksen.

The Croatia midfield should be able to dictate the play in this one and I think much will come down to how they handle the pressure of Knock Out Football. Experienced heads like Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic play for top Spanish teams and have to lead by example and by doing that I do think Croatia will edge out Denmark.

This match is far from a 'gimme' for Croatia because of how well Denmark can defend. Any team that has 6 clean sheets in 7 games and only conceded a single penalty in that time will believe they can frustrate a Croatia team who are not exactly going to blow you away.

Defensively Croatia can make mistakes which could cost them later in the tournament, but I think they will grind their way past Denmark in this one. The long run without a Knock Out win is a surprise considering the talent Croatia have, but they look more settled and together than any time in the last twenty years and I will back them to edge out Denmark.

Monday 2nd July
Brazil v Mexico Pick: If ever you want to know the danger of making assumptions just take a look at the Monday schedule of Last 16 ties at the World Cup Finals.

Before Wednesday most would have assumed this would be the day that Brazil face Germany and England face Colombia, but only one of those four nations are actually scheduled to be playing.

Brazil have been looking like a team who are ready to grow into the tournament and I don't think any of their fans will be crying that they don't have to play Germany in the Second Round. The wounds from four years ago have yet to heal so avoiding the team who humiliated them 1-7 at home in the Semi Final is something that will be cheered on by Brazil fans everywhere.

They should be too good for a Mexico team that may have peaked with their performance in the 0-1 win over Germany, although that result doesn't look half as good as it once did. The 0-3 hammering at the hands of Sweden means Mexico somehow finished second in Group F despite winning the first two games they played and makes them a big favourite to exit the World Cup at the Last 16 stage for a seventh time in succession.

Getting through the Group was cheered on, but Mexico will be under pressure to deliver and I think their style of play make work very much in Brazil's favour in this one. Defensively there is some big effort put in by Mexico, but they never look completely at ease and this Brazil team have enough attacking threats to break them down.

It wouldn't be a big surprise if Mexico scored though considering the chances Costa Rica and Serbia have created against Brazil, while they may also be in a position where they are chasing and leaving gaps at the back as the game wears on. It all points to me looking to back Brazil in a game which features at least two goals in this one as I do think they are going to need to score at least twice to win this game in normal time.

The Mexicans have shown they can create chances and the pace is going to be an issue for Brazil to deal with. However I think the players will realise they missed a huge opportunity for a favourable Last 16 tie and that is going to make Mexico perhaps make one or two mistakes which are capitalised on by the Brazilian forwards and leading to an entertaining match ending with the World Cup favourites moving through to yet another Quarter Final on the big stage.

Belgium v Japan Pick: You can't begin without acknowledging the absolutely baffling scenes at the end of the Poland-Japan game.

I honestly don't think I've ever seen a situation where a team knows one goal in a game they are playing in or one being played elsewhere could change the whole direction of the tournament and that team decides we will just hope nothing happens in the other game!

Japan and Senegal were both trailing in their final Group games and Japan had the edge when it came to the disciplinary stats which looked to be the deciding factor. A Japan goal would have almost guaranteed their place in the Last 16, but the decision was made to shut up shop, not play a forward pass and just hope Senegal would not score an equaliser in the other game.

I almost wish they had been punished for that.

Instead I can wait until Monday when Japan, who did win the gamble, have been set up to play Belgium and I think the European team will show why they are one of the best teams in international football. The majority of the Belgium starters were rested in the 1-0 win over England on Thursday although Roberto Martinez may regret his team winning that game and being placed in the tougher half of the Knock Out Stages.

For now Martinez will put a positive spin on things and I expect the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Dries Mertens and Romelu Lukaku to be chomping at the bit for this one.

As much as I would love to see Belgium hammer Japan, I don't think they will have things all their way as there have been some defensive issues that need to be cleared up. Panama had a couple of half chances, Tunisia scored twice and England had a gilt edged chance through Marcus Rashford which would have worried Martinez.

The Spaniard is not renowned for his defensive work so that is an issue for Belgium going forward and Japan have shown enough going forward in their first two Group games which should be taken into consideration.

Even then it is hard to know how good this Japan team is considering they trailed Senegal twice and looked in real trouble and also were beaten by Poland. A win over a Colombia team playing with ten men for almost the full ninety minutes is not that impressive as the South Americans looked better for the first sixty minutes anyway and Japan had some very poor friendly defeats prior to the World Cup beginning.

Japan have already overachieved and I think they could have some real problems if they fall behind in this one. I am assuming they won't shut up shop and settle for a narrow defeat, but at least try and stay in the World Cup by committing men if chasing the game and I think that is where Belgium could have tremendous joy in finishing the job.

The Belgium counter attack has looked good against Panama and Tunisia and while Japan are better than both, I don't think they are much better than Tunisia. This team will do well to stay with Belgium and I can only see the Group G Winners coming through with a very comfortable win as they cover the Asian Handicap on their way to another major tournament Quarter Final for the 'golden generation' of players.

Tuesday 3rd July
Sweden v Switzerland Pick: When I take a look at the Last 16 of the World Cup Finals there is no doubt the one fixture that stands out a mile is the one between Sweden and Switzerland.

That has much to do with the fact that it is easily the most surprising pairing of the World Cup Last 16 and I think there is going to be plenty of the tension on the line with the fight for a World Cup Quarter Final spot set to go. Both Sweden and Switzerland will feel this is an unexpected opportunity and so it is key for the players to try and avoid thinking too far ahead in this match.

It is a really difficult game to call with both teams lacking a bit of stardust, but both also far better than the sum of their parts. Only a late Toni Kroos goal beat Sweden who have looked good in the tournament, while Switzerland have yet to taste defeat and shown character to come from behind against Brazil and Serbia.

Is it any wonder the layers can't really separate these teams in ninety minutes too?

There really isn't a lot between them and no recent history to point to, although I think Switzerland are rightly being given the edge thanks to more experience of these major tournament Knock Out ties in recent years. They haven't won those matches though which will knocked some of the confidence, and I do lean towards the Swedish team coming through.

It is a very minor lean though because I am not convinced Sweden will continue to attack with the same verve they have so far in this tournament. However, Sweden have created huge chances in all three matches they have played and I think they are going to continue that against a Switzerland team that have yet to earn a clean sheet.

Maybe Knock Out Football curbs some of the attacking enthusiasm Sweden have been playing with, but it would be a surprise if they completely go back into their shell. This is a huge opportunity for them and it would be a mistake to try and be tough to beat without the attacking intent which has brought goals in every Group game against teams like Mexico and Germany to boot.

This Switzerland side should cause problems too with their attacking players showing some decent ideas in the World Cup so far. They have scored in every game, but Switzerland have looked a little more unsure at the back and Sweden will test that with plenty of crosses into the box. Costa Rica and Serbia both scored from crossed balls and Sweden are a big team who will cause problems from set pieces and deliveries into the box even without the injured Sebastian Larsson.

I do think this game is going to be better than the majority may think. Both teams will feel this is a big chance for them and I think that will mean taking a few chances and looking to expose the other.

Sweden look to be a little stronger in this one so I am surprised they are the narrow underdog in ninety minutes, while I also can make a strong case for both teams to score at odds against. The latter option may be the better play with a 1-1 scoreline a real player in this Last 16 tie and I will look for some entertainment before the big one for those in England.

Colombia v England Pick: This might be the section of the Knock Out Rounds that the fans wanted to be involved in, but I think it would be foolish for anyone in the England camp to mention that or agree with it.

You don't want to give Colombia more motivation to prove people wrong but I do make England the favourites to get past this opponent in a big Last 16 tie for both nations.

Colombia will be feeling just the same as England- if they win this they will believe they can surpass their achievements of four years ago and reach the Semi Final of the World Cup Finals for the first time. Technically there are some quality players in the Colombia team from front to back and a number the English players will be familiar with as they either playing or have played in the Premier League.

However Colombia are a hard team to read.

They were fantastic against Poland, but were really average against Senegal and very fortunate to win that game. A threat from set pieces, Colombia also have some quality play from the midfield into the front four although James Rodriguez' fitness is a big concern which was admitted to by manager Jose Pekerman.

The key for England is going to be to use their pace in the forward positions like Senegal did as the latter had Colombia stretching at times. Poor final balls cost Senegal and they also had some very promising free kick situations and that is an area where England have been strong.

England have to make sure they get enough shots off against David Ospina who has somehow managed two clean sheets in a row despite the positions Senegal found themselves on Thursday. With a fresh eleven back in and facing a Colombia team who had to put in some serious hard work, I do think England can get this done on Tuesday.

There is some serious pressure on England which is going to be the key to this game in my opinion. The players have to show they can deal with the expectation back home, which will only have increased even after the defeat to Belgium, and also to erase history from their minds.

Since 1996 and the Semi Final of the European Championship which was hosted by England, the national team have won just TWO Knock Out ties in twenty-two years. One of those was against a South American team in Ecuador in 2006 which was the last time England won a Knock Out tie in any major international tournament and there is no doubt the players will hear about that between now and kick off on Tuesday.

I have to admit the odds are a little sickening- Colombia at 4.00 to win this game is a huge price considering they have a bit of momentum and have shown toughness to get through some difficult moments. It is a tempting price out of principle, but I can't back it because I think it is a value call but not one I think will be a winner.

Ultimately I do think England are physical enough and have enough pace to knock Colombia out of their stride and that will be the key to this Last 16 tie. Harry Kane could be the difference maker as Radamel Falcao has just lost a step in his forward play for Colombia, but England will have to defend better than they have in this tournament to make sure they progress.

The English players should know enough about their opponents like Juan Cuadrado, Falcao and Davinson Sanchez to get the better of them on the day and I think England will win this Last 16 tie. England have to take their chances better than they did against Tunisia and Belgium if they have serious ambitions of a deep run in Russia, but my head is saying they can win this tie.

Rarely do England make life easy though and I can see some tense moments to ride through in this fixture, but I am going to back England at odds against to beat Colombia in normal time. England winning a game which features at least two goals is a very big price too, but I will keep it simple and just look for an England win here.

MY PICKS: France - 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)
Uruguay-Portugal Under 1.5 Goals @ 2.37 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Spain to Win & Over 1.5 Goals @ 2.10 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Croatia @ 1.90 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Brazil to Win & Over 1.5 Goals @ 1.85 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Belgium - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Sweden-Switzerland Both Teams to Score @ 2.20 Bet Fred (2 Units)
England @ 2.10 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Last 16 Update: 2-6, - 7.20 Units (16 Units Staked, - 45% Yield)

Group Stage Round Robin Three Final8-8, + 3.53 Units (27.50 Units Staked, + 12.84% Yield)
Group Stage Round Robin Two Final8-7-1, + 1.09 Units (31 Units Staked, + 3.52% Yield)

Group Stage Round Robin One Final8-8, + 5.24 Units (28 Units Staked, + 18.71% Yield)

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Tennis Picks 2018 (June 27th)

The ATP selections did not go that well on Tuesday, but all four WTA selections returned as winners which has put this week in a very strong position.

The last week at Roland Garros and the first three weeks on the grass have been a very productive time for the Tennis Picks and that has improved the season totals and also provided some momentum to take into Wimbledon.

Wednesday is another busy day in a week when the tournaments are looking for a Saturday finish, but that doesn't mean I have found many matches which fit my criteria. Some of the matches at the WTA Eastbourne tournament are worth taking a watching brief to build a better picture of Wimbledon so both of my selections come from the ATP events in Eastbourne and Antalya.

I hope they go better than the 1-2 record from the ATP Picks on Tuesday.

Andy Murray - 2.5 games v Kyle Edmund: After being off the Tour for almost exactly twelve months it was always going to be tough to know how Andy Murray would be feeling until he got back onto the court. A delay to his return was probably the best decision Murray could have made especially as he has returned to the Tour and looked in very good shape back on the grass courts.

There is little doubt that Murray is one of the best grass court players out there and he hasn't been given a chance to ease into his return having faced Nick Kyrgios and Stan Wawrinka in his two matches. The former World Number 1 has actually surprised himself with how well he has played in those two matches and it will be interesting to see how Murray's body reacts to a second match in three days which is the next step on his recovery to full time tennis.

Murray did admit to feeling sore for 24 hours after his first match back last week in Queens, but that is nothing out of the ordinary when you think of how long he had been off the Tour and not playing competitive tennis.

While his participation in Wimbledon is far from assured at this point, Murray has shown he is very comfortable back on the grass courts. The numbers behind serve have been better than expected and even more impressive has been the way he has returned and I think he puts plenty of pressure on the current British Number 1 Kyle Edmund.

As well as Edmund has played since Murray has been off the Tour it still has to be pointed out that he is not completely at ease on the grass courts. Edmund is a decent returner, but he has not always produced his best serving on the surface and Murray is an opponent who can expose those vulnerabilities.

Make no mistake about it that both players will be desperate to win this one but I do like Murray's superior grass court pedigree to make the difference in a close match. There is the obvious concern about his fitness and whether he is ready to play again after being out on the court on Monday, but Murray sounds happy with his progress and I think he is able to do enough to win this match and cover the number in a tough Second Round match for both players.

Marius Copil v Damir Dzumhur: It is Marius Copil who is Ranked considerably lower than Damir Dzumhur but the layers are right to think that this could be a very tough match to predict. That is because Copil has shown to be much happier on the grass courts compared with Dzumhur and I think a big serving day will help the Romanian move into the Quarter Final at the ATP Antalya event being played this week.

Last year Dzumhur did show some effective serving on the grass courts, but generally it has been a shot that can be vulnerable on this surface. Unlike so many other players on the Tour, Dzumhur can't expect to get a lot of free points behind his serve and that means he has to work much harder to hold onto his serve.

This is only the second match on the grass in 2018, but Dzumhur had his issues holding serve against Grigor Dimitrov who is a big name player, but one who can't be considered a top returner. Prior to 2017 Dzumhur has had some real problems when it comes to the percentage of games where he holds serve and on a surface like and against an opponent like Copil it could be the difference maker.

It does have to be said that Copil's return is not his strength and I do wonder if he will be able to get his teeth into enough return games to put Dzumhur under pressure. He can try and build some scoreboard pressure by serving effectively and making Dzumhur feel a little edgy as he tries to stay with his opponent.

There is no doubt that Dzumhur's return game is what has made him a player that has moved deep within the top 50 in the World Rankings, but he has yet to really find hi groove on that front on the grass courts. Against this serve it may be very difficult for Copil to change that and I am going to back the lower Ranked player to work his way through this match in what has been set as a pick 'em contest.

MY PICKS: Andy Murray - 2.5 Games @ 2.00 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Marius Copil @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 9-4, + 8.48 Units (26 Units Staked, + 32.62% Yield)

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Tennis Picks 2018 (June 26th)

It was another winning day on the grass for the Tennis Picks on Monday, but it would have been a lot better if I had not backed the Pliskova sisters with both failing to cover.

At least Karolina earned her place in the Third Round in Eastbourne on the same day twin sister Kristyna was being beaten by a local hope.

The other three picks made on Monday all came back as winners to add to the Sunday selection. Tuesday looks a lot busier with a number of matches scheduled to be played in Eastbourne and I have a number of selections from the tournament there.

The Wimbledon Qualifiers have also begun which means we are on the fast track to the third Grand Slam of the season beginning with the opening day in six days time. I am hoping I will be able to get the Outright Picks from that tournament ready and posted by Sunday morning and I will then have a separate thread for the Day 1 Picks ready to go that evening.

It is a busy week with the World Cup Second Round also beginning on Saturday which means I want the whole First Round selections ready to go by Monday afternoon before what is likely to be England's first Knock Out tie. Hopefully the layers get their markets ready within twenty-four hours of the draws being made at the end of the week.

That is for another day though and for now let's go back to the Tennis to be played on Tuesday and the Tennis Picks which can be found below.

I have added the ATP Picks with full analysis, but the WTA selections have gone straight into the 'MY PICKS' section below.

Daniil Medvedev v Steve Johnson: This has all of the makings of a classic grass court match at the ATP Eastbourne event when Daniil Medvedev and Steve Johnson meet on Tuesday. You have to imagine both players are looking forward to this time of the season with the points they could potentially earn, but neither has really put any kind of winning run together which will concern them.

The losses they have suffered to the likes of Fernando Verdasco, Jeremy Chardy and Benoit Paire are not bad ones, but I think both Medvedev and Johnson are looking to gain some confidence with a solid run in Eastbourne.

I think both players will feel they can have a big impact at Wimbledon with the right draw, but I am leaning towards Medvedev in picking up the win here to move into the Second Round.

The young Russian has been serving well on the grass courts, but he has perhaps not been as strong returning as he has shown in the last couple of years on this surface. That is going to be an issue against someone like Steve Johnson whose serve can be a huge weapon for him, but Johnson's last thirteen months on the grass have not been as strong for him as he would have liked.

In that time Johnson is holding at right around 75%, but that is someway short of what he would expect. In 2018 Medvedev is holding at a much better rate of 86% through his four matches and Johnson is not exactly the best returner on the Tour which should mean Medvedev has the edge in the match.

Medvedev has won all three matches between these players and he has not really been threatened on the serve that consistently. He has also found a way to get into the Johnson service games and I like the youngster to win this match in what has been priced up as a pick 'em contest.

Mischa Zverev - 3.5 games v Nicolas Jarry: A 1-2 record on the grass courts in 2018 might not highlight how much Mischa Zverev loves playing on this surface, but he has not been blessed with kind draws. That is not the case in Eastbourne where Zverev begins his campaign against clay court specialist Nicolas Jarry on Tuesday.

This has been a big season for Jarry and that should inspire some confidence to take into matches for the last six months of 2018. However the move onto the grass courts may be the most difficult for Jarry who has never won a match on this surface.

Last season Jarry struggled when it came to holding serve and I think that will give Mischa Zverev a chance to win this match without too many real issues. My only concern for the German is that he is not always the most effective returner and the Jarry first serve is a big enough shot to at least produce some cheap points on an unfamiliar surface to him.

Zverev's returning numbers are pretty poor, but he may have more joy than usual in this match if Jarry continues to have problems. There is also the additional pressure Zverev can put on Jarry by slicing the ball down low and also getting up to the net and making his opponent hit a number of passing shots to try and win the match.

He will also be in a position to put some scoreboard pressure on Jarry with Zverev's serve a strong factor in any win the German puts together. Zverev has had some strong holding numbers throughout his career on the grass courts and that is where he begins to build his pressure on opponents who will know that one break of serve could be all it takes to cost them a set.

Credit also where it is due and that is to say that Zverev hasn't returned too badly on the grass courts in 2016 and 2017 with similar number of points won against the serve. However last year he started to add a few more breaks to the percentage of points won and I think his 2018 numbers have only been affected by taking on big serving players like Roger Federer and Karen Khachanov who can be very tough to break.

Someone like Jarry is perhaps not as capable as those players, especially not on the grass courts and I think Zverev can be backed to earn at least a couple of breaks of serve in this match which may be enough to cover this number.

Daniel Brands v Cameron Norrie: One of these players is a Qualifier and one has been given a Wild Card and the layers are finding it a little difficult to separate Daniel Brands and Cameron Norrie in this First Round match in Eastbourne.

I am a little surprised by that and I do think Daniel Brands deserves his spot as the favourite while he is at a price that looks to be worth backing.

Injury and a loss of form has seen Brands drop outside of the top 300 of the World Rankings, but he may be ready to make a move upwards having produced some solid results on the grass courts over the last month. This should be a surface that suits the German, although it has been tough for him in recent years and that is perhaps why the layers have some doubts about him.

In 2018 Brands has been serving very well on the grass courts and a win over Jack Sock during the Qualifiers here in Eastbourne would have given him a lot of confidence. The one defeat Brands has suffered came at the hands of Jeremy Chardy who has been in great form since moving onto the grass courts and Brands has some strong numbers to show for his 6-1 record.

There is room for improvement for Brands when it comes to the return of serve, but he may have more joy against Cameron Norrie who has lost both matches on the grass in 2018. It is clear that Norrie is not completely at ease on the grass and his 68% hold percentage is not effective enough on a surface where one or two breaks of serve can cost you the match.

That poor serving will give Brands a chance to improve on his return of serve, especially if he keeps serving as well as he has been over the last month. He has to make sure he is aware of the fact he is playing a left handed opponent, but Brands will believe he can keep Norrie under pressure considering how poorly the British player has returned.

It will be a close match, but I like Brands here to find a way to the win.

MY PICKS: Daniil Medvedev @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Mischa Zverev - 3.5 Games @ 2.05 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Daniel Brands @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Jelena Ostapenko @ 1.80 William Hill (2 Units)
Mihaela Buzarnescu @ 1.90 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Anastasija Sevastova - 4.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Angelique Kerber - 3.5 Games @ 1.85 William Hill (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 4-2, + 3.46 Units (12 Units Staked, + 28.83% Yield)

Monday, 25 June 2018

World Cup 2018 Group Picks (June 25-28)

The football at the World Cup may not have always been the most high quality, but there has been plenty of attacking in play and a lot of intriguing moments.

Things should begin to heat up now in the final round of Group games which are effectively knock out games for a number of nations, while others are more comfortable and preparing for the Second Round which begins this weekend.

We have already seen a number of nations bid farewell to Russia and who will be completing their final scheduled fixtures this week before boarding on a flight to get some well earned rest before the European Football season recommences in around six to seven weeks time. Some of the fans will be missed, most notably the Peruvians, while another couple of well backed South American nations are on the brink of elimination with 'must win' games coming up this week for Argentina and Colombia.

It does look like a tournament that could produce some top games in the Second Round with the potential to see France vs Argentina, Spain vs Uruguay and Brazil vs Germany all coming up depending on how results go this week. That is big news for the neutrals but perhaps less exciting for anyone who has backed the five favourites this week knowing there is a real chance for up to three exiting before the Quarter Final.

Perhaps this really is the year for a big priced winner at the World Cup like we have seen in the European Championship in recent years. Belgium, Mexico and Croatia have been stand out teams in the Group so far and all won't be too displeased with the potential route to the Semi Final and from there who knows that could happen.

And then there is England... Two positive results is building the optimism around a young group of players, but winning Group G, which they lead after the 6-1 win over Panama, might actually be a poisoned chalice in the grand scheme of things.

So far this World Cup has been a decent one for the Picks made as you can see below, but I do want more consistency. A missed penalty here and a couple of teams failing to capitalise on situations have let me down, but they have been balanced out by late goals for others which means I have to be satisfied with the results so far.

This week could be more difficult with teams likely looking to rest players in anticipation of the Second Round while some heads may have dropped thanks to early exits. With perhaps a more difficult minefield to negotiate, I would think it is wise to restrict stakes on some matches with bigger games to come later in the tournament.

Monday 25th June
Saudi Arabia v Egypt Pick: This has been a disappointing World Cup for both Saudi Arabia and Egypt who would have been hoping to at least be in contention for a Last 16 spot going into the final round of Group games. Instead both have been eliminated after being beaten in both Group games played so far, although the chance to win a World Cup game has to give the players motivation.

I am not too sure I can back Egypt at odds on when you hear the stories coming out of the camp that Mohamed Salah is considering retirement from the national team after some poor photo ops arranged by his nation.

He is clearly not at 100% either and I do think Egypt will be dealing with more disappointment than Saudi Arabia as I genuinely think they believed they could make the Second Round. That is hard to pick yourself up from and I do think Saudi Arabia are perhaps good enough to capitalise on that.

They were very poor against Russia, but much improved when taking on Uruguay and a similar level of performance to the latter will give Saudi Arabia a chance of at least securing a World Cup point.

Saudi Arabia have lost 4 of their 6 previous matches against Egypt which would be a concern, but their players might have more left emotionally to give to this tournament. Keeping even a half fit Salah quiet won't be easy, but I think Saudi Arabia will at least keep this competitive if they cannot steal a point and I will look to back them on the Asian Handicap.

Uruguay v Russia Pick: In a tournament that has produced plenty of goals and not a single goalless draw it is perhaps a surprise that I will be going to a market like the one I will for the Uruguay and Russia final Group A game.

Both teams have already made it through to the Second Round and at the moment it is Russia who will go in as Group Winners which likely means avoiding playing Spain in the Last 16. Instead they are likely to be paired up with either Portugal or Iran depending on how that game develops on Monday evening and I think that is motivation enough for both of these nations to look to finish top of Group A.

But even then I don't expect Uruguay to suddenly rip up their own script and play an expansive style of football. They knew goal difference could be important last week and that didn't see them produce a lot of urgency in the 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia which saw Uruguay struggle in open play and rely on a set piece goal.

It is also quite difficult to get a real read on Russia whose distance covered numbers are eye opening to say the least, especially when you think of some of the dubious moves made in the past. However they have not played anyone of the calibre of Uruguay who won't make the mistakes at the back that contributed to the heavy losses Saudi Arabia and Egypt suffered against this Russian team.

Instead I think Uruguay will be well organised and I would fancy them having a good chance to stifle the hosts. The actual game will be a good watch depending on how much Uruguay push to try and win it and finish as Group Winners, but I am not convinced they will change their hard to beat tactics and hope for some magic from Luis Suarez or Edinson Cavani.

With that in mind I will have a small interest on these teams combining for less than two goals on Monday with a real chance the game crawls to the finish if they are tied with 20 minutes left to play.

Iran v Portugal Pick: While everything has been settled in Group A which is concluded on Monday afternoon, on Monday evening we have two Group B games with three of the four nations still fighting it out for the top two positions in the Group.

The more important match is being played in Saransk where Iran face Portugal and the winning team will be making it through to the Last 16. It is Portugal who hold the slight edge having drawn with Spain to ensure they are a point clear of Iran going into the final round of Group games, but the European Champions have been far from convincing and were very fortunate to beat Morocco last time out.

An early Cristiano Ronaldo goal gave them something to hold onto, but it was only some terrible finishing from Morocco at key times which prevented them from sharing the spoils which was the least they deserved. I imagine that will have given Fernando Santos more reason to try and batten down the hatches and not offer the same sort of encouragement to Iran.

I expect Iran to also be well organised knowing they only need one goal to make it through to the Last 16 and Carlos Queiroz won't shift too dramatically from the style that has made them hard to beat. Only a correctly awarded offside decision by the VAR prevented Iran from stealing a point against Spain and I imagine we are going to see plenty more valiant defending to try and stay in the game as long as possible.

It does feel like this could be a fixture where both teams stand off one another for the first 60 minutes knowing they don't want to give the other too many chances. Cristiano Ronaldo is the difference maker who is capable of something magic to break down any well organised defensive unit, but I expect Queiroz will have drilled his defenders with tips to deal with a player he is very familiar with.

A lack of goals in the Iran team is a major concern for them, but they will feel they can create something as long as they are in this game and it feels like a tight game could develop. Outside of the 3-3 draw between Portugal and Spain, Group B has not been blessed with a lot of goals as the other three games have all ended 1-0.

Fernando Santos won't be worrying about pleasing the crowd and will set his Portugal team up to be tough to beat and I don't believe we will see a lot of goals. An early goal will change the entire feeling of the match though, which is a concern, but I will back less than two goals to be scored here for a small interest in this important Group B fixture.

Spain v Morocco Pick: It is going to take something a little special to happen to prevent Spain from making it through to the Last 16 of the World Cup Finals, but they still have work to do if they want to win Group B.

On the face of things it does feel like winning this Group is going to offer the better passage in the Knock Out Stage, although that could become a little clearer once Group A is completed on Monday afternoon. Either way I don't think there is much difference between playing Uruguay or the hosts Russia with both tough games to come in the Second Round, while further ahead the Group Winner likely takes on Croatia in the Quarter Final and the Runner Up will be paired with France.

That should mean Fernando Hierro is just concentrating his players on making it out of the Group by beating the already eliminated Morocco.

A late goal in the first game and an early goal in the second game have seen Morocco beaten 1-0 twice by Iran and Portugal, but I don't think anyone can really tell me how that has happened. Morocco have been the better team in both of those fixtures, but poor finishing has let them down.

Scoring a World Cup goal is still not beyond them though as Spain have looked a little vulnerable at the back. We know Portugal managed three in the first game, but Iran had a couple of very threatening moments and I think this Morocco team are better going forward than the Iranians are even if they have yet to show that on the scoreboard. I certainly think Morocco will have some opportunities in this one and they can give Spain something to think about, even if ultimately the Spanish side will find a way to break them down.

I did consider backing both teams to score in this one, but I do still lean towards Spain wanting to win the Group and I think they will have enough quality to do that. It is hard to really trust Morocco to take the chances they create, but I think they could be playing with a 'nothing to lose' attitude which will help the composure so a small interest on Spain winning a match where both teams get on the scoreboard looks worth backing.

Tuesday 26th June
Australia v Peru Pick: The situation has become clear for both Australia and Peru with one barely hanging on to their World Cup status and one already heading home.

It will be sad to see Peru departing from the World Cup after their fans have lit up the tournament, but those fans will say they are just happy to see their nation on the biggest stage again. Surprisingly Peru have yet to give them something to really shout about having lost both games played without scoring a goal, but they have had chances and they can provide some joy by getting after Australia.

For the Australians the 1-1 draw against Denmark might have felt a disappointment as they made much of the running in the second half and had the best opportunities in the game. It has left them three points behind the Danes with one game to play and Australia know they have to beat Peru and hope France can beat Denmark to have any chance of reaching the Last 16 of the World Cup Finals.

It is a tough position to be in knowing a point would suit both Denmark and France in achieving their goals, but Australia cannot think like that and have to make sure they do their job on the day.

This is far from an easy game for Australia who have needed two penalties to score in the World Cup. The attacking play hasn't been bad, but there is a feeling Australia will struggle for a lot of goals from open play, although they do have the bonus of being a big team that could cause Peru problems from set plays if the delivery is right.

Peru will also feel they have something to prove here after limping to a loss to the French team last time out. It was almost like they were unaware how damaging a loss would have been, but they were better against Denmark and I think the creativity they do have will see them get on the scoreboard.

With the situation as it is I can see Australia taking risks to score the goals they need to progress too and I am looking at the teams both getting a goal in this one. I think they go one further than that too and I will back at least three goals shared out between two teams who will feel they have missed opportunities already in the World Cup.

Denmark v France Pick: As soon as the second round robin of Group C games were completed there would have been a rush from the layers to significantly shorten the price of Denmark and France playing out a draw. This is clearly a result that would suit both as France would win the Group and Denmark would be guaranteed a place in the Last 16.

However I am not completely convinced France are going to play ball here.

There is a precedent though which has to worry Australia- France have not won their third Group game at a major international tournament since the 2006 World Cup and that was a game they had to win to make it out of the Group. There has been a single Group Stage exit in the time since at the 2010 World Cup, but more worrying for Australia has to be the fact that France have drawn 0-0 in their last two major tournament Finals in the final Group game and those have come after winning the opening two matches.

Both times the draw suited France who were able to move through as Group Winners, and last time at the Euro 2016 Finals the draw was good against the team who were 2nd in the Group and would have ensured they finished in that position with a point.

That simply doesn't bode well for Australia here and Denmark are organised enough to try and keep France at arm's length before both teams perhaps decide they will conserve energy for another day. I hate to think like that, but I would be foolish to ignore it and the 0-0 draw is where my interest lies.

We have yet to see one at the World Cup in 2018, but I can't ignore how much it will suit both nations in this one. I can't imagine Denmark risk trying to win the Group unless they hear Australia are losing heavily in the other game in the Group, but even then they won't want to risk a loss when a point is all they need.

France may make some changes and will be good to get out of Group C as the Winners and so a very small interest in the goalless draw is warranted for me here. Others may play 'No Goalscorer' which covers an own goal separating these sides, but I will back the goalless draw and see if France are involved in that scoreline in their third Group game for the third major tournament in a row.

Iceland v Croatia Pick: The biggest fear for Argentina had to have been anything but a Nigeria win in the match against Iceland as they chewed over their 0-3 defeat to Croatia from the previous evening.

I very much thought an Iceland win would have seen these two nations accept a draw which would have helped both achieve their goals. Even a draw in the Nigeria-Iceland match would have had me leaning towards a poor day in the office for Croatia which would have seen Iceland secure the result that took them through to the Last 16 behind Croatia.

The Nigeria win on Friday means everything changes for Iceland as they have to get forward and find a way to create chances and score the goals they will need if they want to sneak through to the Last 16. A 1-0 win would be good enough to secure a second place position if Argentina only beat Nigeria by a one goal margin, but even winning this game won't be easy for Iceland.

There is a feeling Croatia could ease off the gas now they are through to the Last 16 and almost certainly going to progress as Group Winners. However they won't want to lose any momentum with the Second Round to come in a few days time and I do think the layers have factored the potential lack of intensity into the price for the Croatia win.

I would have been very much eyeing up Croatia perhaps slipping and not concentrating if a defeat meant Argentina were knocked out of the tournament, but this is a team that think they can go very far in the World Cup. After crushing Argentina I don't think Croatia worry about the fate of the South Americans now and instead are focusing on getting out of the Group with another strong performance.

They could make some changes to the starting eleven, but Croatia should be able to still dictate play and they certainly have the talent to expose Iceland if the latter have to chase the game. At some Iceland will have to take chances and that is when I believe Croatia will be able to find some openings which help them win this game.

Being able to back Croatia on the Asian Handicap at odds against knowing half my stake will be returned if the game ends in a draw looks very big. A team who have looked as good as any in the World Cup will have a few days to rest and get ready for the Last 16 Knock Out tie and I think Croatia will want to go into that with the momentum that comes from winning games.

With Iceland likely having to change their style and getting out of the comfort zone at some point, I like Croatia to win this game and will back them to do so on the Asian Handicap.

Nigeria v Argentina Pick: From the depths of despair on Thursday evening came the optimism of Friday afternoon for Argentina fans who know their nation is still very much alive in the World Cup Finals. After losing to Croatia so many would have expected Argentina to be returning home, but Nigeria's win over Iceland on Friday means a win could be good enough for Argentina to make the Last 16 of the 2018 World Cup.

This nation have not missed out on making the Last 16 since 2002 and Argentina fans would not have had much hope after two disappointing performances. There is still so much talent in the forward areas, but Argentina have not transitioned to the attacking side of their game as they would have liked and it has been easy for teams to mark Lionel Messi and prevent this team ticking.

I expect Jorge Sampaoli to take all the risks in this one and I would not be surprised to see another change of system which will bring in Paulo Dybala to offer more creativity in the final third. That could free up Messi, who is still the key for Argentina, but the defensive problems means Argentina will always be vulnerable in this one.

They are facing a Nigeria team who will be confident after a deserved 2-0 win over Iceland in their last game when they were considerably better than in the 0-2 defeat to Croatia. The pace in the forward positions will make Nigeria a threat if they are willing to take risks by getting at the Argentina defence and this feels like a game that will see plenty of chances at both ends of the field.

The onus is on Argentina to get forward and score goals and that should make this an open game with Nigeria expected to be very dangerous if they get their counter attacks right. The 4-2 friendly win over Argentina in November 2017 should give Nigeria some belief even if they have faced this nation four times in the World Cup Finals in twenty-four years and been beaten each time.

The last 4 games between Nigeria and Argentina have featured plenty of goals including a 3-2 win for Argentina in the 2014 World Cup Group Stage. There have been at least four goals scored in the last 4 between these nations and I think it will be another attacking game of football in a Group which has seen plenty of chances created by teams even if only one of the four Group games has featured more than two goals shared out.

All four Group games have got to two goals shared out and the situation is clear for both teams in this one to think there will be chances created throughout the ninety minutes. That should mean we see at least three goals in this one and that is my selection from the game.

Also I have this to say to anyone who has backed the same selections from the outright preview of this Group- after selecting both Argentina and Croatia to fail to qualify for the Last 16 we have a 9/2 shot on our side here. I would suggest there is a position to be locked in here by backing Argentina to qualify at 1.72 in various places although I do think that is a short price.

There is a clear path through for Argentina though and you can secure a profit by having some cash on them to get out of the Group if already backed Argentina to miss out on the Last 16.

Wednesday 27th June
Mexico v Sweden Pick: For most teams winning two games in the Group would be enough to make it through to the Last 16 of the World Cup Finals, but Mexico's position has yet to be secured. They are still very much favourites to win this Group, but the danger is a 2-0 defeat to Sweden coupled with a Germany win by a couple of goals would be enough to see Mexico slip down to 3rd in this section and see them head home before the Knock Out Rounds.

It is a big ask for Sweden to do that considering the absolute hammer of an emotional blow they took when losing to ten man Germany deep into injury time. A point in that game would have meant the Swedes needed just a point from this one to see off the defending World Champions but instead they are now going to have to come out of their comfort zone.

A one goal win would be enough for Sweden to make it through to the Last 16 so they could delay going hell for leather in this one, but they have to show a little more forward thrust. There is a scenario where a draw would be enough and perhaps even a defeat, but most Swedish fans have to accept that Germany are most likely going to beat South Korea which means the pressure is on to win this game.

The temptation for Mexico to rest players has also been removed knowing a loss makes them the most likely team to exit the tournament. If Mexico lose and Germany win by two or more goals it will be Mexico heading home with the two European teams making it through to the Last 16 and that puts some pressure on the Mexican team.

However I think the energy Mexico have shown in the forward areas is hard to ignore and at some point in this one Sweden will have to try and get into attacking areas and commit men. The first half could be a slow burner as the teams just get a feel for one another, but the tension will ramp up and I am favouring Mexico to find the right answers.

Sweden have created chances and scored in both games played so far which has been a surprising aspect of their play. That should give them some confidence, but picking yourself up from the devastating defeat to Germany is going to be very difficult and I think backing Mexico on the Asian Handicap is the right play as they perhaps catch Sweden overcommitting at some point.

South Korea v Germany Pick: It looked like Germany were going to be the third straight defending World Cup Champion who would be exiting the next Finals in the Group Stage.

Then up stepped Toni Kroos to save the nation.

The 2-1 win over Sweden means Germany are in a strong position to make it through to the Last 16 but things are not as simple as they look. If Sweden have recovered mentally from the defeat to Germany, a 1-0 win would be enough to take them through to the Last 16.

In that situation Germany would need to win by a two goal margin or score more goals than Sweden in a one goal win and that would also mean they would be going through as Group Winners and avoid the potential Last 16 tie with Brazil which looks a huge possibility.

I don't think anyone in the German camp will be worrying about who they could potentially face in the Last 16 but instead want to take the lifeline they have earned and make it through to the Knock Out Rounds. They have to defend better than they have so far, but Germany will be confident they can beat a South Korea team who are almost heading home.

South Korea have not been very good in the tournament and they are heavily reliant on Son Heung-min who scored a special goal in the 1-2 defeat to Mexico which has put them on the brink of exiting the tournament. It will need a couple of huge upsets for South Korea to make it through to the Last 16 and they have to go on the search for goals, but that should play into the hands of Germany and I think the World Champions won't miss out on the opportunity they have created for themselves.

I expect Germany to dictate the tempo of this one and I think they have to show better defensive shape as they did in the second half against Sweden. I expect Germany to pick up from where they left off and I am pretty sure they are going to win this game by a decent margin even in a tournament where so many of the favourites have flattered to deceive in matches when set as a strong favourite.

Serbia v Brazil Pick: The two Last 16 places at the top of Group E are still very much up for grabs and one of those, at least, are going to either Serbia or Brazil. The winner of this match is going to definitely go through and I think this could make it an exciting game with both Serbia and Brazil better going forward than they are defending.

There is a situation in which Brazil can lose and still go through, but they will need a big favour from Costa Rica and the pressure is on another of the big nations.

Like many others, Brazil have made it harder work for themselves by not winning one of their two Group games played and they needed two very late goals to win the last one against Costa Rica. That has made them favourites to progress, but the fans back home will be demanding more from a team who had been flying in friendlies heading into the tournament in Russia.

I do wonder if the players are feeling the pressure of having to make up for the humiliating ending to the 2014 World Cup on home soil when Brazil conceded 10 goals in their final two games. They have been a little slow with their tempo and the players have not been as intense all over the pitch as the manager would like.

The situation in this one is better than the Costa Rica game as that team were content playing out for a point. This time Brazil are facing a team who have to come forward and score goals with a draw not going to be good enough for Serbia after losing 1-2 to Switzerland from a winning position on Friday.

Serbia now have to commit men forward, but they have shown enough to think they can challenge a Brazilian defence which is far from watertight. However I see a situation where they have to chase the game at times which may leave things open for Brazil to counter and finish this match off too and so my lean is the South American nation are able to win and likely win the Group.

My one concern is there is a potential for Brazil to settle for a draw if it means avoiding facing Germany in the Last 16 if it has been confirmed the World Champions have finished 2nd in Group F earlier in the day. A draw would likely be good enough for Brazil to finish 2nd in this Group, but it is a risky play and I think it is perhaps too risky at this point of the Group.

Backing Brazil to win a game where there is at least two goals scored in the match is the play for me here.

Switzerland v Costa Rica Pick: There was some real controversy out of the Switzerland win over Serbia with the latter very upset with the actions of the two goalscorers in that game. Both Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri have avoided bans though and that is key for the Swiss who are looking to secure their place in the Last 16.

There shouldn't be too many problems for them in doing that even if Switzerland are a team that don't look as good as they perform. They work well as a team and facing an already eliminated opponent will mean Switzerland are very much in line to get the point they need to progress.

Some may be looking at something even better by winning the Group, but Switzerland could actually benefit from finishing 2nd and entering the weaker side of the Knock Out Stages.

With that in mind it is a surprise to see Switzerland as short as they are to win this match assuming Germany have finished 2nd in Group F. If that has happened earlier in the day I am not sure Switzerland are going to be pushing for a win in this one knowing a point would be good enough to secure 2nd place regardless of what has happened in the other game being played at the same time.

Costa Rica have not been very good in this tournament as the squad has not transitioned to a younger core in the four years since making the World Cup Quarter Final. They have shown some defensive strength to hold out against Brazil for the full 90 minutes before being undone in injury time, but in the other game against Serbia Costa Rica were poor.

What has happened is they have created chances in both games and I think Costa Rica will have their chances in this one too if Switzerland are just lacking a bit of forward intensity. It would be a surprise if the Swiss didn't have their own chances and in a World Cup that has featured plenty of goals this could be the latest to go down that route.

Instead of the over 2.5 goals option I will back both teams to score with the 1-1 a real player as far as I am concerned and that can be found at a similar price to the over option.

Thursday 28th June
Japan v Poland Pick: If you were to point to the biggest disappointment of the World Cup Finals so far I think Poland could be the team who would take that 'honour'.

Some would say Argentina, but at least Argentina go into their final Group game with Qualification to the Last 16 still an option, whereas Poland are out of the tournament after playing just two games. The manner of the losses have been so disheartening for Poland fans who would have been hoping they could have a big tournament after reaching the Euro 2016 Quarter Final and only being beaten on penalties by eventual Winners Portugal.

Instead they have barely been a threat in the first two games and now have nothing but pride to play for in the final game.

I expect Poland will have some opportunities to impress against a Japan team who have really overachieved at this point and are on the brink of making the Last 16. A point is needed to secure that spot else they will be keeping a keen eye on how things are going in the other game in the Group, but Japan have to be better defensively if they are going to earn that.

Playing an already eliminated opponent has to be a boost for Japan because they have the energy and work rate to make life difficult for Poland which could take away any remaining enthusiasm the European team will be feeling. Japan did not have big expectations in the tournament but have shown they can do enough from an attacking perspective to create opportunities and I don't think that will be any different in this match.

I'm not convinced about Japan, but Poland look in disarray and so I am leaning towards the Asian team earning a positive result. However it may not be easy with the defensive issues Japan have continued to demonstrate and I expect Poland will do everything they can to at least give their fans something to shout about.

Backing at least three goals to be scored in a match featuring these two teams is odds against and I like that option. All four games featuring these nations at the World Cup Finals have ended with at least three goals shared out and neither is sound enough defensively to believe that won't be the case here.

A 1-1 scoreline with the game running down is a concern as that would be enough for Japan to sit in and protect the point they are earning. However I think there may be enough defensive problems earlier in the game to see the three goals hit before we get to that stage of the game.

Senegal v Colombia Pick: You would think earning 4 points from the first couple of Group games would mean a team is in a comfortable position to believe they can make the Last 16 of the World Cup. However Senegal will know they are playing arguably the best team in the Group in their final game and a team who will be desperate to secure the three points they need to make it through to the Last 16 themselves.

This should not have been an issue for Senegal who beat Poland and then twice had the lead against Japan before being pegged back for a 2-2 draw. Now they are in a position where they have to earn a result against a confident Colombia side off the back of an impressive 3-0 win over Poland.

A defeat for Senegal would mean they are relying on already eliminated Poland to beat Japan and so this is a tough position for the African team to be in. They have shown enough going forward to think they can pose a threat, but the defensive work against Japan was very, very poor and the goalkeeper is not someone I would be very confident in.

Now they face Colombia who looked so impressive against Poland and who only lost their first game because they played that match with Japan for ten men for almost the entire game. With the players they have in forward areas Colombia will believe they can expose the Senegal back line as Japan did and I do think they can win this one.

Of course there is the risk of overcommitting if Colombia are still level with Senegal with the game into the final 20 minutes, but I think they are the better team and they can still win this Group. The onus is on Colombia, but they won't mind that with the quality they have in the final third.

They were sometimes guilty of overplaying in the final third or they misplaced the final ball which would have undone Poland, but Colombia should have enough here. I like the way Senegal go about things and I think their pace in the final third is a real problem to deal with, but Colombia are the better team with the better attacking players in a number of positions and I think they win this one in what could be a really good game of football.

England v Belgium Pick: Most expected the final game between England and Belgium to be a decider when it comes to winning Group G and that is how it has boiled down after both nations earned wins over Panama and Tunisia.

While it would have been expected that winning the Group was going to be important to both managers, the situation with Germany has really changed the landscape. If Germany don't win Group F, as is the expectation at the time of writing, then the team finishing in 2nd place in Group G will have a much 'easier' section of the Knock Out Stage to deal with.

That is only added to by the chance of Colombia failing to win Group H which means the team winning Group G could have to face Colombia and then Brazil or Germany just to make the Semi Final.

On the other hand the team finishing 2nd is potentially in line to face Japan and then the winner of Mexico and Switzerland which is clearly a much more enticing run to the Semi Final.

What does that all mean? It means this final game in the Group is one neither England or Belgium should really want to win and Belgium are going to be finishing 2nd because of their poorer disciplinary record if they don't win this one. Roberto Martinez has already made it clear he is going to make wholesale changes to his squad and I don't think anything that will have happened is going to change his mind now.

Could this be a controversial game where the teams are trying to rack up the bookings or potentially allowing the other to beat them? It does raise some questions when you think of the obvious advantage of finishing 2nd in the Group assuming everything goes the way it should in the days ahead.

You certainly can't ignore it and I would suggest holding your money on this fixture until the Group E and F games are completed on Wednesday. By then you will at least know if 2nd place in Group G means avoiding both Brazil and Germany in the Quarter Final, while Group H will be finalised in the hours leading up to kick off in this fixture which will mean the Last 16 ties are set for the Winner and Runner Up.

I think the situation is such that Gareth Southgate will have to embrace where England are and so pick a team that beats Belgium to show they fear no one they are going to face in the next couple of weeks. The pathway is not ideal, but I do think there is a real potential England could avoid Colombia who I fancy to win Group H but either way Southgate will not want to show his players that he 'fears' winning the Group.

Martinez is in a much better position with Belgium as he announced his intentions BEFORE England battered Panama to take over at the top of the Group. He can make it clear that he always intended to make wholesale changes and ultimately his Belgium team will benefit.

There is a rivalry that could spice the game up a little bit with the Belgian squad involving so many Premier League players who will want bragging rights. However winning a World Cup will be more important than this one game and I am anticipating Southgate will pick a strong team which is capable of winning the game and winning the Group.

Belgium have a deep squad but if Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Dries Mertens and Romelu Lukaku are missing they are clearly not as good as they could be. Take out Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Meunier from defensive roles and Belgium take another hit so I am backing England on the Asian Handicap to win this one at the time of writing.

I would most definitely wait to see how the Groups before this one pan out before making a final play, but I think England will be the stronger team on the night as Belgium refuse to really want to win this game. If Germany have somehow won their Group then Belgium may make more effort, but if they are set to face Brazil in the Second Round and then one of those teams will be waiting for the Winner of Group G if they progress past the Last 16 means it is unlikely the Belgium team will push too hard to find a winner.

England will want to go into the tough battles with the momentum of three Group wins now they are unlikely to finish 2nd barring some outrageous tackling, and I think they will be a good team to back by Wednesday night when Group E and F has been decided.

Panama v Tunisia Pick: The World Cup may be coming to an end for both Panama and Tunisia but both teams should be highly motivated to earn a result that will see them return home as heroes.

The pressure is on Tunisia because the Panama players have already secured their spot in the hearts of the fans having just made it through to the World Cup Finals. They have also scored a goal here which would have been the minimum aim and now Panama can have a free shot on winning a World Cup point or even a first ever World Cup win.

For Tunisia the fans would have expected to break their long wait for a World Cup win in Russia. The nation won their first ever World Cup game back in 1978 but they have since failed to win any of 13 Finals games and the match with Panama is clearly a big opportunity for these players to snap the long wait.

That puts pressure on players to perform and that is my one fear for Tunisia who are also missing so many key players through injury. The injuries to the starting goalkeeper and two starting centre halves is a major blow to a team who had lost their star striker prior to the tournament and it is going to be a challenge for Tunisia to pick themselves up from the 'bad breaks' they will feel they have been given.

However they should be the team providing the most quality in this one having scored goals against both Belgium and England in the Group. There hasn't been sustained moments of threat from Tunisia but they are now facing a defence that has been naive at time and I would fully expect the African nation to win this one.

I won't be overly surprised if Panama add to their goal scored against England though as Tunisia have not defended well at all, but I would still think Tunisia have enough about them to expose their opponents from set pieces as England did. Ultimately I do think Tunisia will have to score at least twice to win this one and I do think they are good enough to edge out Panama.

It makes my selection fairly easy in backing Tunisia to win a game that features at least two goals on the night as these two nations bid farewell to Russia.

MY PICKS: Saudi Arabia + 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Uruguay-Russia Under 1.5 Goals @ 2.75 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Iran-Portugal Under 1.5 Goals @ 2.80 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
Spain to Win & Both Teams to Score @ 3.40 Boyle Sports (1 Unit)
Australia-Peru Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.15 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Denmark-France 0-0 Correct Score @ 6.50 Ladbrokes (0.5 Units)
Croatia - 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Nigeria-Argentina Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Mexico - 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Germany - 1.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Brazil to Win & Over 1.5 Goals @ 1.85 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Switzerland-Costa Rica Both Teams to Score @ 2.15 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Japan-Poland Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Colombia @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
England 0 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Tunisia to Win & Over 1.5 Goals @ 2.20 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

Group Stage Round Robin Three Update: 8-8, + 3.53 Units (27.50 Units Staked, + 12.84% Yield)

Group Stage Round Robin Two Final8-7-1, + 1.09 Units (31 Units Staked, + 3.52% Yield)
Group Stage Round Robin One Final8-8, + 5.24 Units (28 Units Staked, + 18.71% Yield)