Belgium vs Japan: Can the Samurai Blue Even Dent the Belgians?

Belgium vs Japan

If you point a gun to any football fan’s head and demand which knockout game of the 2018 World Cup is the easiest to predict and the safest to bet on, most of them will say Belgium vs Japan without so much as even a blink.

This is probably the most lopsided match in the eight games that will be played in the knockout stages, and that claim comes with good reason.

In Belgium, you have one of the most impressive attacking sides in Russia. A dangerous side that can easily overwhelm with you with a beautiful lob past your defensive line and fire a blazing ball past your defending goalkeeper. This squad has its Golden Generation of players playing successful football all around the world.

Meanwhile, Japan are the last team you’d expect to make it far into the competition. The Samurai Blue managed to get out of a very curious group to make it to the final stages, but the quality of players Akira Nishino has cannot even hold a candle to the Belgians.

It will be interesting to see how things will pan out, but I have no doubt that this will end with the Belgians smiling on to the next stage and the Japanese packing their bags on the way back home.

Talking Points

Belgium does not expect any surprises from Japan in World Cup 2018 round of 16

Kevin De Bruyne will return for the game vs Japan having been rested against England for fears over yellow card punishment

The first two games of the knockout stages have opened the floodgates for the rest of the countries still in the competition. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, two of the best players to ever pick up the sport, were sent packing in rapid succession by France and Uruguay, respectively.

With the two supposed giants now out of the competition, the gates are more than open for Belgium to punch through and gun for the World Cup title.

Their big win against England — despite rumours of England supposedly forfeiting the game on purpose — is a huge confidence booster for the Red Devils. The mere fact that Manchester United reject Adnan Januzaj was the one who scored the goal just validates the amount of talent this team has.

Moreover, Kevin De Bruyne has been nothing short of brilliant for Belgium. According to Roberto Martinez, the Manchester City man is highly underrated and isn’t given enough attention by the media. While it is understandable that Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard are the biggest stars in the team, he believes that he will make a huge impact in the upcoming match.

This game will be a tough nut to crack for Japan because they certainly don’t have the same quality of players moving forward. While Keisuke Honda, Shinji Okazaki and Shinji Kagawa have found success in Europe, I don’t believe that they can simply overcome a defensive line that could feature Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertonghen.

Moreover, their failure to keep surprise bottom feeders Poland from scoring a goal is a testament to how leaky of a defence they’ve got. The mere fact that their disciplinary record was the only thing that got them over a much more impressive Senegal team is something that not a lot of Japanese should be proud of.

Eiji Kawashima should coordinate a solid defence with Yuto Nagatomo, Hiroki Sakai and Maya Yoshida if they hope of even making it to extra time.

History

The current trends do point to Belgium easily taking the cake against the Japanese, but previous Belgium vs Japan results tell a very different story.

The two sides first met at the 1999 Kirin Cup, where the two countries played out a scoreless draw. The next four matches these two played panned out in an interesting way: the Samurai Blue won two games, drew one and lost the latest one.

They played each other during the group stage of the 2002 World Cup, and the Saitama Stadium 2002 willed the Japanese to a superb 2-2 draw against the Red Devils. They did this to a Belgian team that had former Ivory Coast boss Marc Wilmots at the helm.

However, the most shocking result would be the 4-0 victory Japan handed Belgium at the Kokuritsu Stadium in Tokyo. Nagatomo and Okazaki scored during that game, while Vermaelen and Alderweireld were just kicking off their international careers.

Belgium have taken back a game after playing the Samurai Blue in Bruges. Romelu Lukaku scored the only goal late in the game against a Japanese side that was then still managed by Vahid Halilhodzic.

Nishino should definitely point to their prior engagements with Belgium if they want to pull off the greatest gian- killing of the tournament.

What are the odds?

Japan will face a very serious challenge from Belgium’s overpowering offense led by Romelu Lakaku in FIFA 2018

Japan fans excited to find out their teams’ fate in the knock out stage

There are very intriguing Belgium vs Japan odds in store for the discerning punter. As expected, almost every single market is banking on the Belgians to take the W and move on to the quarter-finals.

The Red Devils’ 1X2 odds are pretty terrible, so there’s no way to go but the Asian Handicap market. Belgium’s -1.50 handicap will reward punters with 2.29. The First Half Asian Handicap offers a much bigger 2.42 reward for a -0.75 risk.

However, there is a huge bounty in store for the brave few who believe in the indomitable will of the Japanese. If you want to go big, go straight for Japan’s 1X2 odds of 8.00. If Honda somehow repeats his heroics against Senegal and pull off a fantastic upset, you will be swimming in a good deal of winnings.

Given Belgium’s tendencies to dish out high-scoring games, it would be foolish not to check Over 2.75 goals for 2.26. However, should the Japanese turtle it out and risk a penalty shootout, Under 2.25 goals is available for 2.19.

Keep your eyes peeled on us for more news and updates regarding this match. While this seems like an easy win for Belgium, you’ll never what will happen until that final whistle is blown.

Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

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Another FIFA 2018 Classic as Cavani Sends Ronaldo Home!

Uruguay 2-1 Portugal

Edinson Cavani scored a brilliant double in Sochi to take Uruguay to the quarter-finals and send Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal tumbling out of the World Cup.

This was a clash of genuine contenders, the European champions against the side with the most feared strike partnership and quite possibly the best defender at FIFA 2018, Diego Godin.

The FIFA 2018 odds had Oscar Tabarez’ Uruguay as potential dark horses at around 28.00 at the start of the tournament, but this highly skilled and tenacious side’s odds are dropping by the day now.

And there was El Clasico intrigue to add to this game for La Liga fans, with Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo coming up against Barca’s Luis Suarez. Between them, they have scored 51 league goals in La Liga. And now it’s pretty big FIFA 2018 news that Ronaldo is on the way home so soon after his nemesis Lionel Messi after Argentina was sent packing by France earlier today.

Highlights of the game

One of the key differences, in the context of this game, is that Suarez doesn’t plough his striking furrow alone. He’s been alongside tonight’s hero Cavani to spearhead Uruguay’s attack for a decade, and the two combined brilliantly to open the scoring. Los Charruas broke swiftly and Suarez collected the ball on the left before sending over a beautiful cross for his strike partner to slam in the net, with his face!

It probably hurt Cavani, but not as much as it did Fernando Santos and his team.

Uruguay isn’t a side you want to go behind to: they didn’t concede at all in qualifying for the round of 16. And Portugal made the knockout phase in less than inspiring form, ploughing through after a bad-tempered draw with Iran. We hoped to see better tonight, but the first half didn’t give us much hope of that.

Bernardo Silva worked hard to get Portugal moving and Ronaldo had a couple of efforts from distance, but it was a pretty peaceful first half for Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera. Meanwhile, his opposite number Rui Patricio had to get down smartly to stop Suarez from doubling Uruguay’s lead.

But we got what we were looking for as Portugal opened up brightly at the start of the second half, and they got their reward on 52 minutes when the Uruguay defence uncharacteristically left Pepe unmarked at a corner, and the defender headed firmly and low into the net. Game on.

Pepe's first career FIFA 2018 goal brings Portugal level

Pepe becomes the first player to score a goal against Uruguay at the World Cup since James Rodriguez at the 2014 edition

Portugal were in the ascendancy, but this World Cup keeps on delivering drama. Just as Uruguay started to look like underdogs, they fought back and bit Portugal with another beautiful flowing attack. 20-year-old Juve midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur found Cavani with a brilliant pass, and the PSG man wrapped his foot around the ball to curl a beauty past Patricio into the far corner.

Cavani, 2; Portugal, 1.

Portugal had a chance to level almost immediately when Muslera stretched himself to claim the ball and it fell to Silva, but the Manchester City man blazed over.

With one eye on the next game, there were worrying signs for Uruguay fans, though, as two-goal hero Cavani limped off to be replaced by Girona striker Cristhian Stuani. But their well-drilled defence stuck to the task of keeping Ronaldo and Portugal at bay. The Los Blancos star tried to work his magic in the last minute but sliced his shot well wide.

And at the death, Cristian Rodriguez almost got on the end of a Suarez cross to make it a grandstand finish, but the one-goal margin was plenty enough for Los Charruas.

The discipline and work-rate of this team will take some beating. And tonight, we saw the best of Suarez and Cavani, the Barca man working tirelessly to support his partner and simply loving his goals!

Key statistics

This was a first for Uruguay, who had never beaten Portugal before, but their last meeting was way back in 1972.

Oscar Tabarez, at 72, is the oldest coach at the World Cup and this was his 190th game in charge of Los Charruas.

Cavani has scored at the last three World Cups; and though he was having treatment after limping off, I expect he’ll be fit to play in the quarter-finals.

Uruguay came into the game with six clean sheets, and that’s no surprise when you have Diego Godin at the heart of your defence. So I suppose that’s something for Portugal to be proud of.

But poor Ronaldo goes home, still never scoring in the knockout stages of a World Cup.

Cristiano Ronaldo reacts at referee Cesar Arturo Ramos after yellow card in World Cup 2018

Cristiano Ronaldo reacts angry to referee Cesar Ramos during the round of 16 match between Uruguay and Portugal

What’s next?

Uruguay look a tough side to beat, and that’s the task facing France at Nizhny Novgorod on Friday, after a thrilling win over Argentina, Kylian Mbappe scoring twice in a scintillating display. That boy’s the future for sure, but in the present, Diego Godin will do his damnedest to stop him.

Make sure you catch that game, all the team here at us certainly will. It’s bound to be another belter!

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Can Mexico Stop the Biggest Favourites of the World Cup 2018?

Brazil vs Mexico

The knockout games of the World Cup 2018 are finally underway, and we are already treated to a fantastic result. Lionel Messi may have played his final international game after Argentina spectacularly failed against a red-hot Kylian Mbappe.

However, The France-Argentina game isn’t the only World Cup 2018 game worth a watch for many neutral football fans. Mexico will face Brazil next, and this match promises equal amounts of action and goals!

Brazil will be coming into the match as overwhelming favourites. Not only did the Canarinha top a rather challenging Group E, they also have the likes of Neymar, Coutinho and Roberto Firmino ready to smack some goals in.

However, I don’t think Mexico will just lay around and let the squad favoured by many World Cup 2018 predictions make the quarter-finals without breaking a sweat. El Tri have played a fantastic World Cup and will look to impress.

It’s very likely that Brazil will make it through this match, but this year’s World Cup has been an underdog’s tournament. I honestly won’t be surprised if the Brazilians join the Argentines in returning to South America empty-handed.

Talking Points

FIFA 2018: Can Chicharito lead Mexico in quarter finals?

Mexico eyes another win after their epic victory vs Germany

This game doesn’t lag behind the other knockout games when it comes to the quality of World Cup 2018 news available. There are interesting things to talk about in the lead-up to this all-important clash.

Mexico had an interesting tumble during the group stage. They started off strong and held a strong but very disappointing German side to a very impressive 1-0 victory. They followed their performance with a strong 2-0 win against Korea Republic.

Many of the El Tri faithful broke into nervous sweats when Sweden mowed the pitch with their squad. Fortunately for them, the Taegeuk Warriors pulled off a most remarkable upset that sent them to the knockout stages. Mexicans were so happy that they reached out to the Korean ambassador to Mexico and made him drink tequila while lifting him on their shoulders.

Hirving Lozano, Carlos Vela and Javier Hernandez have performed brilliantly for Mexico, and Juan Osorio will definitely be counting on these three to push the tempo of the Mexican offence in the hopes of pulling off another brilliant upset out of their sombreros.

However, they know that the Samba Boys are anything but an easy challenge. Tite has a plethora of outstanding stars that can match them on every attack they will attempt. Neymar is still the man to beware among the Brazilian yellow, but Philippe Coutinho, Paulinho, Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino can also pull goals for Brazil.

Mexico captain Andres Guardado knows the threat Neymar poses and will surely make him a defensive priority for the Mexicans. However, he threw barbs his way, criticising the star’s tendency to excessively sell fouls. He believes that the VAR (Video Assistant Referees) will help make things fairer in their favour.

If they can contain Neymar to limited runs with his touches, Mexico would have nullified a great Brazilian weapon. However, the trickiness of the Brazilians doesn’t end with Neymar. If they cannot stop the rest of the Canarinha and mount dangerous counters of their own, they might as well book their tickets back home at the most convenient time.

While the stigma of losing 7-1 to Germany is still hard to erase, it’s hard to deny that Brazil still have a very outstanding group. They are still the team to beat in this World Cup.

History

These two countries have faced each other 40 times since first meeting in 1950, and Brazil won 23 of those engagements. The Canarinha‘s most recent victory over El Tri was a comfortable 2-0 in 2015, wherein Philippe Coutinho and Diego Tardelli settled the game in the first half.

However, the most recent results don’t show how well Mexico have performed against Brazil as of late. Their last World Cup meeting was in 2014 in the group stage. The Mexicans managed to hold Brazil to a scoreless draw despite strong attacking from the hosts and a very hostile crowd at Estadio Castelao.

Mexico will be hoping to end their winless streak against the South American juggernauts, and a win here would be a great morale boost for their World Cup aspirations. They have a better chance with Osorio, who has a good grasp of Brazilian football during his stint in the country.

However, his knowledge of the Brazilian game would amount to nothing if Lozano, Vela and Chicharito do not convert their attacks to goals.

What are the odds?

us odds are backing Brazil to win against Mexico

Philippe Coutinho eyes victory with Brazil vs Mexico

us has interesting betting odds on offer for this game, especially if you believe in a grand Mexican upset.

Brazil are justifiably the giant favourites, with their 1X2 odds only amounting to 1.50. If you believe in a 2-0 result in favour of the Canarinha, a -1.25 Asian Handicap comes with 2.21 odds.

However, It’s not bad to hope for a giant killing to happen in this place. Mexico 1X2 is at a whopping 6.80. However, I think El Tri will be able to steal a brilliant goal in the first half before falling gloriously against a raging Brazilian comeback. Mexico’s First Half 1X2 odds of 5.20 is also an attractive option.

With both teams showing brilliant attacking football, it wouldn’t be hard to see goals coming here in bunches. Over 2.75 Goals is an attractive choice at 2.38.

Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

 

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A Star is Born at FIFA World Cup 2018

France 4-3 Argentina

This could easily have been the FIFA World Cup 2018 Final.

Given the pedigree of these two footballing heavyweights – three times world champions between them – it certainly would not have been out of keeping.

Yet, perhaps this was the day a star was born instead.

Perhaps this was the day that France, for the first time, believed they could even be contesting next month’s showpiece.

Highlights of the game

For two sides that had not even come close to finding their best form to date, this clash in Kazan was always going to be intriguing.

The reality facing both was scary: one big mistake and it was time for the next plane home.

In Didier Deschamps’ 80th match in charge of the national team, the questions remained – why couldn’t the 1998 World Cup-winning captain quite get the best out of the talented side at his disposal?

In their opening match of the tournament against Australia, Les Bleus fielded their youngest team in a World Cup match since the inaugural tournament in 1930.

Perhaps his faith in such youth was misplaced?

Well, this contest certainly proved otherwise.

Step forward Kylian Mbappe.

Two goals in four minutes announced his arrival on the big stage, first driving a low shot underneath Franco Armani who possibly should have done better.

Then Olivier Giroud produced an inch-perfect pass and the 19-year-old didn’t even break his stride, firing the ball into the bottom-right corner.

Pace, power and precision – he is the first teenager to score twice in a World Cup match since the great Pele for Brazil against Sweden in 1958.

It seemed to suggest France can be a force to be reckoned with after being largely underwhelming up until now.

On saying that, their path was positively serene in their group compared to the fraught passage path of Argentina, although a game of this magnitude was still hard to predict with us.

It seemed France were well on their way when Antoine Griezmann coolly converted a 13th-minute penalty after Marcos Rojo – the hero of their group-deciding win against Nigeria – felled Mbappe who had embarked on a superb solo run.

From then, there was little in the next half-hour to suggest Argentina could upset France despite dominating possession.

The decision of Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli to leave both Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain on the bench seemed unusual, as did the decision to play Angel Di Maria – a player of undoubted talent but has regularly gone ‘missing’ when the going gets tough.

Yet, out of nowhere, his inclusion was justified.

He brought the South Americans back into the game four minutes before half-time when a spectacular left-footed shot into the top corner from 30 yards.

Argentina's first time to clash against France in World Cup knock out stage ended in a nightmare

FIFA 2018: Lionel Messi’s effort came up short against France

It seemed to lift their spirits and, two minutes after the restart, they were in front when a Lionel Messi shot struck Gabriel Mercado and completely wrong-footed Hugo Lloris.

After their FIFA World Cup 2018 results so far, few had seen this coming. Deschamps’ obituaries may just have begun being penned when a stunner from full-back Benjamin Pavard on the edge of the box brought Les Bleus level – think Nacho but slightly better!

It was all up for grabs at that point, but then came along the French whizz-kid to win the seven-goal thriller.

Despite a late header from Aguero, set up by Messi, the whistle brought the end to an epic encounter and it was hard not to feel for the disconsolate number 10 who seems to carry the weight of a nation on his shoulders every time he plays for La Albiceleste.

France have reached the final of the past two World Cups staged on European soil.

Take a look at the FIFA World Cup 2018 odds on them reaching a third.

Key statistics

This was Argentina’s 15th game under Sampaoli, and he is still to name an unchanged side.

This was the first time the nations had met in the knockout stage of a World Cup.

Amazingly, this was also only the third time the two had met in 32 years – and the other two were friendlies in 2007 and 2009 (Argentina won 1-0 and 2-0 respectively).

Apart from penalty shoot-outs, France have only lost one of their last 12 games in a knockout World Cup match.

What’s next?

us favourites now focus on next round of World Cup 2018

France celebrates victory against Argentina in World Cup 2018

A quarter-final against Uruguay or Portugal – in what would be a repeat of the Euro 2016 final – now beckons for France in Novgorod on Friday.

It’s the trip home for under-pressure Sampaoli who may find his position under threat. A game against Guatemala on September 7 seems a long way away from the glamour of this tie.

 

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Sky Blues stars on verge of exit

Sydney FC look set to lose stars Bobo and Adrian Mierzejewski, giving new coach Steve Corica problems ahead of the club's premiership defence.

The duo, who combined for 40 league goals last season, are reported to be on the verge of signing lucrative deals overseas.

Brazilian striker Bobo broke the A-League record for goals in a season when he netted 27 last term.

Polish international Mierzejewski finished the campaign by winning the Johnny Warren Medal as the A-League's player of the year.

Mierzejewski has been hinting on social media that he was unhappy with the money he'd been offered by the Sky Blues for next season.

He's understood to have been in a pay dispute with the club over a pay rise on his contract that's currently worth around $450,000 a year.

Mierzejewski is under contract with Sydney for another two years and has discussed a rise to marquee wages.

Bobo, who is also still under contract with the Sky Blues, is set to be sold to a Turkish Super Lig club.

Corica will still have Milos Ninkovic as one of his two marquees, and is understood to be targeting Melbourne Victory winger Leroy George.

Sydney FC are 7/2 to win the 2019 Grand Final.

Meanwhile, Western Sydney Wanderers have parted company with Chris Ikonomidis and Steven Lustica following the end of their contracts.

Ikonomidis is heading back to his Italian side Lazio after his loan deal expired, while Lustica has been released following two seasons with Wanderers.

Six-cap Australia international Ikonomidis scored three goals in his 10 appearances last term.

New coach Markus Babbel has opted not to keep hold of Lustica, who netted four times in his 30 games following a move from Brisbane Roar.

Western Sydney are 10/1 to win the 2018/19 minor premiership.

View all Soccer betting

Mignolet hints at Reds exit

Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has indicated that he will be leaving Anfield when World Cup 2018 ends in mid-July.

The 30-year-old was an unused substitute during Belgium's 1-0 win over England in Kaliningrad on Thursday when Chelsea shot-stopper Thibaut Courtois started the match.

Mignolet, who is contracted to Liverpool for another three years, lost his place to Loris Karius in the second half of the 2017/18 campaign.

He has not played since January but there are also doubts about Karius' Reds future after he made two glaring errors in their Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid five weeks ago.

Liverpool have been linked with Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson, Stoke City's Jack Butland and Burnley's Nick Pope this summer, with Mignolet saying: "I am going to look at my situation when I come back from the World Cup.

"I didn't play in the last few months at Liverpool, so after the World Cup I will look at everything. I can't say much more. I don't know how long I will have off after the tournament. I need to speak to the manager about that.

"(But) at this moment I have not been speaking to anyone at Liverpool because I have been trying to focus on Belgium."

Liverpool are 5/1 to win the 2018/19 Premier League title, while Manchester City can be backed at 4/7, Manchester United at 7/1 and Chelsea at 12/1.

Warnock seeks loan arrivals

Cardiff City boss Neil Warnock is pleased with the work he has been able to do this summer after persuading Neil Etheridge to sign a new deal with the club.

The goalkeeper has committed his future to the Bluebirds until the summer of 2021.

Etheridge played 45 Championship matches for Cardiff last season and kept 19 clean sheets.

"The club has been great to me since I started," he said. "We had a fantastic year last year and it's been great to continue that and extend my deal.

"Every game is going to be a great experience – all of them. Of course, you've got Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge… I could go on and on about all of them.

"But I'm looking forward to the first game of the season, then coming back here for a full house against Newcastle. I can't wait."

Cardiff are 8/11 to be relegated in the 2018/19 season and 13/5 to beat Bournemouth in their opening match of the season on 11th August.

Meanwhile, Warnock has confirmed that he is in talks to sign Liverpool midfielder Marko Grujic on loan. He has already snapped up Preston left-back Greg Cunningham, Norwich City winger Josh Murphy, QPR goalkeeper Alex Smithies and Bristol City forward Bobby Reid.

"We'd like a couple of loan players in. We've spoken to Marko and then I'd want to get a striker as well – that's the missing piece," Warnock said.

"I just feel you need four at the top level so we'll be looking at one, but we won't rush into that.

"We'll have a look but we've got until 9th August to do that and we'll try and bring somebody in, hopefully on loan.”

Cardiff have also agreed a new deal with winger Junior Hoilett and are still in discussions with out-of-contract Iceland midfielder Aron Gunnarsson.

Benitez brings in Ki

Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez has made the former Swansea City midfielder Ki Sung-yueng his second capture of the summer.

The 29-year-old has signed an initial two-year deal with the Magpies after spending the last six years with Swansea City, who were relegated from the Premier League last term.

Benitez, who has already signed Martin Dubravka on a permanent basis since the end of last season, said of South Korea international Ki: "I'm pleased to welcome Ki to the club. He is a player with lots of Premier League and international experience and it was an easy decision to bring him here."

Ki began his professional career with FC Seoul and spent two-and-a-half years at Celtic before joining Swansea City in August 2012.

He spent the 2013/14 season on loan at Sunderland and has won 104 caps for his country, scoring 10 goals.

During his time at the Liberty Stadium, Ki scored 12 Premier League goals in 139 appearances for the Swans, 10/3 to be promoted from the Championship in 2018/19.

Meanwhile, Newcastle United are 7/2 to win their first Premier League game of the campaign against Tottenham on 11th August.

A European Classic Awaits FIFA 2018!

Croatia vs Denmark

The group stage of the World Cup is done and dealt with, and fans can now look forward to the real meat of the festivities: the knockout rounds!

Games where the losing team doesn’t get another chance and pack their bags home always elicit loud cheers and world-class football from the sides involved. Now that they’ve got their foot on the door, there’s no way that the teams who are through will let their FIFA 2018 journey end here!

Croatia and Denmark are far from favourites to making it deep in the competition, and the odds for either nation even making it past the quarter-finals aren’t looking good. If they want to have a shot at taking home the World Cup trophy, they have to start with a convincing win here!

Both nations have quality players that can bend the game to their will as well as strong performances in their groups. Fans who will be watching the game at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium and around the world will definitely be treated to a stellar game of football!

Talking Points

Croatia eyes on satisfying FIFA 2018 Odds and win vs Denmark

FIFA 2018: Can Luka Modric lead Croatia in victory against Denmark?

There is no question that Croatia are the bigger draw in this Round of 16 duel. They have been playing exceptional football in this World Cup, and Zagreb is probably expecting great things from her son’s current World Cup run.

They have players such as Ivan Perisic, Ivan Rakitic, Dejan Lovren and Mario Mandzukic that are thriving in different situations throughout Europe. They also showed their quality in a fiercely competitive Group D that featured Argentina, Nigeria and Iceland.

However, Luka Modric has been the biggest fish in a squad that features players from Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus and Liverpool. Considered to be one of the best midfielders in Europe, the Real Madrid midfielder has made his presence known in a talent-heavy team and is expected to lead them in this match.

Midfield partner and Barcelona man Ivan Rakitic had nothing but good things to say about Modric. The Galactico is considered to be a key player for Croatia’s hopes in Russia. He said that it’s a great honour to see how Modric and Andres Iniesta, his team-mate at Barca, work the midfield.

“It seems like both of them are from a different planet and they came to play football with us mortals here,” the 30-year-old said of the Real Madrid man.

Modric was especially noticeable during Croatia’s outstanding victory over La Albiceleste. he made key passes from the midfield that helped bring in the winning goals as well as scoring one over an errant Willy Caballero. There’s no denying that he is certainly the priority man for the Danish Dynamite.

However, it isn’t like the Vatreni are the only ones with stars in their lineup.

Denmark also have their own list of talent they can rely upon to produce for them. Kasper Schmeichel has been amazing at goal. Pione Sisto and Yussuf Poulsen are strong attacking options up front. Andreas Christensen and Jens Larsen are also good defensive options.

Like Croatia, however, their core is at the midfield. Tottenham Hotspur man Christian Eriksen has played fantastic football for club and country, and he is also the key player for Age Hareide’s chances at a deep World Cup run.

While Eriksen has not yet won any Premier League or Champions League trophies with Spurs, he is more than confident that he is as good of a midfielder as Modric.

“I do not consider myself to be worse than him [Modric],” he told the Danish media during the country’s preparation for the match. He also admitted that he is playing a more attacking role for the national side compared to his club, making for very attractive football.

History

That brand of attacking football, in an age where we see European giants frustratingly gunning for a draw, is a breath of fresh air. Zlatko Dalic’s persistence for the Croats to attack has gifted the national side great FIFA 2018 results so far.

They won all of their group stage matches, snagging seven goals and only conceding in their final group match against Iceland. Five different players have scored for the Vatreni, and I wouldn’t be surprised if more Croatian players add to the tally.

Meanwhile, Denmark had a pretty lacklustre run to the knockout stages. After winning 1-0 to Peru, they got careless against Australia and drew 1-1. While it is understandable that they didn’t want the prospect of facing Argentina, it was disappointing that they didn’t hunger enough for a win against France.

These two countries have met multiple times since the 90s, and the head-to-head record is currently tied. Croatia won 3-0 over Denmark in the UEFA European Championship in 1996. The Danish Dynamite won two of their next three bouts, and the Vatreni took the W in their 2004 duel.

What are the odds?

Denmark upset to satisfy us odds and win vs Croatia

FIFA 2018: Christian Eriksen is expected to lead Denmark to win against Croatia

us has interesting FIFA 2018 odds for this game, and there are great winnings to be had in this one.

Given the current form of both sides, it’s not hard to see why Croatia get the nod with a -0.75 handicap for 2.23. If they keep up with their attractive attacking football and constantly put Denmark on the backfoot, then a comfortable Croat victory is possible.

However, if you believe in Denmark’s capability to succeed against the odds, then a +0.25 boost for the Danish Dynamite will reward you with 2.47 odds.

There is a potential for goals in this game, but I don’t see anyone scoring in the first half. Under 0.75 goals is an attractive option at 1.96.

Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

 

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World Cup 2018 Battle Prompts Political Reflections

Spain vs Russia

It’s been billed by the hosts as the ‘match of a lifetime’.

And no wonder, for World Cup 2018 has already been more successful than what many Russians ever imagined.

But imagine, just imagine the local euphoria – from Moscow to Samara, from Volgograd to Saint Petersburg – if the host nation could overcome us odds, not to mention most World Cup 2018 predictions, and knock out the 2010 world champions.

In the words of Russian forward Artem Dzyuba, only if they play at 200-300 per cent can they spring a major surprise.

Russia and Spain head into their World Cup 2018 last-16 knockout game under huge pressure

Artyom Dzyuba surrounded by the media after an official training session of the Russian team prior to their game vs Spain

Talking Points

After a lousy set of results in the build-up to the tournament, their World Cup 2018 results have given the country a genuine lift.

Indeed, the manner of success against Saudi Araba and Egypt seemed to genuinely surprise home fans before something of a reality check against Uruguay.

There remain few illusions about their prospects of facing Spain at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, even with Alan Dzagoev back in training (although not expected to start) and midfielder Aleksandr Erokhin recovering from a foot problem.

Igor Smolnikov will miss the match through suspension.

Yet what seemed a mismatch even three weeks ago perhaps isn’t quite as much now since Russia defied their lowly world ranking to reach the knockout phase for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A partisan home crowd will undoubtedly help against a country whose preparations for the World Cup were thrown into turmoil just days before the tournament started when coach Julen Lopetegui was sacked and replaced by Fernando Hierro.

The classy Hierro guided them to the top spot in Group B but is expected to make changes after they limped through their final group match, a 2-2 draw with Morocco.

Koke could be selected in the starting line-up, possibly in place of Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago. Likewise, Marco Asensio is tipped by many to figure.

That world champions Germany are out of the tournament may have given their major rivals a lift, but Spain should also be buoyed by the fact they are now in what is deemed the more favourable side of the draw.

If they keep winning, La Roja would not face Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, France, Portugal or Mexico before the final on July 15.

There was a little media exchange in the build-up to this game.

Not surprisingly, it focused on the controversial Spanish captain Sergio Ramos who a Russian journalist referred to in a somewhat derogatory manner.

However justified it may be for the defender’s mastery of the dark arts, the journalist’s description of Ramos as Mohamed Salah’s ‘gravedigger’ – in reference to an incident in last month’s Champions League final – and Diego Costa as a ‘dirty player’ did not go unnoticed by Spanish journalists at the same media conference.

Comments like this though are pretty tame when you go back through history.

Indeed, the very first meeting between these two nations was more than 50 years ago and was described as one of the most politicised football matches ever.

This time there is no such backdrop, although it will be interesting to see if Russia president Vladimir Putin will be at the match – he hasn’t been since their opening victory in the tournament.

Spain vs Russia was a fixture that had everything swirling around it

Russian President Vladimir Putin opens the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Luzhniki stadium

History

In six meetings between the countries, Spain have won four and drawn two – the most recent being an exciting 3-3 draw last November when Russia twice fought from behind after two Ramos penalties had given them the advantage.

They also met twice during Euro 2008 when Spain won 4-1 and 3-0 (in a group stage and a semi-final) on way to winning the tournament.

But it’s the former Soviet Union which Spain have a most famous footballing history with.

The 1964 European Championship Final, along with the final of Euro 88, is the closest Russia have ever been to securing a major championship success.

That was also much more than just a game!

What are the odds?

Spain are overwhelming favourites, although if it takes them until to extra-time to prevail to the quarter-finals you can potentially have a nice pay-out with odds of outright Spain Extra-Time @ 9.50, compared to 1.60 in normal time.

For Spain to lead at both half-time and full-time the odds on AA are @ 2.15, with Asian Handicap -1.00 Spain @ 2.14 and over 2.50 goals @ 2.21.

1X2 odds on Russia stand at 5.60 with the draw @ 3.80 and 1X2 Spain @ 1.59.

The First Half 1X2 for España is a bet worth considering @ 2.24.

Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

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