The Action Network and Big Cat (Barstool) Pick the World Cup Winner
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
FIFA World Cup 2018 is almost here, which means those who follow soccer year-round are in a frenzy. And those who don’t will have opinions that will annoy those in that frenzy. Well, we have a few soccer experts on our staff at The Action Network, but more of those who have no idea what they’re talking about. So I thought I’d poll both groups to see whom everyone is wagering on to win it all.
For context, here are the closing odds for the recent World Cup winners:
Italy in 2006 remains the longest shot to win the World Cup since 1986.
I separated the picks below into two groups: the minority who knows what they’re talking about and the majority who doesn’t. At the bottom of this piece, you can also find a few secondary longshot selections, a summary of all of our picks by country and even two other World Cup bets.
Those Who Actually Follow Soccer
Michael Goodman: Brazil +415
It’s never fun to pick the favorite, but I’m picking Brazil. They have a stacked squad, and a simple game plan to match their talent. Take the ball from the other team, pass the ball to the good attacking players and let the good attacking players try to score. Rinse and repeat.
A midfield of Paulinho, Fernandinho and Casemiro combines the ball-winning prowess of starters from Barcelona, Manchester City and Real Madrid. Neymar is a singular attacking force on the wing, and for the first time in his career, he has a goal-striking forward to work with in Gabriel Jesus. Those two are complemented nicely by whoever starts on the opposite wing. Simple, effective and fun to watch. It’s Brazil’s World Cup to lose.
Martin Laurence: Spain +595
Ahead of the shock announcement that Julen Lopetegui would replace Zinedine Zidane as Real Madrid manager after the World Cup, I was confident Spain would regain their crown. And I’m sticking with my instincts. After all, the Champions League supremos’ decision to appoint the current International boss is based on his excellent job with La Roja, unbeaten since the former U21 coach took the reins in 2016.
Lopetegui’s work with youth teams has transferred into the senior side, making the step up with a number of players who are still playing key roles under his tutelage. Rejuvenated and with a point to prove having crashed out at the group stage in Brazil, Spain have played some irresistible soccer this year. With a favorable route to the quarterfinals at the very least — and the pedigree and experience to go all the way — the 2010 winners are not only my favorites to win, but offer great value in the odds.
Michael Leboff: France +645
There’s just so much to like about Les Bleus. Sure, the usual narratives about the French will surround this team. The press loves to raise red flags around France’s camp. Sometimes, like in 2010, it’s warranted. Other times, it’s just a way to get column inches.
France have an enviable attack up front, headlined by Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe. If they need to switch gears and go with a target man up front, in steps Olivier Giroud. That kind of adaptability is not common for international teams.
As good as their forwards are, France’s true strength lies in the middle of the pitch. Paul Pogba is a game-breaking talent and should be free to pull the strings up front with the support of N’Golo Kante and Blaise Matuidi. Kante and Matuidi are proven ball-winners and will serve as a great shield in front of two great centerbacks in Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti. If Les Bleus play to their strengths, they have as good of a chance as any to hoist the trophy.
Sean Newsham: France +645
Going into the World Cup, no team possesses the talent that the French have up and down their roster. The key for the French will be finding a lineup and tactical formation that provide an identity in the tournament. I think Antoine Greizmann provides the ability to handle all of the top attacking positions, which, in turn, gives France the stability they will need to progress throughout the tournament and put their skill on full display.
Dan McGuire: Argentina +945
I took Argentina to win in 2014 and was let down in the final, but I’m not giving up on them in 2018. Lionel Messi is the key, but the entire team needs to step up and play better overall to make another run. They weren’t great in 2014 and still made a final — so I’m keeping the faith. Take a gander at my entire card below if you missed it earlier.
Jason Sobel: Belgium +1095
Little-known fact: I’m a huge soccer guy. Still play in a few adult leagues, own season tickets to my local MLS team and watch games whenever I can. All of which means I’m just as qualified to offer a terrible World Cup pick as I am for any other sport. I hate playing favorites and I’m always looking for some value, so I’m driving the Belgium bandwagon for the next month. I like the combination of a few superstar talents and plenty of experience — and even better, I love ‘em at their pretourney price.
Daniel Scotti: Belgium +1095
Super high on Belgium. Love the squad; tons of class up and down it. With Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku up top, Kevin De Bruyne holding down the midfield and Thibaut Courtois in net, this team should be hard to beat. Although perhaps I’m a little biased as a proud “Rent Boy” (Chelsea fan), wondering what could’ve been had we just held on to Lukaku and KDB. Sigh.
Those Who Only Watch The World Cup
Chris Raybon: Brazil +415
They have the best odds and the best player. Plus, Germany’s victory in 2014 marked the first time that three straight World Cup winners came from the same continent, which is bound to regress.
Stuckey: Germany +445
I want a rooting interest and could name only a few players in the competition — if you let me use Google. I simply picked Germany because nobody else did, I can speak the language, and I like German beer. Sharp.
Chad Millman: France +645
I’m going with France. It’s not because I’ve examined the odds for every team or even because I know the French roster all that well. (I didn’t even eat the Brie offered as a snack on a flight I took Monday morning.)
I’m simply going with France because I’ve read nearly every paragraph of our World Cup preview content, and Michael Goodman made a compelling case for the talent on their roster. They seem to play like I imagine the French live: with remarkable ease and indifference. Life goals.
Big Cat: Russia +5990
As a fan of conspiracy theories, I don’t understand how Russia isn’t the odds-on favorite to win this tourney. They have home-field advantage and natural goal-scorer Vladimir Putin — who averaged six hockey goals per game on his birthday over the past two years. Russia will shock the world with a little bit of grit and a whole lot of match-fixing. … And that was talking soccer.
Tim Livingston: France +645
Leboff won’t shut up about this team. He came into the office yesterday wearing a beret, quoting Voltaire and gushing over Olivier Giroud as the “ruggedly handsome Zac Efron.”
But since he didn’t steer me wrong with the Caps to win the Stanley Cup, I’m not ashamed to piggyback his World Cup pick, as well. Beignets all day, baby. Vive la France!
Matthew Freedman: France +645
I’m pulling for France since I’ll be there for a week in July, and it would be awesome to see them in a World Cup game while I’m there.
Paul Lo Duca: Spain +595
Somehow it feels like Spain are coming into this one a little under the radar. Everyone else is picking Germany, Brazil and France — give me La Furia Roja.
Scott Miller: Argentina +945
I refuse to live in a world where the best soccer player (footballer?) of my lifetime goes 0-for-4 at the World Cup. Come on, Leo!
Evan Abrams: Argentina +945
If Argentina get through one of the tourney’s tougher Groups, which includes a bona fide dark horse in Nigeria, they should find a rhythm after heartbreak in 2014 vs. Germany.
Geoff Schwartz: Belgium +1095
I’m going with Belgium. I was listening to a podcast with a soccer commentator, and he mentioned Belgium as being a maybe not-so-popular winner. So that’s my team. Plus, who doesn’t love waffles?!?!
Mark Gallant: England +1695
England have never won a World Cup (Editor’s Note: Yes, they have), but something tells me they’re in it to win it for the old bag Queen Elizabeth, as it may be the last chance before she croaks. England is also the only country of the 32 that I’ve visited. I even bought some random soccer jersey when I was there because literally everyone on my school trip did. Peer pressure. I don’t even remember the team, but it’s white and has the O2 oxygen logo on it.
BlackJack Fletcher: Uruguay +2790
I think Uruguay have a lot of young talent on defense and in the midfield. I’ve also long been a fan of Edinson Cavani up front. This team is as talented as any other in the field. If they can get consistent play, they could surprise and deliver on some longer odds. I also love them to win Group A at -150.
Peter Jennings: Russia +5990
I’m taking a longshot with Russia. I especially like them if you can get anything over 70-1. Group A looks very weak outside of Uruguay, so given Russia’s home-field advantage, I like their odds.
Jonathan Bales: Russia +5990
I know nothing about soccer. I can name one player, and that’s really only because I’m so envious of his tan. My buddy Ed Feng (ThePowerRank.com), however, models World Cup games and recently emailed me his analysis. It actually matches up with the current futures odds quite well, outside of being higher on the mid-tier teams in the 50-1 to 100-1 range.
Remember that with futures bets, you don’t need to win outright to collect; you just need the bet to improve to be able to get out ahead by hedging. Give me Russia at just under 60-1, despite their lack of great tans.
Collin Wilson: Peru +19950
Who cares if they haven’t been in the World Cup since the Expos hosted the All-Star Game in 1982? This is the scrappiest and most cohesive team in Group C. Denmark can’t play defense, France are overvalued with injuries, and Australia will get a participation ribbon. Peru was the last qualifier for Russia without star striker Paolo Guerrero, who will now return after an overturned drug suspension.
Dan McGuire: Belgium +1095
Is Belgium finally poised to make a deep run in an international tournament? They’ve got the talent to do so, but some have questioned the cohesiveness and coaching. I personally couldn’t pass up the 14-1 odds offered on them.
Sean Newsham: Croatia +3290
They’ve been a dark horse for years, but have never fulfilled their destiny. To make it deep in a big International tournament like this, you need great chemistry, which the Croatians certainly possess, having played so many games together.
You also need to have great talent in the middle of the pitch to pull strings and control the game, and Croatia rival any team in the world with their midfield play. Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic provide the playmaking ability from the midfield to allow the rest of the offense to flourish. I think Croatia have the most futures value in the market.
Paul Lo Duca: Croatia +3290
I’m also grabbing Croatia as my sleeper.
Michael Leboff: Peru +19950
Full transparency: I originally bet Peru because of a great Peruvian chicken spot on my block. For the past two years, I became buddies with a few guys who work there, and they told me this was the strongest squad they’ve ever seen. At first, I chalked it up to patriotic bias, as Peru were still a longshot to even qualify back then. But after watching a few qualifiers, I came away impressed with Los Incas.
Peru then went on a little run in the last half of CONMEBOL qualifying to put themselves in position to get to Russia. On the night of Peru’s last CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying match against Colombia, I strolled into the joint thinking it’d be pretty busy — but I severely underestimated the insane atmosphere. They had music blaring and three people behind the counter taking phone orders. It looked like a telethon to benefit Peruvian cuisine. When I saw my buddy, he told me they even ran out of chicken.
That night, Peru drew with Colombia and Brazil defeated Chile 3-0, which meant Peru would play New Zealand in a home-and-home playoff for the last spot in the World Cup. A few weeks later, Peru headed to the World Cup for the first time in 36 years.
World Cup dark horses usually fit a certain mold. They like to sit back, hold on for dear life and take their chance. Los Incas don’t fit that mold, and that’s part of the reason I think they are worth a shot. This team can score and aren’t to be counted out if they fall behind a better team. I’ll take a team with this much skill at these odds.
“I told you,” my friend at the restaurant boasted to me a couple of days after Los Incas qualified. “We’re going to surprise a lot of people. You’re just the first.”
And just like that, I had a horse in the race.
Evan Abrams: Peru +19950
For my longshot, I’m rolling with Peru. Qualifying out of South America proves their stability and stamina. I like them to finish second in Group C, which means they would play the winner of Group D in the round of 16 — most likely my favorite Argentina.
Stuckey: Peru +19950
I have to have a dark horse, so I naturally picked the country that has my favorite cuisine. If you’ve never tried authentic Peruvian Ceviche, Causa, Arroz Chaufa or Choritos a la Chalaca — you’re missing out. And you can never go wrong with Peruvian chicken and plantains for a casual lunch. You can find some legit spots in the New York and D.C. area. And always wash it down with one or five Pisco sours.
World Cup Futures Summary
There you have it. Whether you now know who you are siding with or are even more confused, good luck and enjoy the ride!
Bonus Section: Non-Futures
Jason Awad: Croatia +325 over Argentina
To start, I like Croatia (+325) to beat Argentina in their second match of the group stage. I just don’t believe Argentina are as strong as many people believe. And with a midfield full of class and creativity — plus a solid starting XI — I like the Croatians to top Messi and Co.
Jason Awad: Egypt to make R16 +140
I’ll also take my guy Mo Salah and Egypt to advance to the round of 16 at +140, while cheering for Liverpool’s star man: “Mo Salah, Mo Salah, running down the wing, Salah la la la la la la la Egyptian King.”
PJ Walsh: Sweden to finish last in Group F +250
While I played soccer growing up, I know nothing about betting it. Luckily, I do know the Ctrl-F function on a keyboard. To find my favorite bet of the 2018 World Cup, I visited The Action Network’s soccer guru Dan McGuire’s full futures betting card.
A simple search for the word “love” quickly lands on Sweden to finish last in Group F at +250 odds. I’ll save the actual analysis portion for McGuire, but when someone as sharp as him loves any wager, I listen.
My true love is cashing tickets, which I’ve already done plenty of times by following McGuire’s EPL and MLS analysis, so how about a little love for Sweden crapping the bed in Group F?