It’s hard to look too much into international friendlies. Most of the time they are just cash grabs for international soccer federations. But this past fortnight saw a couple of big fish meet across the globe. And with the World Cup just 11 weeks away, there was a lot to take away from the exhibition matches.
Spain are the best value
That Spain (+615) are fourth favorites to win the World Cup, even after demolishing Argentina, who are right behind them in fifth, is pretty ludicrous. Since the appointment of Julen Lopetegui the former World and European champions have managed to combine the experience of their golden generation with the energy and exuberance of a crop of young players the manager knows all about from his time in charge of the Under 21s.
La Roja’s starting XI are frightening, but the thing that may set them apart this summer is the sheer strength in depth they possess, particularly in midfield. It’s the likes of Thiago, Asensio and Isco (pictured above) that take the burden off the strikers to score, and in Diego Costa and Iago Aspas they have two relatively unglamorous front men willing to do the dirty work and ensure Spain win back possession high up the pitch. Combine that with the best back three in terms of keeper and centerbacks in the world and the Spaniards remain a great price.
Messi and Ronaldo might not make it too far
While Spain were insatiable at times, Argentina (+1045) were suicidal on Tuesday, and while the Argentinians were without Lionel Messi, the magician doesn’t have a trick to stop the defense from committing outrageous errors. While manager Jorge Sampaoli is lauded for thinking outside the box with his tactics, his demands take time to get to grips with — as was evident for spells with Sevilla — and the protection ahead of a haphazard defense just isn’t good enough.
In one of the more competitive groups, facing Croatia, Nigeria and Iceland, the South Americans could easily come out on top, but their propensity to self-destruct could also be fateful.
Elsewhere, reigning European champions Portugal (+2790) look well off the pace too, and relying on Cristiano Ronaldo may not get them far. The 33-year-old Real Madrid star pulled a victory from thin air against Egypt, trailing 1-0 prior to two stoppage-time strikes, but couldn’t prevent an embarrassing defeat to one of the weakest Dutch sides in recent memory. They don’t have a prayer against Spain in their group, and Morocco, who secured an impressive win in Serbia last week, aren’t to be underestimated.
A knockout phase with no Messi or Ronaldo is far from an impossibility.
Germany shouldn’t be favorites
It became abundantly clear where Germany (+455) fall short of Spain over the past week, and it wasn’t when the two European heavyweights came to blows last Friday. With both sides fielding something close to their strongest sides on the night, while Spain saw plenty of the ball, Joachim Loew’s men were decent in their 1-1 draw.
However, the Germans weren’t at the races when Brazil came to visit on Tuesday, and the absences of mainstays Mats Hummels, Sami Khedira, Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil — all of whom played vital roles in the 7-1 demolition of the Selecao at the previous World Cup — were keenly felt.
The big problem, however, is a lack of goals in the side, and while Timo Werner is a great prospect, he was abject against Spain while Mario Gomez faltered facing Brazil. Without an obvious immediate heir to take on Miroslav Klose’s astonishing World Cup record, Die Mannschaft may just fall short in a bid to retain their title.
Brazil can cope without Neymar
There’s no doubt that Brazil (+445) will be sweating on the fitness of their star man for the weeks and months to come, but two victories in a matter of days without Neymar have eased fears that Tite’s side aren’t up to the task without him. Defensively they look assured, with an extremely experienced backline and excellent keeper in Alisson, while Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino are superb options to lead the line, and both are very hard-working to boot.
With Coutinho able to step up for his country to replace Neymar — where he has at Barcelona — the pressure of the task will be nothing new to the former Liverpool man, and he’s a great understudy to have who may even offer the side more balance. The chances are that Neymar will win his fitness race, but it wouldn’t be an unmitigated disaster if he didn’t compared to the nation’s most shameful showing four years ago.
England must practice penalties!
Spot kicks are not something any England (+1790) fan ever wants to rely on, let alone Gareth Southgate, who missed a decisive one on home soil at Euro ’96, but the Three Lions can’t put games to bed. They were comfortably the better side against the Netherlands but only won, 1-0, before letting a lead of that scoreline slip against an underwhelming Italy lineup.
There are positives for the manager to take, with the side adopting his approach well in terms of playing out from a new look back three, with an impressive defensive record in that system, but the final ball is lacking. For all of Harry Kane’s goal-scoring ability, his return won’t fix that. And while England should reach the knockout stage comfortably, it’s hard to see them scoring more than once in a game against stronger opposition.
All odds from 5Dimes and current as of Thursday morning.