By Ken Boehlke
Nigeria vs. Iran (Group F)
2 way line – Nigeria -0.5 (+115) Iran +0.5 (-135)
3 way line – Nigeria (+115) Iran (+280) Draw (+210)
Total – Over 2 (-105) Under 2 (-115)
Nigeria may play with three attackers, but their attack lacks pace and creativity. Emmanuel Emenike is the only striker that can truly strike fear in the minds of opponents. The most recent friendly against the United States was uninspiring at best. The U.S. is still trying to straighten out their back line, and the Super Eagles couldn’t figure it out, Iran is a completely different story. They are organized, tactical, and have a bunker mentality. Nigeria understand the match against Iran absolutely must deliver a point if they have any chance of getting out of the group. The question is, will they commit more men forward to try and unlock the Iranian defense, or will they simply accept the single point that Iran will just hand them.
Iran might be the most organized defense the world has seen since the Greeks of Euro 2004. But much like that Greece team, the Iranians are really not a threat to go forward. They’ll sit back with 10 or 11 men behind the ball and make scoring against them from difficult to at times near impossible. Reza Ghoochannejhad has nine goals in his 11 matches with the national team, but he’s untested on the bright stage that the World Cup offers. Do not expect Iran to have much possession of the ball, and really do not bank on them having more than one or two solid scoring chances. If they put one in, they could steal three points, but odds are it’ll be a long boring match. Pick: Iran +0.5 (-135)
Total: It’s the perfect storm of boring play. One side lacks ideas on how to score, and the other is content with focusing a majority of their attention towards defending. Nigeria will have to take advantage of the only group game in which they’ll control the pace of the game. Carlos Queiroz’s World Cup plan appears to be “let’s not get embarrassed.” In an Asian qualifying group, that style occasionally brings wins, in the World Cup, it might bring you a draw. Two goals appears to be a goliath task for these two nations, the under would have even looked alright if the number was one. Pick: Under 2 goals (-115)
Germany vs. Portugal (Group G)
2 way line – Germany -0.5 (+105) Portugal +0.5 (-125)
3 way line – Germany (+105) Portugal (+275) Draw (+240)
Total – Over 2.5 (+115) Under 2.5 (-135)
The Germans have made it abundantly clear they are not a counter attack team. They want to possess the ball and have a purpose while doing so. In other words, they want to score and score a lot during their stay in Brazil. Die Mannschaft are a threat to attack one way or another at every position except goalkeeper. The injury to Marco Reus should not be overlooked though. His ability to play wide as well as get forward into the box will certainly be missed. Expect to see the Germans move the ball with pace every time they get it, and they will not waste time bouncing the ball back and forth between defenders. Should be one of the most fun teams to watch and could be men among boys in the incredibly difficult group.
There’s one question mark when it comes to Portugal, is Cristiano Ronaldo healthy? If he is, the Portugese are going to be a tough out in any match. If he’s not, they are the weakest side in the Group of Death. It appears as though he’s a go for the opener with the Germans, but tendon injuries can flare up at any moment, so his team’s chances are as fragile as his knee. With or without Ronaldo the Portugese are solid in defense. If Ronaldo is in the lineup, their attack is dangerous for the entire 90 minutes, and the focus that must be placed on Cristiano opens up the field for players like Hélder Postiga, Hugo Almeida, and Éder. If he’s not, they lack fluidity moving from the midfield to the attacking third and rarely ask too many difficult questions of their opponent’s defense. Pick: Germany (+105)
Total: Germany is going to commit numbers forward at every pass, but the Portuguese defense is strong enough that it’s not going to be a goal-fest. Ronaldo will start the match, however, there’s no telling if he’s going to be fit enough to go the full 90. There will be a major feel out period throughout the first 20 minutes or so, but the game could wind up being a fun, free-flowing attack, counter-attack match with many scoring chances. There’s almost no way Germany doesn’t score in the game. Portugal on the other hand may need some brilliance to break through the massive German defense. Pick: Over 2.5 goals (+115)
USA vs. Ghana (Group G)
2 way line – USA PK (-105) Ghana PK (-115)
3 way line – USA (+180) Ghana (+170) Draw (+210)
Total – Over 2 (-110) Under 2 (-110)
Side: The nation of Ghana has become the arch-nemesis of the United States after eliminating the Yanks from each of the previous two World Cups. The added experience of Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore combined with the new found central defense of Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron have the United States poised and dangerous coming into the tournament. Ghana’s attack is formidable with Asamoah Gyan, Andre Ayew and Kevin Prince Boateng, but the U.S. should be able to slow them by relying on Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Graham Zusi to keep possession in the midfield.
This game is crucial for both sides as a lead-off in the group of death. Both Ghana and the United States see the match as a must win, so betting the tie is silly. The Black Stars do like to keep the ball away from their opponent as often as possible, but expect the U.S. to jump on them defensively. High pressure defense will be key for the Americans in the middle third and could cause problems for the Ghanian midfield. As long Clint Dempsey and Altidore can convert on at least one the precious few chances they’ll see, the United States can control the match. Everyone understands this game is both teams’ best chance to get 3 points out of the group, but the U.S. has revenge on its mind too. In the end, that’ll be the ultimate difference. Pick: 3 way bet – USA +190
Total: The previous meeting in the initial knockout stage finished at 1-1 before being settled in the overtime period. In recent friendlies, Ghana tends to play its games well over the two goal number, while the U.S. tend to hit it right on the head. But the World Cup is an all together different beast. The Americans have a solid opportunity to shut out the Black Stars as they have a potential mismatch with the size of Besler and Cameron against the smaller Gyan. It’s been 12 years since the U.S. have scored 3 goals in a single world cup game, so don’t expect an offensive outburst from the Yanks. 1-0 looks like the most likely result whether the U.S. is victorious or not. Pick: Under 2 goals (-110)