By Ken Boehlke
Argentina vs. Nigeria (Group F)
2 way line – Argentina -1 (-110) Nigeria +1 (-110)
3 way line – Argentina (-195) Nigeria (+725) Draw (+270)
Total – Over 2.5 (-120) Under 2.5 (+100)
Side: Sometimes stupendous players make stupendous plays. Well, that’s exactly what it took for Argentina to be spared from one of the most embarrassing draws in their history. Lionel Messi decided it was his time to rip a shot from just outside the 18-yard box and he placed it perfectly into the side netting to give the White and Sky Blue the win and a guaranteed trip to the knockout stages. Breaking down the Argentinian effort against Iran is really unfair because absolutely no one else in the world plays like a Carlos Queiroz team. This game will be far different even if Nigeria elect a more defensive style. The Argentinian wing backs consistently went forward but were rather ineffective when they ran out of space. Despite already qualifying for the next round, expect to see an Argentina side that is in full-on attack mode. Just like their neighbor country Brazil, they’ll want to get into a scoring groove before the games really count. Messi looks ready to go, now it’s time for the rest of the team to join in.
Nigeria controlled the ball a lot better than was to be expected against the Bosnians. What they attempted to do in the match was to flood the right side with the combination of Peter Odemwingie and Emmanuel Emenike. Each had multiple chances down the flank and continuously put pressure on the Bosnian defense. It was a much better performance because they finally got their best two players involved and had the killer instinct in the final third that had been lacking. Of course, it can’t go without mention that their goal shouldn’t have counted and they were gifted an offside call that disallowed a perfectly good Edin Džeko goal. With the Argentinians likely to attempt to keep pushing their backs forward, the Nigerian duo should have space to play with again. It’ll be an uphill climb because Argentina’s attack is a sleeping bear seemingly on the brink of waking up, but the more desperate team should always be feared. Pick: 3 way bet – Argentina (-195)
Total: Lionel Messi has officially taken the monkey that many people placed on his back and body slammed it to the ground. Often times with players that are in goal scoring droughts, the moment they break out, a flood of goals follows. Messi has now become the same player internationally that he is on the club level, a player that is expected to score every time he takes the field. Emineke should be given the same space that he took advantage of against Bosnia and Herzegovina so he will be a factor. Any time the Argentine defense presses up, Nigeria will try to get onto the break. The tough part is Nigeria will yet again be facing a defense playing well. It has all the makings of an exciting match, but usually third group stage games are slow to get going. That should be the case here, and with both defenses have allowed just one goal in four matches between them. Pick: Under 2.5 goals (+100)
Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Iran (Group F)
2 way line – Bosnia and Herzegovina -0.5 (+110) Iran +0.5 (-130)
3 way line – Bosnia and Herzegovina (+110) Iran (+240) Draw (+255)
Total – Over 2.5 (+110) Under 2.5 (-130)
Side: The Dragons might be the eliminated team that has played the best soccer during their time in Brazil. They put up a valiant effort against Argentina in the opener and then deserved more against Nigeria. The big problem for Bosnia and Herzegovina, their big time star, Edin Džeko has been just a bit off. He was littered with chances in the match with Nigeria but simply could not find the back of the net (except for the one the refs called back). Defensively they’ve been compact and the midfield has done well to connect with the attackers. Overall, the only black mark on the performances that led to back-to-back losses is the consistent failures in finishing. That’s the one problem a team cannot have when they face Iran. The most compact defensive team in the tournament has made both the Nigerian and Argentinian attacks look lost. Now’s the time for Džeko to kick it into high gear, otherwise the already disappointing World Cup debut for Bosnia and Herzegovina will get even worse.
This tournament has fallen right into the hands of one of the most likely teams to qualify in the entire field. Iran has just a single point, but are only down one in goal differential and already have Argentina off their schedule. Assuming Nigeria are defeated by Argentina, Iran will have an opportunity to qualify for the knockout stage. Of course they will need to do something they haven’t done yet, and it’s the most fundamental goal in soccer, to score. They’ll likely see a Bosnian side that was concerned with its depth use many of their subs. In fact, aside from Džeko, the rest of the Bosnian lineup will likely resemble something close to the teams Iran saw during their Asian qualifying campaign. It’ll be up to Reza Ghoochannejhad to control the attack and figure out how to get his team off the goal scoring schneid. They’ve had a few chances, but haven’t been able to convert any of them, that must change. If it does, this could be one of the most incredible stories in World Cup history. Pick: 2 way bet – Iran +0.5 (-130)
Total: Yes, Iran must get forward and score a goal or two if they expect to move on in the tournament. However, even in matches against poor Asian sides, they’ve never been able to score too many goals. Bosnia and Herzegovina are certainly good enough to light up a score sheet, but the fear is they will use this opportunity to give some World Cup experience to some of their weaker players. The quality of goal scorers in this match will be seriously lacking compared to the solidity of each sides defense. A scoreless draw doesn’t do anyone any good, so a goal will probably come, but as in every Iran game, chances will be limited on both sides and it’ll take perfection from one side or the other to put the ball in the net. Pick: Under 2.5 goals (-130)
Switzerland vs. Honduras (Group E)
2 way line – Switzerland -1 (-135) Honduras +1 (+115)
3 way line – Switzerland (-240) Honduras (+675) Draw (+360)
Total – Over 2.5 (-140) Under 2.5 (+120)
Side: The Swiss were completely dominated by fellow Europeans, the French. However, the score doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of the Swiss team. They were shell-shocked by the back-to-back quick goals, and then totally abandoned what they do well to try and chase the game. Switzerland is not built to come from behind, and they’ve been forced to do it twice. Against Honduras, they shouldn’t have to deal with climbing out of a hole like they’ve been doing for the whole time they’ve been in Brazil. The defense should return to the organized Swiss side that got them a seeded spot in the World Cup. They’ll also be able to get back to the outside-in style that was so tough to deal with for opposing sides in European qualifying. Expect them to be on the front foot against Honduras but not allow the defense to be in exposed positions as they’ve done in the first two matches. They are only two goals behind Ecuador in goal differential and each have three points so they’ll have a belief that any win could send them through. Plus, they get the perfect opponent, a Honduran side that is basically eliminated and haven’t shown much promise in the tournament.
Honduras put together a much better effort in their second match than they did in their opener with France. They went away from the foul first attitude that not only earned them a 3-0 drubbing but also the ire of media all over the world. Finally the Carlo Costly/Jerry Bengston combo came through and scored the first Honduras World Cup goal since 1982. Honduras played the most basic style of soccer they could have to try and break down the Ecuador defense. In other words, they hit long searching balls and then hoped Costly or Bengston could get on the other end of them. It worked once against a porous Ecuadorian defense, but it won’t against Switzerland. Defensively they overachieved mainly because of the defensive help provided from their attack minded players. The only way Honduras can rise from the dead to get out of Group F will be with a win and a convincing one. They’ll have to make up five goals in differential so the only plan will be to try and get forward. They will play right into the Swiss defense and will likely get countered to death. Pick: 2 way bet – Switzerland -1 (-135)
Total: Both of Honduras’ first two games landed on three goals. Switzerland played its first game to a three goal total and the other ended with seven goals. Both teams are on the wrong end of goal differential so there should be a conscious effort from both to score as often as possible. The concern that Honduras can’t score has now dissipated and the Swiss have more goals in this group stage than they did in their past five World Cup games combined. Honduras have to try and attack while Switzerland should be able to counter attack them down the flanks. There could be so many chances that a three goal half isn’t out of the picture. Pick: Over 2.5 (-140)
France vs. Ecuador (Group E)
2 way line – France -0.5 (-125) Ecuador +0.5 (+105)
3 way line – France (-125) Ecuador (+340) Draw (+270)
Total – Over 2.5 (-115) Under 2.5 (-105)
Side: With the way European teams have fared in the 2014 World Cup, it’s hard to believe France is in Europe. The French have been spectacular in both of their matches and might be the team playing the best soccer in Brazil through two games. The five goal effort against the usually stodgy Swiss defense is almost unbelievable. In eight previous World Cup matches Switzerland had allowed two goals, France dropped three on them… in the first half (plus they missed a penalty shot). The first goal opened up the Swiss defense and then the French utilized the counter to perfection. Over and over the French found heaps of space down the wings and took advantage of it almost every time. Crazy thing, they haven’t even faced the worst defense they’ll see in the group stages. Against Ecuador they should find the same space they exploited against the Swiss and Hondurans. France have not officially clinched a spot in the final 16, but the +6 differential and eight goals scored has them feeling pretty good. Defensively, they have been very good except for the last 10 minutes against Switzerland when they seemed to lose interest being up 5-0. They seem immune to the European struggles, but they’ve yet to face a South American side. Here’s the chance, they should be able to do UEFA proud.
Ecuador had to have the match against Honduras. They didn’t play the cleanest game but they got the result they were looking for. Consistently trying to hit long balls and simply play from the wings to the middle with crosses will not work against France. Ecuador have the quality to score as they proved against Switzerland, but they’ll have to rely a little more on combination play in the midfield if they want to get the job done against the French. Set pieces could be a key in this game from the Ecuadorian point of view. They can be very dangerous on them inside the final third and it might be the best way they can put one past Hugo Lloris. Ecuador know a draw may not be enough so they will have to try and come at France. Enner Valencia will be key in running the Ecuador attack. They will continue play though him and hope he’ll either be able to score on his own or distribute the ball to Felipe Caicedo or one of the midfielders coming up in attack. Pick: France (-125)
Total: France have been a goal scoring machine in the first two matches of this World Cup. It should continue against Ecuador and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they get three or more goals themselves. Ecuador are also in an unkind situation in which they must go after the game and go after goal differential – understanding they cannot rely on Honduras to produce a result against Switzerland. Two offensive minded sides, one team that must attack to try and save their tournament, and another that just played counter attack to the tune of five goals against the Swiss. It all adds up to a back and forth offensive explosion. 2.5 is way too low for this one, would even feel comfortable betting over 3.5 had the line been adjusted. Pick: Over 2.5 goals (-115)