By Ken Boehlke
Belgium vs. Algeria (Group H)
2 way line – Belgium -1 (-135) Algeria (+115)
3 way line – Belgium (-230) Algeria (+775) Draw (+325)
Total – Over 2.5 (+115) Under (-135)
Side: The Belgians are the dark horses of the dark horses. A popular pick among those who have seen them play, Belgium is chock full of youthful players that are overflowing with talent. The lead man is still Eden Hazard, but players like Marouane Fellaini, Axel Witsel, Vincent Kompany, and young striker Romelu Lukaku give this team weapons all over the pitch. The one issue with the makeup of the squad however is their lack of outside defenders. Of the eight defensive players on the roster, seven are center backs. This may leave them exposed when they come up against midfielders and opposing attack oriented backs that have speed. Algeria do not present that problem, so it shouldn’t hinder the Red Devils in the opener.
This is most definitely not the Algeria of the 2010 World Cup that allowed the epic American goal by Landon Donovan. This version of the Fennec Foxes still employ the defense-first mentality, but they attempt to get on the offensive end of play more often than previous Algerian sides. They’ve won four-straight friendlies and have scored in an impressive 13-straight matches. Obviously this Belgian side represents a major leap in difficulty for Algeria, but make no mistake, this African side is certainly out to improve on their performance from the last World Cup. Pick: 3 way bet – Belgium -230
Total: It’s hard to read the names on Belgium’s roster and not think about goal scoring. Pair that with the new found commitment to attacking from the Algerians and this match could be an offensively explosive one. Algeria have been scoring at a nice pace albeit against much lesser competition. It will certainly be interesting to see if they fall back into the bunker mentality and try to keep the match low scoring, or whether they stay true to their new selves and get forward. An early goal could change the completion of this game, and with Belgium wanting to validate their seeded slot it might just happen. Total: Over 2.5 goals (+115)
Brazil vs. Mexico (Group A)
2 way line – Brazil -1.5 (+100) Mexico +1.5 (-120)
3 way line – Brazil (-320) Mexico (+850) Draw (+440)
Total – Over 2.5 (-140) Under 2.5 (+120)
Side: Brazil were rather unimpressive in their opening match against Croatia. The controversial penalty drawn by Fred may have saved the Seleção from a disastrous opening match draw. The odds say Mexico have a better shot against Brazil than Croatia did, but it’s hard to believe Brazil will sleepwalk through the match like they did on Thursday. The Brazilians will be much more attack-minded and should be able to handle the still beleaguered Mexican attack. Expect the back four of Brazil to be far more compact and the midfield to control the game and put Neymar and Fred in goal scoring positions regularly. Not to mention, Neymar looks primed and ready to take a stranglehold as the undisputed face of the 2014 World Cup.
Mexico got the three points they so desperately needed in their opener with Cameroon. But the Indomitable Lions appeared as though they had no interest to come at the Mexican defense at all. El Tri did have not one but two goals incorrectly disallowed, but they still were not teeming with goal scoring chances. They lack that final idea that will allow them to break through against a much better side in Brazil. Mexico won’t see nearly as much of the ball, and they’ll actually have to defend for more than the 90 seconds Cameroon spent on the offensive. Sure, the win against Mexico may have the confidence back where it should be, but it takes a lot more than a confident side to upset the host nation. Pick: Brazil -1.5 (+100)
Total: The Brazilian attack was disappointing in their first match yet they still managed to score three goals. Of course, one cannot expect a gifted penalty to occur again, but Brazil’s offensive play-makers should feel more comfortable early in this game. Mexico did end their goal scoring drought, but were not as convincing as many of the talking heads are claiming. The game could go either way when it comes to number of goals. It’ll all come down to how many the Seleção are able to put in, and betting against a Brazilian team that wants to show they still know how to play a beautiful game just doesn’t seem wise. Pick: Over 2.5 goals (-140)
Russia vs. South Korea (Group H)
2 way line – Russia -0.5 (+125) South Korea +0.5 (-145)
3 way line – Russia (+125) South Korea (+260) Draw (+210)
Total – Over 2 (+100) Under 2 (-120)
Side: Russia are one of the most team oriented sides of the 32 nations competing for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. A team composed almost exclusively of domestic based players lends to an understanding that most national teams don’t have. Former English manager Fabio Capello has his Russian side believing that they are the best in the group and that if they play Russian soccer they can beat anyone in the world. The issue is they simply don’t have an elite player on the entire roster. Igor Denisov, the captain, will have to control the midfield and utilize the team mentality to have them working together better as a unit than a collection of individuals. So far so good with the current 23, as they’ve won four of their last five and scored in every match.
South Korea are based on one thing, speed. The young team whose key players are all under the age of 28 will look to attack down the flanks and try to stay organized throughout. Their achilles heel, though, is an inability to put the ball in the net after they use their speed to enter the final third. Without an experienced goal scoring striker, the Taegeuk Warriors tend to lack creativity when it comes to finishing the job. Coming up against Russia is somewhat of a nightmare for the Koreans as well. They thrive on finding the space in-between the midfield and defense of their opponents. Unfortunately, the Russians almost never find themselves out of position and they almost always have coverage when players get beat one-on-one. The Taegeuk Warriors have had trouble scoring against Asian nations, good luck against a tactically sound European one. Pick: Russia (+125)
Total: South Korea are not strong along the central defense which could open up some opportunities for Russia to jam the ball down the throats of the Korean defense. However, the speed of South Korea often makes up for what they lack in size and discipline at the back. Russia will maintain control of the ball for a majority of the game, but when South Korea gets it they will look to break and break quickly. Neither team are big time goal scorers, but the chances should arise. If there was a three way line to bet an exact total of two that would be the pick, but there isn’t, so… Pick: Over 2 goals (+100)