With Germany unable to get out of the group stage, Brazil remains the favorite to win the World Cup.
According to Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, the South Americans are a 2-to-1 choice (Bet $100 to win $200) following the Round of 16.
It would be an unprecedented sixth title for the Brazilians, who come off an impressive 2-0 Monday win over Mexico, which had done it a favor in helping eliminate the defending champions thanks to a shocking 1-0 upset to open play in a wild Group F.
Although Brazil was my choice to win it all at the beginning of the tournament, allow me to caution that it may be time to reverse course. At the very least, if you’re in on the “Verde Amarela” to win it all on my advice, you’re hopefully in at the 7/2 that was available to open World Cup play and should now cover yourself by backing Belgium to win Friday’s incredibly appealing quarterfinal.
Given the talent set to take the pitch and the form they’ve displayed to date, Brazil vs. Belgium could’ve easily been the championship game if the bracket had worked out differently. Instead, the teams will meet for a berth in the semifinals.
After falling behind 2-0 against Japan, Belgium manager Roberto Martinez inserted polarizing Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini, who immediately helped turn the game around with his attacking, scoring the game-tying goal. His other modification was to go with forward Nacer Chadli, who came in alongside Fellaini in the 65th minute to wreak havoc with his elusiveness and ultimately put the game’s final shot in the back of the net.
Nearly at the death, four minutes into stoppage time, Belgium managed a masterful counterattack after goalie Thibault Courtois plucked a Japanese corner out of the air and rolled the ball ahead to begin a brilliant run forward that ultimately gave goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima no chance when star striker Romelu Lukaku played decoy and let a pass get through to Chadli, who calmly scored to eliminate the Samurai Blue.
Belgium has a “team of destiny” feel to it.
The Belgians won 3-2 despite being held scoreless into the 70th minute. After victories over Panama, Tunisia and England in Group H play, Belgium joined Uruguay as the only teams to win four straight results in regulation in this World Cup and is a 5-to-1 choice to win the World Cup after opening a 10/1. Croatia (6/1) has also won four contests, but technically drew in its Round of 16 match against Denmark, finishing tied after 120 minutes before prevailing on penalty kicks.
The firepower Belgium can put on the field is such that talents like Fellaini and Chadli are available to come off the bench. Captain and elite defender Vincent Kompany sat out the first few games. This group is loaded and now know what it’s like to stare down elimination.
Brazil remains a beast but has some issues coming into the quarterfinals. Casemiro, its key defensive midfielder, will miss the clash against Belgium due to yellow card accumulation. Marcelo, the world’s top left back, was sidelined due to injury against Mexico and may be out once again after manager Tite said he would’ve only been able to go 60 minutes had he played on Monday. Neymar, criticized for over-selling foul calls and pretending he’s more injured than he actually is, has been hit hard throughout this tournament and isn’t 100 percent.
Forward Gabriel Jesus has battled and created chances, but my choice to win this World Cup’s Golden Boot has yet to score a single goal. Midfielder Philippe Coutinho, who is even with Neymar atop Brazil’s scoring leaders with two, was pulled against Mexico because his coach felt he had been overloaded with work. Brazil is certainly vulnerable.
The only elite side Belgium has beaten thus far, England, rested top goal-scorer Harry Kane that day since both teams had already qualified for the knockout stage. That makes this matchup the first major test for the Red Devils since it can be argued that the British team didn’t really extend themselves to try and finish top of the group. Since the Belgian defense looked so suspect against Japan, there’s a chance we see Brazil truly impose its will here and look unbeatable, but all that remains to be seen.
As things stand, I wouldn’t recommend doubling down on Brazil even though I stand by them as my pre-tournament selection. There’s no question they can win three more games, but another reason to be hesitant has to do with the fact that winning Group E left the South Americans on the left side of the bracket. Due to how things played out, the right side of the bracket definitely doubles as the right side of the bracket to be on if you’re looking for the easiest road to the World Cup title.
The Brazil-Belgium winner squares off against whatever country gets out of the France-Uruguay clash. Both teams have looked fantastic thus far, eliminating Argentina and Portugal, the sides led by elite talents Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. France’s odds are 4/1, second behind only Brazil, while Uruguay remains at 14/1 only due to the path that awaits on the left side of the bracket.
Croatia looks like the team most likely to reach the final from the other group since it will face host Russia (20/1) for a spot in the semifinals. After surviving star goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and Denmark in PKs, the Croats will be heavily favored against the host Russians, which defeated Spain on penalties to wrap up a monumental upset of the 2010 champs, who looked a step slow and became their own worst enemy by being complacent.
That same fate nearly swallowed up England against Colombia when it went into the bunker to try off and kill the remaining time in Tuesday’s final Round of 16 match but failed to hold a 1-0 lead when Yerry Mina scored his third World Cup via header in the final minute of stoppage time. Although they were down 3-2 after the first three rounds of penalty kicks, Colombia missed its final two tries and failed to eliminate the favored Brits.
Look for an English team that hasn’t won a World Cup since 1966 – the only title in its history – to be favored against Sweden, which used an own goal to take down Switzerland. The winner will face the Russia/Croatia winner, which certainly bodes well for the Brits after things looked so bleak for them following a near collapse.
Brazil may indeed still win it all and prove my initial inclination right, but merely doubling your money isn’t worth the risk at this point, especially if you’ve gotten in on the side already. In a World Cup that has delivered one surprise after another, this is the point in the tournament where you’re going to want to hedge. Be it Belgium, France, Uruguay or a team from the right side that few would’ve envisioned winning it all when action in Russia began, there are plenty of choices to get behind to increase your odds of a prosperous July.