The top challengers are usually understood, but there are always a few dark horses in the running for every major tournament
The 21st edition of the World Cup kicks off in under three months and some of the best players in world football will grace the stage in Russia.
With 32 teams taking part it can be difficult to predict a winner, but some teams are inevitably better equipped than others when it comes to personnel.
However, at every major tournament there is always room for a dark horse to upset the established order.
So who’s the favourite to win the 2018 World Cup? Goal takes a look at the contenders for the highest prize in football.
Favourites to win the 2018 World Cup
Given the fact that they are the holders and recently won the Confederations Cup – with a second-string team, no less – Germany are considered favourites to win the World Cup according to dabblebet. Joachim Low’s side are rated 9/2 to emerge triumphant in Moscow on July 15.
They will have to overcome Mexico, Sweden and South Korea to get out of their group and into the knock-out stage, but Low’s men have consistently shown over the years that they have the nous to go deep into major tournaments.
Die Mannschaft are actually joined by Brazil as favourites to win the tournament with the Selecao also having odds of 9/2 attached to them, despite doubts lingering over the fitness of their talisman Neymar. Tite’s side finished comfortably top of the CONMEBOL qualification series, 10 points ahead of second-place Uruguay.
It must be said that they have been handed a tough group to navigate first though. Serbia, Switzerland and Costa Rica are all hard-working and capable sides, so Brazil will not be expected to breeze through to the knock-out stage.
As well as Germany and Brazil, France are among the favourites to win the competition 10 years after their first and only triumph. It is not surprising to see Les Bleus so highly rated (11/2) considering that Didier Deschamps has an impressive pool of talent to draw from, which includes the likes of Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann.
The 2010 world champions Spain are not the same Furia Roja that dominated international football from 2008 to 2012, but, with players such as Sergio Ramos, Isco and Andres Iniesta at their disposal, they remain one of the most fearsome teams in the world.
They may have crashed out at the group stage in 2014, but they are considered 6/1 bets to win in 2018. Spain have a fascinating group that will see them come up against Iberian rivals Portugal as well as Morocco and Iran, but they should have enough in the tank to finish in the top two.
World Cup 2018 outsiders
For years now pundits have observed that the only thing Lionel Messi needs to cement his status as the best player in football history is the World Cup. The Barcelona star was a beaten finalist in 2014 but the outlook does not look particularly good for 2018. Argentina’s qualification campaign almost ended in disaster and they needed a moment of Messi magic in the last game to secure their place at the tournament.
They are priced 9/1 to win the tournament, but they recently suffered a 6-1 hammering at the hands of Spain, which, while a friendly, simply does not bode well and they will have to emerge from a difficult group containing Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria.
European champions Portugal have not been given much of a chance by bookmakers at 25/1 but it would be foolish to disregard the Cristiano Ronaldo factor. The Real Madrid man has finally rediscovered the kind of form that ensured a slew of accolades last season and he bagged a remarkable 15 goals in qualification.
Fernando Santos’ team is peppered with talented youngsters such as Andre Silva and Joao Cancelo, but they boast one of the best players of all time in Ronaldo and that is significant.
Another outside bet for the 2018 World Cup is Belgium, whose ‘Golden Generation’ – including players like Kevind De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku – has now reached a level of maturity that should see them mount a serious challenge.
The Red Devils reached the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup and were knocked out at the same stage at Euro 2016, but they have enough talent in their ranks to warrant a better display in Russia. On paper, they have been given a relatively straightforward group, with England, Panama and Tunisia to top, and they will be eager to show that they’re more than also-rans.
World Cup 2018 underdogs
Over the years England have had to contend with the pressure of expectation at successive World Cups, but that simply does not exist in 2018. In terms of star quality, Gareth Southgate’s side is a far cry from the ‘Golden Generation’ that fell short in the 2000s and, rated 16/1 to win, they are genuine underdogs in Russia.
As is customary, the Three Lions qualified for the tournament with ease and they have held their own in warm-up friendlies against Germany, Brazil, the Netherlands and Italy. With no weight of expectation to carry, England could well thrive.
Two-time world champions Uruguay are another team who can be considered underdogs (28/1) at the 2018 World Cup, but they have shown that they can mount a challenge for honours. As well as winning early editions, the Celeste have finished fourth on three occasions.
They finished second to Brazil in CONMEBOL qualifying – ahead of Argentina – and the fact that they possess some of the best strikers in world football in Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani is a massive boost.
Croatia finished third at the World Cup in France 10 years ago but they have failed to replicate the same level of success since. Crashing out at the group stage in 2002, 2006 and 2014, their status as potential challengers is also undermined by the fact that they needed to qualify via the play-offs after being pipped by Iceland in their group.
However, with Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic in their ranks, they boast the kind of talent other nations envy. Despite that, they are certainly underdogs and are considered a 33/1 bet to win.
World Cup 2018 long-shots
Every four years it seems that at least one team emerges from nowhere to qualify for the knock-out stages, inflicting upsets along the way. Senegal helped knock out the holders France in 2002, reaching the quarter-finals, and of the African teams involved they are deemed the most likely to make their mark in Russia at 150/1.
Seven-time Africa Cup of Nations winners Egypt (200/1) are the most successful African nation, but they have failed to make an impact on the world stage. However, in 2018 they will have the star quality of Mohamed Salah, whose ability can help spur them on.
Out of 20 editions thus far, the World Cup has been won by tournaent hosts on six occasions, but the 2018 hosts Russia are very much long-shots. They struggled at the Confederations Cup last year, going out at the group stage, and have not won any of their last five friendly games.
However, despite their dismal form, the weight of history dictates that bookmakers believe there is a slight chance (40/1) they will be inspired by the home support sufficiently to mount a challenge.
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Denmark needed a play-off to qualify for the World Cup, but they have a talented squad that includes Tottenham star Christian Eriksen and will hope to reach the knock-out stage at least.
Iceland are competiting in the World Cup for the first time in history but their chances are not rated highly at 200/1, while another first-time participant, Panama, have even less of a chance at 1000/1.