- Italy will miss out on World Cup for the first time since 1958 after losing a play-off to Sweden
- Germany are favorites to claim the title next summer ahead of Brazil and France
The final thirty-two team line-up for next summer’s soccer World Cup is nearly complete and there will be a notable absence from the four-yearly festival in 2018, after four-time winners Italy were beaten in a two-leg play-off by Sweden.
It will be the first time since 1958 that the Italians have not taken part in the World Cup and their failure to qualify has led to a spate of retirements including that of thirty-nine-year-old veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Brazil suffered a slow start to their qualifying campaign but eventually finished ten points clear of their nearest rivals under a new manager, Tite, and are second favorites at 6-1, along with Euro 2016 finalists France, who have a settled and talented side and could be a good bet at that price if their players come good.
A resurgent Spain, who overcame Italy to top their qualifying group, are priced at 13-2, along with Argentina, who left it late to qualify, beating Ecuador 3-1 in their final game, but can boast two of the world’s best forwards in Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero.
Belgium at 12-1 are likely to prove popular with punters, given the depth of talent at manager Roberto Martinez’s disposal, although they have often failed to live up to expectations in the major tournaments.
At odds of 25-1, the reigning European champions Portugal could be underrated, given their tried and tested methods, their well-organized line-up and the presence of a match winner in Ronaldo.
By contrast, England, who didn’t particularly impress in winning a straightforward qualifying group are priced at 20-1 although 888 is offering an even more generous 24-1.
World Cup hosts Russia, who didn’t have to qualify, can be backed at 40-1, while plucky Iceland, playing in their first ever World Cup tournament, are 200/1.
But the rankest of rank outsiders appears to be New Zealand, who, if they lift the World Cup, will see bookies, including William Hill, pay out a whopping 2,500-1. The problem for New Zealand is that they haven’t qualified yet, and must get past Peru, who themselves are a mere 250-1.
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