No country has retained the World Cup since Brazil in 1962, but Germany arguably have the best chance since then of lifting football’s most coveted trophy for a second consecutive time.
Joachim Low’s side admittedly failed to add the European crown to their world title in 2016, but their international set-up is so strong that they could afford to give most of their best players last summer off and still capture the dress-rehearsal Confederations Cup.
Not only that, but the Germans also became European Under-21 champions and so coach Low has a vast amount of resources at his disposal to pick the strongest squad available and use them to best effect, as he did in Brazil four years ago.
Players such as Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels have the experience of winning a World Cup and, along with the new breed such as Julian Draxler, Leroy Sane and Timo Werner, combine to make the Germans a very appealing bet at best odds of 5/1.
It’s hard to look beyond Die Mannschaft, who will remain a favourite amongst tipsters well into the tournament, barring a disastrous start to the group stages of course. Still, there are many more great tips for Russia for punters who don’t fancy the Germans.
Of the longer shots, Belgium at 12/1 have all the quality you could wish for but will need to fare better than in previous tournaments for the first time under ex-Everton manager Roberto Martinez, while Portugal will have their backers at 28/1 after winning Euro 2016 even with their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo playing little part in the final due to injury.
In the group betting, one wager that particularly appeals, especially for the big-hitters, is France and Denmark both to qualify from Group C at the expense of Peru and Australia at odds of 5/6.
Peru had to negotiate a play-off to get to Russia and would not even have qualified for that if they had not been awarded three points for Bolivia fielding an ineligible player, even though the Incas lost that match 2-0. They will find the conditions very different to what they are used to, while Australia also only just scraped into the tournament via a play-off against Honduras.
Denmark, with Tottenham Hotspur playmaker Christian Eriksen pulling the strings, are fancied to fare better than the bookmakers suggest and could be worth backing at a generous-looking 6/1 to reach the quarter-finals, while defensively-solid Switzerland are other European dark horses worth keeping on side and they are expected to advance from Group E along with Brazil at odds of 6/5 to eliminate Serbia and Costa Rica.
Spain, the 2010 heroes, are some people’s idea of potential 2018 World Cup winners but they will need to improve immeasurably on their disappointing showings at the last two major tournaments.
Nevertheless, Julen Lopetegui’s side should still ease through Group B along with Portugal and ahead of Iran, who are fancied to finish above Morocco as the North Africans struggle to score goals.
And what of England? Well, Gareth Southgate appears to have brought a proper vision to the Three Lions since he took over from Roy Hodgson and there is a real long-term structure in place now designed to produce a road map towards major tournament success.
England fans will be encouraged by the triumphs of the age-group teams on the global stage, but it still looks to be too early for the senior team to make the breakthrough that has been craved since the glory days of 1966.
There remains the concern that not enough English players are competing at the highest level of club football to generate the strength of squad required to win a World Cup, but at least Southgate’s team have received a group from which they can progress along with Belgium and ahead of Tunisia and Panama.
Beyond that, it is difficult to see much improvement on the achievements of other recent World Cups and elimination in the round-of-16 at odds of 2/1 is a bet that appeals.