World Cup odds and matchups for opening week of action

Sportsnet soccer analyst Craig Forrest joins The Jeff Blair Show to discuss underdogs at the 2018 World Cup, and which countries could under-perform.

The long wait for the start of the 2018 FIFA World Cup will finally end with the first group stage match of the tournament on Thursday, when host nation Russia takes on Saudi Arabia as strong -230 favourites on the World Cup odds at sportsbooks monitored by

Russia has struggled in friendly competition ahead of the tournament, and is the lowest ranked squad participating in the 2018 World Cup, pegged at No. 70 going into Thursday’s matchup at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

The FIFA World Cup in Russia runs from June 14 to July 15, and will have in-depth daily coverage.

The Russians have failed to record a win in seven straight friendlies since October 2017, producing an 0-3-4 win-draw-loss record in their past seven outings, including a trio of clean-sheet losses, and have slipped to +6000 on the World Cup championship odds.

Saudi Arabia will take the field on Thursday as lengthy +800 underdogs. The Green Falcons earned their first World Cup berth since 2006 by going undefeated during AFC World Cup qualifying, but have stumbled through pre-tournament friendly action, going 3-1-5 including losses in their past three games to Italy, Peru, and Germany.

However, the Saudis emerged victorious in their only previous meeting with Russia, posting a 4-2 win in a 1993 friendly.

A full slate of World Cup action gets underway on Friday, with Spain taking on Portugal as +105 chalk in a crucial Group B clash. The Spaniards were left reeling following the sudden firing of head coach Julan Lopetegui on Wednesday, but maintain steady +650 odds to claim their first World Cup title since 2010.

Pegged as +305 underdogs in Friday’s contest, Portugal enters Russia 2018 as the reigning European champions but have failed to post a win over Spain in a major international tournament since Euro 2004.

On Saturday, Iceland makes their highly anticipated World Cup debut as they take on South American powerhouse Argentina as heavy +950 underdogs, while France looks to open the group stage on a strong note as they battle Australia as heavy -425 favourites.

Iceland emerged as the darlings of Euro 2016 during an unexpected run to the quarter-final but rides a four-match winless streak into the tournament, while Argentina aims to build on a 4-0 demolition of Haiti as -2500 favourites in their final pre-tournament friendly.

The two tournament favourites then take the pitch in Sunday’s action. Brazil looks to justify their position as +400 tournament chalk as they take on No. 6 Switzerland as -245 betting favourites, while Germany sits as a +475 bet to repeat as World Cup champions as they open their group stage schedule against Mexico as a -205 wager.

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