World Cup 2018 odds, predictions and picks to win it all

The 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off in Russia on June 14. The 32 hopeful teams from all around the world have their eyes on the coveted World Cup Trophy, handed to the winning team after the final match on July 15.

The World Cup teams are divided in eight groups of four, with three games played first in the group stage. The knockout stage pits winners of the groups against second-placed teams.

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Brazil, Germany, France and Spain are the biggest favorites to win the World Cup . The next tier of challengers includes Argentina, Belgium and England.

AccuScore simulations have hit their target remarkably well in the past, and there are once again some disagreements with the current markets. With AccuScore’s simulation engine, we are able to determine each team's probability for winning its group, qualifying for the knockout stage and, of course, winning the World Cup.

World Cup 2018 odds, predictions and pick to win

Big favorites hold their ground

The group stage offers no big upsets according to AccuScore’s simulations – all the big boys will survive their groups and head to the Round of 16. The greatest probability to qualify, however, belongs to Uruguay with 96-percent likelihood. The favorites Germany and Brazil follow suit, with a bit more than a 95-percent probability to take the top-2 seeding in their group.

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Argentina, France, Belgium and Spain are hovering around the 90-percent probability marker. Portugal, England, Columbia and Poland need to sweat at least a little bit, with probabilities around 75 percent. But where’s the struggle then?

Groups with likely surprises

Host Russia will have its work cut out in Group A with Egypt, led by a healthy Mohamed Salah, putting on the pressure. The Russians make it to the top-2 with 55-percent probability, while the Pharaos post a 35-percent probability. Needless to say, Salah plays a massive part in any Egyptian exploits.

In Group C, the biggest battle seems to break out between Denmark and Peru. The European side has a slight advantage and the Danes progress with 57-percent probability, while Peru puts in a remarkable challenge with 42 percent. It’s highly likely that both teams lose to France but beat Australia – making the head-to-head a pivotal matchup.

Another tough battle is likely to emerge in Group D with Argentina taking the spoils but leaving Nigeria and Croatia to decide the second seed. And what we’ve learned from the past is that Iceland should never be underestimated. All the teams have a good chance of beating each other and in AccuScore simulations it’s all very close: Croatia qualifies with 38.7 percent, Nigeria with 38.6 percent and Iceland challenges with 29.7 percent. Group D is the one to watch out for if you’re looking for upsets and Nigeria receives excellent odds on market for top-2 seeding compared to Croatia, +194 vs. -213.

Group E includes one of the AccuScore’s simulation surprises. Serbia is the most likely team to follow Brazil to top-16, with a 53-percent probability. They’re chased by Switzerland with 26 percent and Costa Rica with 25 percent. It’s likely to be another evenly fought group – except for the winner. The market offers Serbia greater odds than for Switzerland to progress, -103 vs. +112, so it’s worth keeping an eye on.

Germany is one of the most probable teams to win its group, but second place is not nearly as certain. Mexico is favored, but has to fight off a challenge from Sweden and Korea. Although not exactly dark horses of the tournament, Korea’s squad include a couple of interesting names in European football and Sweden, even without Zlatan, might have their say as well. Mexico is still the favorite with 53 percent, but Korea is close with 29 percent and Sweden chasing with 21.5 percent.

Overrated teams compared to odds

Since we spotted a couple of underrated teams when comparing AccuScore simulations to market odds, there’ll also be some nations that are overrated by the oddsmakers. While it’s debatable if any of the teams are actually 99 or so percentage sure to progress, let’s pay attention to the clear cases here.

In Group A, the home team Russia is considered almost 72 percent certain to head to top-16. Yes, it’s the home advantage and yes, they’re playing for the whole nation’s reputation – but they’ve also been horrible lately and have not looked like a competitive team in ages. Their players come mostly from the Russian league, which might not be such an advantage after all. Also, the pressure is huge and competition fierce, especially from Egypt. If Russia wouldn’t make it, it would not be a surprise: in AccuScore simulations Russia qualifies with 55.95 percent probability.

We’ve learnt to expect a lot from the Croatian team, but been let down almost every single time. Even if they have a couple of players on the top of European football, their effort when it matters has been lacking and the overall quality is not what the odds would suggest. The betting market believes Croatia to head to top-16 with 68.05 percent probability, while AccuScore’s simulations only indicate 38.7%.

The Swiss were already mentioned before, but they’re overrated at least as much as Serbia is underrated. To be fair, Switzerland has very little to show from their past performances and it doesn’t seem the team is getting that much better. They have also been expected to challenge for some time now, but ended up pretty much with nothing. Probability of 50.76 percent given by odds currently is way too much, as the simulations indicate the probability for the Swiss spot in top-16 as 25.69 percent.

African teams haven’t done well at all in Europe and while Senegal has some big names in their squad, the tough group proves to be too much of an obstacle. It’s a brave claim, but the simulations indicate Senegal to fall behind Japan in the fight for third place, when top seeds go to Colombia and Poland. The Senegalese only have 18.97 percent probability to reach the top-16 according to simulations, while the odds indicate 42.19 percent chance.

No Zlatan, no chance. The Swedes didn’t exactly impress with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and are now a quite unknown challengers without him. Couple of seasoned veterans and couple of young guns, but the overall quality needed to upend either Germany or Mexico just isn’t there. According to odds, Swedes are almost as favored as Mexico to go through and that just doesn’t add up. In AccuScore simulations, Sweden falls dead last in their group, with only 21.48 percent probability to push through to knockout stages; market odds indicate probability of 44.64.

Knockout stages

If the group stage plays out as predicted by AccuScore simulations, most of the big favorites avoid each other in the round of 16. Of course, if the projection is not 100 percent accurate, things change somewhat. For example, if Portugal and Spain trade places, either Spain or Uruguay would be out after the first knockout stage.

According to simulations, the first playoff stage won't yield any surprises. There are a couple teams that are likely to lose to whoever they’re pitted against. Namely Russia, Denmark and Croatia. All three are expected to lose their round of 16 game with more than 70 percent probability. If AccuScore group stage simulations are in fact gospel, here are the pairs for the Round of 16.

Round of 16 matchup predictions
Uruguay vs. Portugal
France vs. Croatia
Brazil vs. Mexico
Belgium vs. Poland
Spain vs. Russia
Argentina vs. Denmark
Germany vs. Serbia
Colombia vs. England

In this stage, the stakes get higher and the games are played until there’s a winner. As we all know penalties in football can be tricky, but in general the better team wins. Maybe that is why in each pair it is the better seeded team to qualify, with more than 60 percent probability. Argentina and Spain have the easiest task ousting Denmark and Russia respectively, while Germany and Colombia have tough time against Serbia and England.

Moving forward in the knockout stage, we finally get some surprising results. One of the biggest favorites, France will take on Uruguay and the South Americans prevail with around 60 percent probability. It’s the duo of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani that are able to sink the Frenchmen. Other pairs finish up with similar numbers, with Brazil beating Belgium, Germany sending Colombia home and Argentina besting Spain.

When only the top four remain, the games get tougher and tougher. Uruguay’s beast of a run finally comes to an end against their neighbors Argentina, while Brazil will beat Germany to make it to the final. Both the semifinal games are extremely close and we’re likely to see at least some overtime finishes.

In the all South American final, it is Argentina against Brazil. AccuScore simulations are undecided with the winner, since even after 10, 000 simulations the probabilities hover at 50 percent for both teams. It’s certain we will be wiser after the group stage and as the tournament goes on.

World Cup prediction

AccuScore's pick: Argentina will win the 2018 World Cup.

Golden Boot candidates

One of the most interesting games inside the games is the winner of the Golden Boot, given to the best goal scorer of the tournament. Even if the finalists' teams play eight games, rarely has a a player scored more than five or six goals.

In 2014, Colombia’s James Rodriguez scored three times in the group stage and then went on to score three more in the knockout stage to take the award. In the 2000s, only Ronaldo (the original one) has scored more than six, tallying eight in 2002.

AccuScore’s simulations predict a close race between some of the big names and maybe a surprise or two on the way as well. The goal total stands close to five goals, but maybe this time there’ll be a couple heavy-scoring games to disrupt the balance of things.

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TOP DOGS

Brazil: Neymar, 8 games 5.57 goals

Neymar is back with a bang and has looked amazing. Having support from the likes of Phillippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus might somewhat slow down his production, but Neymar is still likely to be the No. 1 scorer on one of the tournament's biggest favorites.

Poland: Robert Lewandowski, 6 games, 5.05 goals

A crazy goals-per-game ratio with the national team pushes Lewandowski to the top. He is practically the only pure goal scorer on an otherwise talented Poland team and he has carried his country through the qualifying rounds for years. Having a sluggish year at Bayern Munchen has reportedly made him uneasy at the club, so what better stage to show off for the future employers?

Uruguay: Edinson Cavani, 7 games, 4.36 goals

If Uruguay is to challenge for the top four or even top eight, Cavani and Luis Suarez have to find their stride. It’s likely that Suarez will be the one creating chances and Cavani putting them in. There’s a good competition for the role though, but if the duo puts their nation first, Cavani is likely to score more

Portugal: Cristiano Ronaldo, 5 games, 4.3 goals

Ronaldo suffers from Portugal’s lackluster play on the offensive end perhaps more than anyone else on the list. There's not much support for the magician, but, at the same time, he is the one everyone will look for when creating chances. Practically the only player on the team that is more likely to score than not.

Argentina: Leo Messi, 8 games 4.02 goals

Can’t have a list of scorers without Messi. He might have to take more of a creator’s role this time around with a couple of capable scorers in the squad. Argentina’s long run might help his cause, but it’s not sure he’ll be the one scoring the goals. But four should be a norm for a scorer like Messi.

AccuScore will update win probabilities throughout the World Cup. Check back for updates after the group stage.