For a week now soccer fans of Planet Earth have been amortizing the month-long high that was the 20th FIFA World Cup. There was no shortage of surprises, disappointments and memorable performances at Brazil 2014. The most expensive World Cup event in history was watched by over 1 billion people and amounted to the most exhilarating in recent memory, so much so that as Germany flies their trophy home and soccer fans struggle to cope with no-more-futbol, bookies have opted to keep the excitement rolling with some very early predictions for the next World Cup event in Russia, 2018.
Though, it’s worth mentioning that one thing arrived far earlier than the odds did: Controversy. The 21st World Cup will be the first ever to held in Moscow, Sochi, Saint Petersburg and 8 other cities in and around European Russia. But given Russia’s rep for racism, xenophobia and LGBT discrimination, not to mention a certain annexation earlier this year, you can bet the protests will be significant.
Of course that doesn’t mean all bets are off. If there’s one thing soccer fans crave more than a World Cup for their nation, it’s betting on it shamelessly - as reproachable as might be, very legitimate concerns around the location of the next World Cup will likely be more than trumped by futbol fever. Case in point: The earliest odds for FIFA 2018, just announced by sports betting website Bovada this week.
10 Russia: 20/1
Russia failed to break the Group Stage with a tie to Korea and Algeria and a loss to Belgium this year. Its national team has only once survived a major tournament Group Stage at Euro 2008, and 2018 will mark their fourth appearance ever at the World Cup. That FIFA ranks them 19th in the world makes their top 10 odds a feat in itself; are Putin’s suspiciously one-sided hockey events signaling a nefarious precedent for soccer in 2018? More likely, gamblers never underestimate the power of home turf, and the Motherland could very well light the fire its footballers need in 2018.
9 England: 20/1
Seeing The Three Lions’ prospects tied with Russia’s might be a little discouraging for English fans, but all things told their outcome this year was not strong cause for optimism. A loss to Italy and Uruguay shut them out of the tournament far earlier than anyone expected. With underwhelming performances from England’s superstars —including Wayne Rooney, the face of English football — almost everyone agrees that 2014 was England’s worst World Cup performance since the last time they failed to break the Group Stage in 1958, and that could haunt them in 2018.
8 Italy: 16/1
What’s more important than how Italy looked in 2014 is how Italy won’t look in 2018. The 2006 World Cup champions played a disappointing duo of matches this year against Costa Rica and Uruguay — all biting handicaps aside — which sent them home before the knockout stage. But if veteran midfielder Andrea Pirlo and iron goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon have seen their last appearance for Italy’s national team — which they likely have — 2018 means a new era in Italian soccer, and that above all means uncertainty.
7 Belgium: 16/1
The Red Devils have made 12 appearances in the World Cup that rank them 11th today on FIFA’s world ranking point list. While their best remains a fourth place result in Mexico 1986, their quarter-final elimination to runner-ups Argentina this year wasn't far away. Sturdy victories over Algeria, Russia, South Korea and the United States in Brazil 2014 translate to sturdy odds for 2018, ahead of England and tied with Italy despite their lower competitive rating.
6 Netherlands: 12/1
Netherlands played exemplarily at this year’s tournament. Beginning with an unprecedented 5-1 victory that contributed to 2010 winners Spain’s early departure, they swept through Australia, Chile, Mexico and edged by Costa Rica on a nail-biting penalty victory. While they ultimately succumbed to semi-final shootouts with runner-ups Argentina, the performance assured the world that a Dutch World Cup victory is hardly a crap shoot, and as the record holders for most World Cup finals without a win, the Netherlands is a push just waiting to shove in 2018.
5 France: 10/1
While the Blues delivered on much of the promise they arrived with this year, their performance was cut short by a loss to the German champions for their second quarter final placement in history. France’s 10/1 odds straddle optimism and caution, befitting of The Blues’ inconsistent World Cup track record. This year was a major step up from their 2010 and 2002 Group Stage eliminations, but also underwhelming for a team that placed second in 2006 and took home the Cup in 1998. If you believe in patterns, France is now slated for Group Stage elimination once again. Evidently, few fans do.
4 Spain: 8/1
Spain landed themselves a tough bag of Group Stage games this year, and their failure to overcome them was this World Cup’s first major disappointment. After a string of victories in international soccer—Euro 2012, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2008—their 5-1 loss to Holland, steep by any team’s standards, could hardly have been predicted. And then a 0-2 loss to Chile, and La Furia Roja’s reign at the top of football ended as suddenly as it could have. But chalk it up to a bad season: Spain still occupies the highest FIFA World Ranking, and with 8/1 odds, you can bet they’re still riding a winning rep in 2018.
3 Brazil: 8/1
There was a moment in the Brazil-Germany game — somewhere around Germany’s fourth goal at 26 minutes — when the entire institution of football and every press outlet in the world experienced the same feeling in some form or another. Brazil’s domination by the World Cup champions, especially in that first half where six minutes produced four effortless goals was, in a word, surreal; a truly rare moment in football when a team appears to be so demoralized, so psychically detuned that everything you know and expect from them falls apart along with the game itself. With no Neymar and no Thiago Silva, Brazil seemed almost willing to be pried open by Germany’s precision strikers, and their 7-1 loss was all but too painful to watch.
Lost in the upset, though, is the fact that Brazil — record five-time World Cup winners — finished the tournament in fourth place. And really, despite two humiliations in the final events of their own World Cup, no football fan could make the case that Brazil aren't one of the best teams in the sport, or won't remain one of the safest bets to make in football.
2 Argentina: 7/1
There were hardly any complaints to be had about the runner-up performance at this year’s World Cup. A straight string of Argentine victories ended with a razor-thin margin in the final match when the team conceded just a single goal in the exhausting 113th minute of play. Indeed, Argentina more than held its own against the tournament champions. Most late gamblers would have predicted a shoot-out finale after they ran a superbly tight defensive performance for 90 minutes, and in just a slightly different universe, one of their many breakaway scoring opportunities would have put them on top.
Soccer sensation Lionel Messi still ultimately won his 4th consecutive Ballon d’Or after a well-rounded performance all tournament, which only reassured the soccer world that though Argentina didn't exactly make history, its players more than lived up to their reputations this year. They will come roaring back in 2018.
1 Germany: 5/1
The world will likely remember Brazil 2014 as the year Germany wrote this chapter in soccer history. Their trajectory included an historical beating of Brazil, an historical beating of a host country, a record 8th time in the final and fourth consecutive semi-final by any team in tournament history, the country’s fourth World Cup victory which pars them in second with Italy, and finally, propping up veteran striker Miroslav Klose to become the all-time leading scorer of the World Cup.
This year, Germany was the team you chose when your own country didn’t qualify. They were the country nearly everyone knew would win. At the dawn of the final game, bets were overwhelmingly on a German victory; the prophecy took 120 minutes to fulfill. The team ran a tight ship on defense and goalkeeping, and their striking tactics were chillingly exacting all tournament long. Their performance only leaves us with one question: Can they do it again in 2018? Bookies think so.