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World Cup: Mark Langdon's betting tips

The World Cup is fast approaching and the Racing Post's Mark Langdon has cast his eye on the main markets here at bet365.

Outright winner

It's a wide-open betting heat with many teams holding solid claims and a case could be made for all of those prominent.

At 12/1, Netherlands should give bettors a good run for their money, with the Dutch housed in what looks a comfortable Group A alongside hosts Qatar as well as Ecuador and African champions Senegal.

Topping the group would see the Dutch face the team finishing second in Group B - most likely USA or Wales - and the path to the quarter-finals looks relatively straightforward.

Beyond that? Who knows and the draw rarely works out perfectly anyway in tournament football so it is best to concentrate on Netherlands' strengths.

Virgil van Dijk leads the defence and Frenkie de Jong adds quality to the midfield to supply a forward line where Memphis Depay should be nicely rested having barely played for Barcelona this season.

Depay's international record of 42 goals in 81 games is worthy of much respect and so too is the CV of manager Louis van Gaal.

The 71-year-old has lifted the Champions League and UEFA Cup as well as multiple league titles and also guided the Dutch to third place at the 2014 World Cup.

South American pair Brazil and Argentina could go close, while holders France have a frightening attack of Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe but they will need to overcome injuries to influential midfielders Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante.

Spain were arguably the best team at Euro 2020, losing to eventual winners Italy on penalties, and Germany have a Champions League-winning coach in Hansi Flick.

Belgium's golden generation will be putting their hopes on Kevin De Bruyne's shoulders and Portugal will believe a team containing Bernardo Silva, Ruben Dias and Joao Cancelo should be ultra-competitive.

England have been on the right track previously under Gareth Southgate, reaching the semi-finals of the last World Cup and the final of the Euros last year.

However, even with home advantage for much of the tournament the Three Lions came up short and their form in the Nations League - Southgate's side were relegated - does not bode well.

Top goalscorer

Harry Kane won the Golden Boot four years ago and is 7/1 to retain the top goalscorer honour with 9/1 Mbappe seen as his most likely challenger.

There are dangers everywhere and solid cases could be made for Kane, Mbappe, Benzema, Neymar and Depay but Lionel Messi's final World Cup could have a special ending in place.

Messi has returned to his brilliant best for PSG this season and will have the Argentinian team built around him for his swansong.

A group containing Saudi Arabia, Poland and Mexico should allow Messi to make strides when the cheaper goals are usually easier to come by and the 35-year-old was joint-top goalscorer at the 2021 Copa America when he led Argentina to victory in Brazil.

Golden Ball

The Golden Ball is the award handed out for the person who is voted as the player of the tournament and the list of winners makes for interesting reading.

Paolo Rossi in 1982, Diego Maradona (1986), Salvatore Schillaci (1990), Romario (1994), Ronaldo (1998), Oliver Kahn (2002), Zinedine Zidane (2006), Diego Forlan (2010), Messi (2014) and Luka Modric (2018) are those to have won the Golden Ball which means only once in the last eight tournaments did the triumphant nation also have the best player.

It is usually given to a veteran with Modric, Messi, Forlan, Zidane and Kahn - the last five winners - all in their thirties.

For those reasons alone there could be some mileage in Messi at 12/1 or Cristiano Ronaldo at 20/1 and the case for Ballon d'Or winner Benzema is strong at 10/1.

Two of the last three winners in Forlan and Modric had major impacts for less fancied nations in Uruguay and Croatia and if Euro 2020 semi-finalists Denmark can go well again it could play into the hands of 66/1 shot Christian Eriksen.

The great Dane nearly lost his life at the Euros and his comeback to top form for club and Manchester United is remarkable.

England stage of elimination

Group B should be easy enough for England and a last 16 date with Senegal or Ecuador is unlikely to see the Three Lions eliminated early.

However, the seedings suggest a quarter-final date with France, or Denmark if Didier Deschamps' men stutter, and both are good enough to send Southgate's side packing.

Les Bleus have incredible individual talent, particularly in attack, and Denmark only lost to England at the Euros to a controversial penalty. Without home advantage the result could be different.

Group bets

Netherlands should be able to oblige for odds-on backers in Group A at 4/9, although the qualification battle between Senegal and Ecuador is less easy to settle with hosts Qatar set to be outclassed.

In Group B, take Iran to qualify at the expense of USA and Wales, who are overly reliant on Gareth Bale. USA did poorly in qualifying, unlike Iran who have a striker in form in Mehdi Taremi.

Group C should be comfortable for Argentina and it's too tight to call between Robert Lewandowski's Poland and Mexico. The Argentina and Netherlands double is solid.

Denmark look value at 11/4 in Group D against France having beaten them home and away in 2022.

Group E appears a match between Spain and Germany. Slight preference would be for the possession-based approach of Spain but they are tough to separate.

An upset could be on the cards in Group F with Croatia fancied to edge out a Belgian side possibly on the downturn and Group H might also see a favourite toppled as Uruguay have the striking power to pip Portugal.

Darwin Nunez is a threat and Fede Valverde has been sensational for Real Madrid this season.

Group G should be relatively straight-forward for Brazil, and Switzerland can qualify alongside them with their efficient approach more suited to pressure football than the swashbuckling Serbia. The Swiss only went out at the quarter-final stage of the Euros on penalties against Spain and then topped a World Cup qualifying group ahead of Italy.

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