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World Cup: Southgate coy despite favourable draw

England boss Gareth Southgate said getting out of Group B was his side's "first objective" after learning of his team's first-round opponents at the World Cup.

The draw took place at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre, where the great and good of the game were all hoping to see their country receive a favourable draw.

With hosts Qatar one of the eight teams in Pot A, one of the big names was always going to receive a tough draw. However, with the teams spread out, there will have been a huge sigh of relief in the hall, with no true 'Group of Death' to speak of.

England handed decent draw

The Three Lions, 11/2 to lift the trophy for a second time, will open their campaign on 21st November against Iran before taking on the USA four days later.

They could also meet either Scotland or Wales in Group B. The Scots have still to play Ukraine in their playoff, with the victor of that tie going on to face Rob Page's side in Cardiff.

England bounced back from their opening-round exit in Brazil in 2014 to reach the semi-finals in Russia four years ago.

They are 1/3 to take top spot in the pool but Southgate is taking nothing for granted.

"USA and Iran are teams we've not played for a while and the third is an unknown but throws up a possible British derby," he told the BBC.

"We've got to get out of the group. Our first objective is to get out of the group and then we build from there."

bet365's Steve Freeth has clearly been taken by England's draw and believes Harry Kane could better his Golden Boot tally from 2018.

Kane, who has netted 49 times in 68 caps, is 8/1 to score seven or more at the tournament and is 7/1 to win another Golden Boot.

The England captain is now just four behind Wayne Rooney's 53-goal record and Steve admits that while it is likely he could match the benchmark before the tournament, the favourable draw should only help his cause if he is still chasing the Three Lions' prize.

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He said: "We were offering 5/1 for Kane to break Rooney's record of 53 goals for England back in October 2017 after he'd scored the winner in the final World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, taking him to 12 international goals in 23 appearances.
 
"Such is his continued scoring rate for his country, it's entirely possible he could break the record before the start of the World Cup, but if he doesn't, he could fill his boots in the group stages, just like he did in Russia."

France still have their followers

Holders France, 11/2 to defend their crown, will take on Denmark for the second straight tournament and could also be reunited with either Peru or Australia, both of whom were in their pool in Russia and are in the same playoff bracket with UAE. Tunisia have also been drawn in Group D.

Les Bleus will be hoping to avoid the curse of the reigning champions. The 2006, 2010 and 2014 winners have all crashed out in the group stages of the following tournament, with Italy, Spain and Germany falling at the first hurdle.

However, as Steve has noted, the strength of their squad means punters still believe they can defend their title, despite falling short at Euro 2020.

Steve said: "France backers had their fingers burnt at the Euros when they were knocked out by Switzerland, but they've come back for more in Qatar. Deschamps looks to have the best squad, the best individuals and strength in depth, so you can understand why they're giving them another chance."

Can Brazil win a sixth title?

Brazil were awarded the original Jules Rimet trophy in 1970 after becoming the first country to win the World Cup three times.

They have since taken the tournament on two other occasions but it is now two decades since they last lifted the trophy in 2002 and they are 9/2 to end their drought.

Boss Tite has already announced he will step down at the end of the competition in Qatar and has a point to prove after seeing the Selecao slump to a quarter-final exit four years ago.

The 60-year-old has an embarrassment of riches, with Alisson keeping Ederson out between the sticks, while the ageless Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and Eder Militao are battling for a central defensive position.

With Fabinho and Casemiro controlling things in midfield, the Brazilian attack is piloted by Neymar, 20/1 for the Golden Boot, and the emergence of Marcus Cunha gives them the centre-forward they've been missing since Ronaldo.

Punters are clearly taken with the Selecao and Steve says they have been very popular.

He said: "Like France, Brazil have quality all over the pitch and they're the type of side that always attract support, despite it being 20 years since their last triumph."

Brazil will meet Serbia and Switzerland for the second straight tournament, with Cameroon completing Group G.

No Group of Death leaves draw open

Arguably the most eye-catching of the other pools is Group E, where 8/1 Spain have been placed alongside 11/1 Germany. However, both will feel they have enough to progress past Japan and either Costa Rica or New Zealand.

Meanwhile, hosts Qatar will open the competition against Ecuador on 21st November, with the Netherlands the 2/5 favourites to emerge from a Group A that also features Senegal.

The World Cup could also be the end, on the global stage at least, for old foes Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, priced at 14/1 and 12/1 to win the top goalscorer award, respectively.

Messi's 9/1 Argentina, the reigning South American champions, will take on Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Poland in Group C.

Ronaldo's Portugal are 12/1 to go all the way but must first negotiate a Group H featuring the team that knocked them out in Russia, Uruguay, as well as Ghana and South Korea.

Finally, to Group F, and Belgium, 12/1 outright, will take on Canada, who ended their 36-year exile from the tournament, Morocco and the beaten finalists in 2018, Croatia.

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