FIFA’s Confederations Cup gets underway on Saturday, as Russia and New Zealand start proceedings. The tournament is usually held the year before a World Cup in the country that is due to hold the showpiece tournament. Russia are the hosts for 2018, and they head a line up of the winners of each regional FIFA confederation along with the last World Cup winners, Germany.
We’ve already made our predictions for the outright winner of the competition, as well as highlighting the value bet for the winner of group B. Now we turn our attention to the weekend’s two opening matches, Russia v New Zealand on Saturday, and Portugal v Mexico on Sunday.
The host nation are preparing for a World Cup on Russian soil, but their form tailing back from last year’s European Championship is far from promising. A lack of competitive action for the hosts is often cited as a blight on preparations though, so after a raft of friendly matches this will at least provide the Russians with some competition. New Zealand are taking part off the back of winning the OFC Championship, but this is widely regarded as the weakest section – particularly since Australia defected to take part in the AFC.
Portugal v Mexico on Sunday is a much more appetising fixture, between the current European Champions and 2015 CONCACAF Champions. Both sides have selected strong squads for this competition, and the likes of Ronaldo and Hernandez will go head-to-head in what promises to be a cracking match in group A.
Portugal v Mexico
We’re siding with Portugal in this one at a very reasonable +115 with BetStars.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s inclusion in the squad is a mark of Portugal’s intentions here, and unlike the Germans who have selected a very inexperienced squad, the Portuguese appear to mean business. They could barely have been in better form since the end of the Euros, winning all but two matches since lifting the trophy last July. One of those was a recent shock 3-2 home defeat to Sweden in a friendly that they had led 2-0 early on; while the other was a 2-0 defeat in Switzerland in Portugal’s opening World Cup qualifier last September. They’ve won all five qualification games since that defeat, but still trail Switzerland by three points as the Swiss have won six out of six so far. Plenty of work to do then to overturn those positions, but for now the focus is on adding another trophy to the cabinet.
Mexico are also in great shape, and they top their qualification group in the CONCACAF section by three points from Costa Rica. Their last tournament action was at the Copa America, where they were dumped out at the quarter final stage after a 7-0 thrashing by eventual winners Chile. The Mexicans have only lost once since then though – a 2-1 home defeat to Croatia. It would be fair to say that some of the opposition has been of a lower standard, but Mexico have picked up wins against Iceland, Ireland and USA over the last seven months, so it would be unfair to underestimate them.
With Ronaldo leading the charge Portugal are fancied to have a good tournament in Russia, and these are arguably the top two teams in group A. Victory here will send one side well on the way to winning the group, and one suspects it will be the team which possesses (arguably) the best player in the world.
Russia v New Zealand
Many will be tempted to steam into the host nation at short odds, but a bet of under 2.5 goals at +107 with Marathonbet makes more appeal to this tipster.
Russia have played nine games since leaving the Euros with a single point, and five of those have had less than three goals. Four have exceeded the 2.5 goal line, but overall Russia are not known for being a free-scoring side. The World ELO ratings place Russia as the 38th best side in the world compared to New Zealand in 65th, so they can be expected to have more of the ball and more of the initiative on the pitch. Whether they have the quality to break down the New Zealand defence on a number of occasions remains to be seen.
Only one of New Zealand’s last ten matches have had three or more goals, with the other nine all falling below the 2.5 goal line. Their relative success has been built on a solid defensive shape, and the team have earned seven clean sheets in that run of ten games. In recent friendlies they’ve been beaten by a 1-0 scoreline by Belarus and Northern Ireland – neither if which is a top European side, but both if which would compare well in terms of quality with Russia.
This is expected to be a typically cagey opening game in which Russia labour to unpick a tight New Zealand defence. A low-scoring game should come as no surprise and the odds on offer are well worth taking.
Portugal to beat Mexico
Sunday 18th June, 16:00 GMT
Russia v New Zealand – Under 2.5 Goals
Saturday 17th June, 16:00 GMT
Once or twice per month we will provide you with the latest sports tips and keep you updated about the biggest events.