Analysis | The World Cup favorites and our World Cup best bets


The usual soccer powerhouses top the list of favorites to win this year’s World Cup in Qatar, with DraftKings selecting Brazil, Argentina, defending champion France, Spain and England as the top choices. My own betting recommendations are a bit more eclectic — see below — but here’s a brief look at the chances of the leading contenders:

Brazil (+350 to win; wager $100 to win $350)

The five-time World Cup winner has not hoisted the trophy in 20 years and has flamed out in the quarterfinals in three of the past four tournaments, but an impressive South American qualifying run (14 wins and three draws with no losses) has a return to glory on the table. The Seleção has perhaps the best goalkeeper in the world (Alisson) and a bevy of attacking options, including Neymar, who will be fully healthy for a World Cup for the first time.

It’s the final chance at World Cup glory for 35-year-old legend Lionel Messi, who has advanced past the World Cup quarterfinals only once in four attempts with Argentina. The two-time champion has not lost in 35 matches, a streak that includes a triumph over Brazil in the 2021 Copa América final. This time around, Messi is surrounded by talent and plays within a pass-heavy system that suits his game.

As noted below, the defending champion has had a messy four years since its 2018 triumph in Russia, and no team has successfully defended its World Cup title since Brazil in 1962. But any team featuring Karim Benzema (the most recent Ballon d’Or winner, given to the world’s best player on a European club), Kylian Mbappé (only 23 and one of the world’s most dangerous scorers) and Antoine Griezmann (the savvy veteran) is going to be difficult to stop. France’s biggest enemy is France itself.

Manager Luis Enrique demands total adherence to his attack-first-and-attack-always system: “We always want to be in our opponents’ half and take risks,” he has said. But that system doesn’t amount to much without effective finishers, and Spain might be lacking in that department. (A lot of expectations are being placed on the slight shoulders of Pedri, who’s 19.) Plus, Enrique’s methods can leave Spain’s defense vulnerable to counterattacks.

Expectations haven’t been so high for the Three Lions in quite some time, but that seems appropriate for a team that reached the World Cup semifinals four years ago and lost to Italy in the Euro 2020 final on penalties. Recent form hasn’t been great, however: England went winless in six UEFA Nations League matches this year, losing three and drawing three, though a 3-3 tie with Germany on Sept. 26 was heartening. Harry Kane is the linchpin, and if he can’t get going, England could struggle.

How to run a World Cup pool

There are a host of compelling options to win the Golden Boot, given to the World Cup’s top goal scorer. Here are the leading contenders, again, according to DraftKings.

Harry Kane (England) +700

Kane is the defending Golden Boot winner, having scored six goals four years ago in Russia. He needs three goals to surpass Wayne Rooney as England’s all-time top goal scorer.

Kylian Mbappé (France) +800

Mbappé scored four times in Russia as a 19-year-old, and he and Pelé are the only teenagers to score in the World Cup final. He has 190 goals in five-plus seasons for French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain, including 19 in 20 matches across all competitions this season.

Lionel Messi (Argentina) +1000

For all his accomplishments, Messi has scored only six times in the World Cup, with four of them coming in Argentina’s run to the final in 2014. He has never scored in the knockout round.

Neymar has six goals in two World Cup appearances and 15 goals across all competitions for Paris Saint-Germain this season.

Here are the top 12 options on DraftKings, as of Nov. 15.

It might be fun to throw a few bucks down on the team you think will win or the top goal scorer, but there are countless other options to wager on. Here are a few bets that I think could be worth your while.

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Costa Rica scores the fewest goals, +800 (FanDuel)

Of the four Concacaf teams to qualify for the World Cup, the defensive-minded Ticos scored the fewest goals in the final stage of qualifying (13 in 14 matches), and they’re the only such team to not have a player with at least three goals in qualifying. Instead, Costa Rica is content to let its opponents press the attack and hope the defense and goalkeeper Keylor Navas (Paris Saint-Germain) come up big.

You want to pick a team with little hope of advancing to the knockout round when considering this bet, and Costa Rica must contend with European titans Spain and Germany plus Japan in Group E. At FanDuel, the odds for a bet on Costa Rica to be eliminated in the group stage are a staggering -2000, which tops every other team’s odds for the same bet by a wide margin.

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Spain under 8.5 goals, -110 (DraftKings)

Spain tallied just 15 goals in qualifying, tying Switzerland for the lowest-scoring UEFA qualifying group winner, and seven of those goals came in four matches against Georgia and Kosovo, the worst teams in Spain’s group. La Roja last exceeded two goals in a match March 29 against Iceland, and its past three World Cup teams — including the 2010 squad that won it all — did not finish with more than eight goals. Since David Villa retired in 2019 after scoring a Spain-record nine career World Cup goals, La Roja has lacked a finisher, and that — combined with its presence in perhaps the World Cup’s toughest group — could keep its scoring down.

France eliminated in the round of 16, +400 (DraftKings)

The past three defending World Cup champions crashed out of the tournament in the group stage. In middling Group D with Denmark, Australia and Tunisia, France should avoid that fate, but Les Bleus are a mess on the field and off it entering this year’s tournament, and a departure in the early knockout stage isn’t all that unlikely.

France enters the tournament with just one win in its past six matches. Nine players thought to be candidates for the World Cup roster have been battling injuries, and star Kylian Mbappé has been fighting with the national federation over image rights. There have been sex-tape blackmail cases and accusations of witchcraft-themed threats among the players, and the head of the national federation has been accused of sexual harassment. It’s ugly.

Denmark certainly won’t be intimidated by France, having beaten Les Bleus twice in the past five months. A runner-up group finish probably means a match with likely Group C winner and tournament second favorite Argentina in the round of 16, and that’ll be no easy task.

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Canada qualifies for knockout round, +280 (FanDuel)

The Canadians are back in the World Cup for just the second time (and the first time in 36 years), but that doesn’t mean their players don’t have experience in the spotlight. Jonathan David (Lille), Cyle Larin (Brugge), Stephen Eustáquio (Porto) and Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich) have played in the Champions League, and that experience against the world’s best will carry over to Group F matches against Belgium, Croatia and Morocco.

Finishing ahead of Belgium probably is too much to ask, but finishing in second isn’t. Croatia, the runner-up four years ago, is stuck between eras, a combination of age and inexperience that shouldn’t do it any favors, and Morocco is a long shot. Canada finished atop the table in Concacaf qualifying, ahead of continental big brothers the United States and Mexico, and won’t be intimidated here.

Odds to win the World Cup (per DraftKings as of Nov. 16)

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