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World Cup 2018: Five long odds bets for Russia

Luka Modric's Croatia are a good bet for World Cup 2018
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With just two places at next summer's World Cup still up for grabs, the tournament in Russia is taking shape, with the draw on December 1. The usual suspects are favourites in the market, but Martin Laurence has picked out a number of dark horses to keep an eye on at chunky prices...

"With Cheikhou Kouyate and Idrissa Gueye offering solid protection to what is a strong defence, they should prove hard to beat, while the width offered by Sadio Mane and Keita Balde could be among the most fearsome next summer. At [250.0] on the Exchange, they're perhaps the best priced team out there right now."

Croatia - [38.0]

They may have needed a play-off with Greece to reach the tournament proper but the early signs under new manager Zlatko Dalic are encouraging for the ever-entertaining Croatia. The 51-year-old had been working in the UAE before replacing Ante Cacic earlier this year but his lack of top level experience hasn't shown thus far, leading the side to crucial wins over Ukraine and Greece to book a spot in Russia.

With enviable firepower at his disposal, Dalic has left out Mario Mandzukic in recent times, with the likes of Nikola Kalinic and Andrej Kramaric getting the nod. They utilise the flanks very well but their main strength is unquestionably in central midfield, with the Modric-Rakitic partnership among the strongest in the international game.

Croatia have a squad capable of going deep into the latter stages and [38.0] looks a very good back-to-lay.

Mexico - [100.0]

Another side that will look to upset the odds by going on the offensive next summer, Mexico reached the tournament with considerable ease for a record breaking seventh successive time. Their only defeat in the final phase of CONCACAF qualifying came in their last game against Honduras having already confirmed top spot - resting several players - and their experience and firepower is considerable.

Juan Carlos Osorio's squad is littered with international stalwarts but it's the emergence of a potential superstar that could see the Central Americans go far. Hirving Lozano stole the show in a recent friendly with the well-fancied golden generation of Belgium, which ended 3-3, scoring twice as he continues to build a big reputation. The 22-year-old has been in scintilating form since moving to PSV in the summer, scoring nine goals and registering three assists in nine appearances from the left flank, and is unquestionably one to watch in Russia.

Serbia - [140.0]

Given the talent at their disposal it's fair to say that Serbia have underachieved for some time now, though they began to put that right in qualifying, scoring 20 goals in ten matches to top a competitive group. It may not have included one of Europe's big hitters but the likes of Ireland, Wales and Austria all featured at the Euros last summer where Serbia did not. There is the issue of appointing a new head coach to sort following the shock departure of Slavoljub Muslin but if they get the right man there is so much to work with in the ranks.

Skippered by Branislav Ivanovic, there are plenty of familiar faces in the defence, including former Manchester City duo Kolarov and Nastasic, but as with Croatia it's in midfield where they are really spoilt for choice. Nemanja Matic is of course at it's heart but Sergej Milinkovic-Savic may well be the man to build the team around having only earned his first senior cap last week. The Lazio middle man can play in a deep or advanced role, offering superb physicality in and out of possession to help to make the side a real force. Meanwhile the likes of Adem Ljajic, Dusan Tadic and the exciting Andrija Zivkovic ensure the side is not short of creativity either.

Senegal - [250.0]

Having reached the World Cup for only the second time, Senegal will want to improve upon what was a shock progression to the quarter-finals in 2002. Their squad is certainly far stronger than it was fifteen years ago, when Papa Bouba Diop scored and celebrated a famous winner against France in the tournament opener. With impressive options in almost all positions, they are one of those dark horses that will be relatively well backed given the familiarity of their squad.

Kalidou Koulibaly and Kara form a strong centre-back pairing, while Youssouf Sabaly, who earned his first cap at the weekend having switched allegiances from France, is a very capable right-back. With Cheikhou Kouyate and Idrissa Gueye offering solid protection to what is a strong defence, they should prove hard to beat, while the width offered by Sadio Mane and Keita Balde could be among the most fearsome next summer. At [250.0] on the Exchange, they're perhaps the best priced team out there right now.

Morocco - [300.0]

Among the rank outsiders, Morocco have already upset the odds to a degree by qualifying for the tournament ahead of Ivory Coast, and doing so in impressive fashion to boot. Reaching the finals for the first time since the turn of the century, this current crop of players could quite conceivably deliver their best ever finish having failed to make it past the round of 32 in the past.

Herve Renard, who has had great success in international management in Africa, leading both Zambia [2012) and Ivory Coast [2015] to AFCON glory - the first manager to do so with two different countries - will manage at his first ever World Cup having organised this squad superbly.

In fact, Morocco didn't concede a single goal in qualifying, which was some feat up against not only his former employers but also Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's Gabon. The defence is captained by the underrated Medhi Benatia and also boasts a star of the future in Real Madrid teenager Achraf Hakimi at right-back. For the time being, though, Ajax's Hakim Ziyech is the real jewel in a side that the likes of Sofiane Boufal and Amine Harit can't force a way into given the depth of attacking options.

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