There are a few tricky customers from pot four, writes Andy Brassell, with Nigeria and Serbia among the most dangerous...
"Serbia, are the pot four team that nobody really wanted, and accordingly are the shortest-priced to win the competition of the fourth-ranked teams at [250.0]"
It's what the public want and what the favourites fear; an outlier, one of the teams in pot four for last December's draw, emerging to create a surprise at the World Cup. As ever, a few of these apparent outsiders are worth closer examination, especially so in the cases in which they are paired with big names traversing periods of uncertainty.
With this in mind, Group D is probably the first to attract our attention when we're looking at fourth seeds - not least because of Argentina's spectacular collapse in their recent friendly with Spain in Madrid. Jorge Sampaoli's side looked incredibly vulnerable, as they did throughout qualifying, with Lionel Messi arriving in the nick of time to pull them from the wreckage of a shambolic campaign and deliver them safely to Russia.
Argentina already know Nigeria's strength
So Nigeria - arguably the strongest of the fourth seeds - pose a genuine threat to Messi and company. They were the first African team to qualify for this summer's tournament, having comprehensively beaten current African champions Cameroon along the way. They have recent form against Argentina too, having beaten them 4-2 in Krasnodar in a November friendly which underlined just how pliable Sampaoli's defence can be.
Leicester's Wilfred Ndidi could weigh heavily in the midfield, where Argentina are still struggling to find balance, and Victor Moses' increased minutes with Chelsea in the last two seasons makes him a genuine threat them in wide areas. It's a tough group generally, with Croatia and Iceland also in the mix, and this balance means that Nigeria look very tempting at [9.6] to be the group winner, when it's not difficult to imagine all the teams taking points from each other.
That is rather less expected to be the case in Group E, or Brazil's Group, as it's more commonly referred to. The fourth seed chucked in with Tite and company, Serbia, are the pot four team that nobody really wanted, and accordingly are the shortest-priced to win the competition of the fourth-ranked teams at [250.0], with Saudi Arabia and Panama the least-fancied, both at [1000.0]. This is worth noting in terms of a cash-out prospect, rather than with actual expectation of them triumphing in the Moscow final, of course.
It isn't the sexiest team that Serbia has ever produced, though just reaching the finals is the achievement after years of off-field difficulties, which directly affected matters on it. The real plus is Mladen Krstajic taking over as head coach from Slavoljub Muslin. At a stroke, it's made the team more of a prospect, with Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic brought in by the former, having been shunned by the latter.
Lazio midfielder provides star quality
Milinkovic-Savic gives Serbia that extra bit of imagination. He's a simply one of the best midfielders in Europe and could make the breakthrough to megastardom in Russia. Coupled with the experience of Brainslav Ivanovic, Nemanja Matic and Aleksandar Kolarov - in good form for Roma - Serbia have a good chance of qualifying from the group, for which they are priced at [2.4].
So while Morocco, Japan and Australia (and maybe even Panama) may have their merits, Nigeria and Serbia carry the hopes of the escapees from pot four. Let's keep our fingers crossed - the group stage wouldn't be the same without a few shocks, would it?