Argentina beats Iceland, Denmark draws with Peru

The 2018 World Cup is under way and there are few more intriguing cases than Argentina, a team who could either go all the way to the trophy or fall at first hurdle. Jorge Sampaoli’s side will be required watching throughout their stay in Russia, but for now they will be fully focused on an avoiding a potential banana skin when they do battle with Iceland on Saturday afternoon.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Argentina would not have qualified for this tournament without Lionel Messi; it is staggering to see such a major footballing nation so reliant on a single player, regardless of the fact that the star in question is the best in the world.

If the Barcelona man is at the top of his game this summer La Albiceleste could add a third World Cup trophy to their collection, but there are significant problems in defence and midfield which make that outcome seem unlikely.

Argentina to win without conceding

Iceland will have no such dreams about scooping the prize next month, but that does not mean they’re in Russia to simply make up the numbers. Indeed, while they may be the smallest nation to ever participate in a World Cup, Iceland have already proven that they are capable of upsetting the odds against far bigger opposition, both at Euro 2016 and in the qualification campaign for this summer’s competition.

Heimir Hallgrimsson will instruct his side to sit deep and make life difficult for the Argentines, who will have to remain patient if they do not make the breakthrough early on. Messi and co. should ultimately have enough for victory, though, so consider backing them to win without conceding (1.95).

A flutter on over 3.5 goals

Over in Group C, Peru and Denmark are widely seen as the two contenders for second place behind probable table-toppers France. Los Incas are making their first World Cup appearance since 1982 having turned their qualification campaign around at the midway point. Ricardo Gareca’s charges have been in fine form ever since then, but there is a slight danger that the team could get caught up in the emotion of their return to the biggest stage and fail to do themselves justice.

Denmark will hope to take advantage if that does prove to be the case, although there are question marks surrounding their side too. Christian Eriksen is a superb playmaker but it is not clear whether the Danes will possess enough creativity if the Tottenham man is marked out of a game, while their direct style of play can sometimes lead to frequent turnovers of possession. Pine Sisto is a major counter-attacking threat, though, while midfielder Thomas Delaney could be one of the surprise stars of the group stage.

Peru will probably take the game to Denmark, who will look to spring forward at speed on the break. A high-scoring encounter could, therefore, be on the cards, so consider a flutter on over 3.5 goals (4.20). Alternatively, a draw with both teams to score (4.33) could be worth a look.

By Greg Lea

After many years of sports writing with emphasis on football, including a stint at Sky Sports, Greg is here to help you with betting tips. Follow him on Twitter @greglea to get the latest updates before placing your bets.