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Weekend Review: Punters suffer from World Cup woes following shock results

A number of surprising outcomes give bookies the upper hand as the tournament’s group stage enters a tense conclusion

The World Cup in Qatar has thrown up several shocking results as we head for this year’s final round of group matches, with the bookies in front in the early stages of the tournament.

The biggest shock came in Group C as one of the bookie’s favourites to win the whole thing, Argentina (2/25), lost 2-1 to lowly Saudi Arabia (25/1).

The South Americans took the lead through a Lionel Messi penalty before a second-half salvo from Saleh Alshehri and Salem Aldawsari gave Saudi Arabia a famous victory.

In the second round of games, fortunes switched for both sides as Saudi Arabia (9/2) was brought back to Earth by Poland (7/10) following some goalkeeping heroics by Wojciech Szczęsny, who produced a magnificent double save to deny Saudi Arabia from the spot and on the follow-up, and  Robert Lewandowski finally got his World Cup goal.

Argentina (1/2) and Messi returned to winning ways with a comfortable 2-0 win over Mexico (6/1) to set up a fight for the top spot with Poland on the final matchday.

The other biggest shock for the punters came on Sunday afternoon as Morocco (7/2) stunned Belgium (9/10) 2-0 to give the Atlas Lions a fighting chance of making the last 16, while fellow Maghreb nation Tunisia held Denmark to a 0-0 draw.

The shocks have been coming at an almost non-stop rate this tournament, as 2014 winners Germany (2/5) lost 2-1 to Japan (6/1) on matchday one, even with Die Nationalmannschaft going up 1-0 in the game thanks to an Ilkay Gundogan penalty. Goals from Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano gave Japan all three points.

England fans had the optimism knocked out of them after a stunning 6-2 win over Iran was followed by a damp squib of a 0-0 draw with the US on Friday night.

Kindred Group’s Ali Gill said: “So far a tough World Cup for punters as the shock results seem to just keep coming. England’s dour 0-0 draw with the USA is sitting as the best result in the book for us, but Argentina’s 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia and Denmark’s 0-0 draw with Tunisia are both very close behind.

“It’s not all gone our way, and England’s opening game win against Iran was a great result for punters, as was France’s win over Denmark on Saturday,” he added.

Powered on by Kylian Mbappé, 2018 winners France look in fine fettle after a 4-1 win over Australia and a 2-1 victory over Denmark, making them the first nation to qualify for the knockout stages.

Bet365’s Steve Freeth said: “While we’re currently holding the upper hand as we head towards the knockout stages, I’ve been in the game long enough to know that can soon change.

“Morocco’s victory over Belgium and Saudi Arabia’s shock win versus Argentina have been our best results of the tournament, while France’s late winner against Denmark along with Poland against Saudi being our worst – thanks very much, Mbappé and Lewandowski.”

Looking ahead to England’s chances, Betfred’s Alan Firkins commented: “Next stage of the proverbial journey for England is on Tuesday, with Wales no less to overcome. After the euphoria of game one, the US affair was a massive wake-up call.

“England remain 9/1 for outright glory, while Brazil has hardened to 5/2, France 11/2, Spain 13/2, Argentina 7/1, and it’s 12/1, bar those quoted.”

There has been a number of 0-0 draws so far in this year’s tournament, with five already, smashing the 2018 tournament, which saw just one no-score draw.

Freeth said on this massive increase in stalemates: “We’re well on the way to breaking the record of 0-0’s at a World Cup with the bet365 Bore Draw Money Back + offer being triggered five times. This has been enhanced to include a number of goalscorer markets and bet builders meaning we’ve already refunded over £14m at the World Cup so far.”

Gill looked ahead as to what the next three weeks could hold for both bookies and punters.

Gill said: “With three weeks still to go, traders here would be happy to see things continue in the same vein, but as we approach the business end of the group stage, the big teams would hope to be coming to the fore, as the punters will be hoping for.”

Odds-on backers were able to claw some of those World Cup losses back on the racetrack as hurdling superstar Constitution Hill (1/4) produced a stunning display at Newcastle to cement his Champion Hurdle claims.

The Nicky Henderson-trained five-year-old sauntered to victory in the Betfair Fighting Firth Hurdle, beating stablemate Epatante and Not So Sleepy to claim victory in the Grade 1 race.

Timeform now has Constitution Hill rated at 177, which makes him the sixth-highest rated two-mile hurdler in history.

The comfortable victory on Saturday has led to bookies slashing his odds to 8/11 for the Unibet Champion Hurdle in March in what could be a mouth-watering clash should reigning champion Honeysuckle line up for the race.

It was a great Saturday for Henderson as he had four winners across the cards at Newbury and Newcastle.

Firkins said: “A Nicky Henderson field day on Saturday (always expensive), and Constitution Hill’s demolition job in the Fighting Fifth was sensational. A generational talent. Four winners for Fred’s Pushes in the shops, several more online, and overall we came off comfortably worse on the day.”

Elsewhere, Le Milos took the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury at 9/2. However, Pricewise in the Racing Post had tipped the horse up at 25/1 in an ante-post column.

Finally, Ryan Moore made a perfectly timed late challenge to take the Japan Cup aboard Vela Azul in front of tens of thousands of fans packed into the grandstand at Tokyo Racecourse in Fuchu.

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