One of the tournament’s biggest mismatches so far will take place Monday afternoon when a powerhouse Belgium side takes on Panama at Russia 2018.
Panama miraculously qualified for this World Cup following a surprising run in CONCACAF qualifying. They beat out the United States in the process, but this side will quickly realize that the World Cup is a huge step up in competition. They’ll get their first taste of that in their opening match against a Belgian side ready to finally dominate.
For Belgium, it’s simply now or never for this generation of talented and world-class footballers. There’s a reason they were up near the top of the favorites list entering Russia 2018, and there is huge hope that new manager Roberto Martinez will allow the Belgian attacking flair to shine through, and erase bad memories of failures from previous tournaments. It starts on Monday against a Panamanian side they should have no trouble handling. The Red Devils were also handed quite a fortunate group to qualify from, with only England posing a threat. Tunisia is the other squad in Group G, and they likely aren’t ready to shock just yet.
It will be fascinating to see just how much Belgium can dominate in this match. They’ve shown vulnerabilities in the past, and you do have to wonder that if Belgium can’t strike early – will doubts once again begin to seep in? Read on below for some good betting opportunities and a match prediction as the soccer world prepares to strap in and get their first look at Belgium this World Cup.
Belgium vs. Panama Betting Odds:
Over 2.5 (-150)
Under 2.5 (+130)
Belgium vs. Panama Pick:
Belgium enter this tournament the side many expect them to be. They’re red-hot on offense, scoring seven times in their past two warm-up matches. They’ve also won 19 straight matches, and though they haven’t played any super-quality teams – the remarkable consistency they’ve shown under manager Roberto Martinez, has fans and pundits encouraged that Belgium can and will finally play to their potential on the world stage.
Panama on the other hand might just be the worst team at Russia 2018. And yes, that includes the lowly Saudi Arabians. They enter fresh off losing to Norway, and drawing Northern Ireland 0-0. That doesn’t exactly instill much confidence as they prepare for a powerful and attack-minded Belgium squad.
Look for this to be a tone-setting match from Belgium. They are going to win comfortably, and I think they are also going to want to come out and score some goals. In a group with England and two other minnows like Panama and Tunisia, it will likely come down to their final match as to who tops Group G. You can bet Belgium will want to do damage against Panama and rack up some goals, so they do have the goal-differential tiebreak in their back pocket.
Belgium enters this match with some injury concerns within their defense – namely Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen. Even if that duo does not suit up, they’ll likely still be within the squad at some point in this tournament. My guess is Roberto Martinez is likely resting the veteran defenders to prepare them for bigger matches later on in the group and into the knockout stages.
Expect Martinez to have his Belgians line up in an attack-oriented 3-4-2-1 formation. Romelu Lukaku is a beastly striker up top, and there is nobody within the Panamanian defense that can handle the Manchester United target-man. He’ll be supported by the creative and speedy Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens. Beyond that, look for Kevin de Bruyne to play a key role in winning balls, controlling the midfield, and putting his nation on the front foot attacking a susceptible Panama defense.
Panama will try to stack things at the back – not to play for a draw necessarily, but more so to avoid a total embarrassment. Captain Ramon Torres is their key defender, and he’s a fringe player on the Seattle Sounders – just to put things into perspective. It’s going to be a tough way to make a debut at a World Cup for the proud nation of Panama.
Ultimately, too many of Panama’s main players are well past their primes and have lost a step or three. They’re not deep enough to go toe-to-toe with any team really, and though they’ll try to play defensive and limit the Belgians speed and skill, it’s far too much for 90 minutes. Belgium knows the value of goals in a group where England will likely be hot on their trails, and I’d expect their attacking quality to shine through. Expect Belgium to get up early, and not let their foot off the pedal. While you can go ahead and safely lay -600 on Belgium, I think they’ll also be able to secure the Over 2.5 Goals at -150 for the match. Look for a 3 or 4-0 Belgian victory.
MY PICK = Over 2.5 Goals (-150)