The Afghanistan Women’s National Team

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Modern football is a funny thing. Players are brands. Coaches are heads of state. And a club in China is willing to spend $64 million on Oscar. As Dickens said, portending that Oscar transfer specifically… Best of Times. Worst of Times.

Last week, we spoke with Haley Carter, goalkeeping coach and assistant manager for the Afghanistan Women’s National Football Team. Carter also happens to be a United States Naval Academy Graduate, two-time Iraq veteran, former NWSL goalkeeper for the Houston Dash, and, as she proudly points out, a mother and wife. While the conversation left us feeling even more inadequate than usual, the story she told was one that drove home our long standing belief that football is often the least important, most important part of life. Or as Haley put it so beautifully, “This little speck of optimism in a really chaotic world.”

After our interview, we produced a short digital video about the Afghanistan WNT, its history, the challenges players face, and the hope it provides for women across that nation. WATCH IT HERE.

As Haley says in the video, “The bottom line here is we’re talking life and death to be able to play this game.”

The team’s players are scattered around the globe with roughly a third coming from Afghanistan itself, a third coming from Europe and a third from North America. Despite what Haley called tremendous support from the Afghanistan Football Federation, funding for the team is tight, and they can rarely afford to get together for training camps. As a result, they rely heavily on funding from outside sources. The team has partnered with Soccer Without Borders in an effort to raise money. CLICK HERE for more on how you can help, and more on the team’s story. #Courage

Brazil, Germany are now co-favorites on 2018 World Cup odds

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A dip in their price has brought Brazil level with defending champion Germany at +450, making them co-favorites on the odds to win the 2018 World Cup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

With the quadrennial competition for global soccer supremacy just more than one month away from kicking off in Russia, the top of the World Cup betting lines also includes Spain (+600), France (+700), Argentina (+900), Belgium (+1100), England (+1600) and Portugal (+2500).

While no nation has won back-to-back since Brazil did so with a young Pelé in 1958 and ’62, Germany remains the team to beat, with Leroy Sane of EPL champion Manchester City drawing into a lineup that includes main holdovers from their triumphant 2014 team.

Brazil has its strong history with a record five World Cup titles, but there is the troubling matter of star Neymar, of Paris Saint-Germain, having been sidelined since suffering a knee injury in February.

The debate over the joint favorites could draw heat away from Spain. The 2010 champion has a potential X factor in goalkeeper David de Gea of Manchester United and looks strong along the back line and through the midfield, where Andres Iniesta has one last shot at glory.

The major question about Spain is whether it will have enough natural offense, since neither striker option, Alvaro Morata or Diego Costa, has had much international success.

France has lost key defender Laurent Koscielny to a major Achilles tendon injury, which might be reason enough to fade Les Bleus. Argentina has the star power of Lionel Messi, but the manner in which it struggled just to qualify for the tournament – going down to the last game, in fact – hardly seems auspicious.

Each of the top six teams on the board has won the World Cup at least once. Belgium has the lowest odds of any non-champion, but it was a quarterfinalist in both 2014 and at Euro 2016 and has strong leadership from forward Eden Hazard. Belgium is worth considering for a darkhorse play.

England is in the same group with Belgium and last got past the quarterfinal in 1986. Similarly, Portugal has only been to the semifinals once in the last eight World Cups.

A true darkhorse worth considering is Croatia (+3300), whose price owes to being drawn into the tough Group D that also includes Argentina, Iceland (+15000) and Nigeria (+20000). Croatia, which has Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic shoring up the midfield, was undefeated at the group stage of Euro 2016 before losing out against eventual winner Portugal.

The World Cup begins June 14, with the final set for July 15 in Moscow.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

EPL Week Betting Preview: Man City Slim Favorite Facing Tottenham

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The recency factor might point to Tottenham Hotspur and Harry Kane instead of Manchester City, which is lagging after having run out front all season.

Manchester City is a super-slim +150 favorite with Tottenham Hotspur coming back at +160 and the draw offers +255 on the three-way moneyline for this English Premier League betting matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

However, Tottenham has yet to lose an EPL match since January 1, while Manchester City has lost three games in a row and has seen its ambition of an EPL/Champions League double go up in smoke.

Four of the last five matchups between the Citizens and Spurs have had at least three goals with both teams scoring. The over on the 3.0 total still offers +105. There should be scoring. Tottenham is also even-money on the draw no bet prop, offering a fallback to Spurs backers in the event of a tie.

The twist for the matchup between relegation-threatened Southampton (+345) and Chelsea (-120, +255 draw) is that the sides will soon meet again in an upcoming F.A. Cup semifinal. Southampton will have to play desperate attacking football, which makes both the over (2.5 total) and Chelsea on the goals line (-1.5) worth considering.

Burnley (+155) will not have captain Ben Mee in the center of its back four for a big match against Leicester City (+195, +210 draw). Each team is healthy up front, though, which means the over on the 2.0 total should hit. Both teams have scored in five of Burnley’s last seven home games and in 10 of Leicester’s last 12 away games.

Huddersfield Town (+160) and Watford (+180, +215 draw) are on five- and four-match winless streaks and have both been porous defensively. Neither team is more than a hunch play but taking the -140 over on the 2.0 total seems self-explanatory since eight of their last nine matchups have had three or more goals.

Swansea City (+150) catches Everton (+195, +210 draw), who is struggling to create scoring chances and has won just two of 16 away games in the league. Swansea City needs the full three points and also has Jordan Ayew back as a potential finisher.

Newcastle (+220) has won only one of its last 22 matchups against Arsenal (+115, +255 draw), whom it hosts in a Sunday betting matchup. Newcastle has an excellent chance to end the drought, since Arsenal seems to be saving itself for Europa League. Newcastle’s draw no bet price is a still-generous +135.

And West Ham United (-105) faces last-place Stoke City (+295, +240 draw) in a Monday betting matchup with a chance to solidify its place in the 2018-19 EPL. West Ham forward Marko Arnatovic is facing his former team, making him worth looking at in goal scorer props.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.