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World Cup Group Odds Roundup: Powerhouses set as betting favorites

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Only three countries won their group in each of the previous two World Cup tournaments, one of which did not even make it this time, which suggests that pool play can offer some pleasant payoffs for bettors.

With the World Cup in Russia set to begin next month, Uruguay is an even-money favorite on the World Cup group odds for Group A at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Host Russia (+125) is the second favorite in the group, which is rounded out by Egypt (+550) and Saudi Arabia (+3300).

Russia’s defense has struggled in pre-tournament friendlies, so laying chalk with Uruguay might be prudent. Egypt, with Liverpool winger Mohamed Salah, could be a darkhorse, or a possible threat to advance into the Round of 16.

The Group B lines on Spain (-200) and Portugal (+185) have been steady for months, with Spain stacking up well in the middle with Andres Iniesta playing in his final World Cup. Morocco (+1600) and Iran (+2500) might be sacrificial lambs.

France (-350) has stars such as Paul Pogba, but has played down to the level of competition. Denmark (+450), led by Christian Eriksen of Tottenham fame, could be a darkhorse in Group C.

Struggles in qualifying has helped Argentina (-180) and Lionel Messi keep some value in Group D. However, Luka Modric-led Croatia (+225) has an outside chance of winning the group, which also includes Nigeria (+1000) and Iceland (+1200).

In Group E, Brazil (-400) is a lock who could help accentuate the value of parlay, since it has a big edge in scoring punch over Switzerland (+600), Serbia (+800) and Costa Rica (+1800). Brazil is also the co-favorite on the overall 2018 World Cup odds, with Germany.

And the Germans (-310) have a chance to take all nine points in Group F, where the defending champions are up against Mexico (+500), Sweden (+600) and South Korea (+2000). Sweden, pending the health of goalkeeper Robin Olsen (shoulder), has a chance to qualify out of the group.

In Group G, Belgium (-125), led by erstwhile star Eden Hazard, has an outside shot at winning it all; its value might be depressed by having to contend with England (+120). For what it might be worth, England won eight of 10 qualifying matches, just as it did in the qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, the last time that it won its group.

Last but not least, Group H has the lone plus-money favorite on the World Cup group betting lines with Colombia (+120) rating a slim edge over Poland (+175), with Senegal (+500) and Japan (+700) filling out the foursome. Poland is a stout defensive side that might be able to upset the order and go through first.

Defending champion Germany, Brazil and the Netherlands (which did not qualify) were the only teams to win their groups in both 2010 and 2014.

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.

Defending Davis Cup champ Argentina KO’ed by Italy

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) Defending champion Argentina was knocked out of the Davis Cup in the first round by Italy on Monday.

Italy’s Fabio Fognini defeated Guido Pella in the deciding singles 2-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.

The match on outdoor clay was postponed from Sunday because of rain and darkness.

Italy took a 2-0 lead after winning both singles on Friday, but Argentina came back by taking the doubles on Saturday, and the first reverse singles on Sunday, when Carlos Berlocq defeated Paolo Lorenzi 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

Argentina played without top player Juan Martin del Potro, who made himself unavailable to focus on tournament play.

Italy will face Belgium in the quarterfinals in April.

Argentina beats Croatia 3-2 to win its 1st Davis Cup title

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ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) Argentina won its first Davis Cup title on Sunday when Federico Delbonis swept past Ivo Karlovic in straight sets to complete a stunning 3-2 comeback win over Croatia.

Delbonis dropped to the ground after his 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory. His teammates fell into each other’s arms and celebrated in front of thousands of Argentine fans in the packed Arena Zagreb.

This was the first Davis Cup title for Argentina in the fifth final it has played since 1981. Croatia won in 2005.

Going into the reverse singles Sunday, the Croats were leading 2-1 in the best-of-five-series after winning the doubles on Saturday.

Juan Martin Del Potro then rallied from two sets down to beat Marin Cilic 6-7 (4), 2-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-3 as Argentina drew level at 2-2.

With the victory, Argentina became only the third team to come back from 2-1 down in the final since the World Group Davis Cup format was introduced in 1981.

Delbonis went up a break in the first two sets and added two more in the third when Karlovic sent a forehand wide for the victory.

The 41st-ranked Argentine passed the big-serving Croat veteran at ease throughout the 2:09-hour match.

“This is fabulous,” Delbonis said. “We somewhat felt we could do it despite trailing after the doubles.”

The comeback started with Del Potro’s heroics that included a finger injury in the fifth set against Cilic.

“I was calm, I hoped all the time that I could win and I did it,” said Del Potro, displaying a bandage on his little finger on his non-racket left hand.

He said the injury happened in the fifth set while he was trying to catch a ball.

“I’m very happy to hand my team a chance of a victory,” Del Potro said.

The action-packed match at Arena Zagreb that lasted nearly five hours saw plenty of drama created by two players with similar styles.

“It is very difficult to lose such an important match,” Cilic said. “I feel a lot of disappointment.”

Cilic had a furious start to race to a 3-0 lead including a break in Del Potro’s first service game. The Croat capitalized on the first of three break points with a cracking forehand winner.

Del Potro fought back in the seventh game with Cilic under pressure at deuce. Two ground strokes, first a forehand long then a looping backhand, saw Del Potro break at the sixth attempt.

In the tiebreaker, Cilic raced to a 5-0 lead to seal the game with a slice backhand down the line that Del Potro could not control.

Under pressure after losing his fourth straight tiebreaker during the finals, Del Potro started the second set slowly and dropped his serve in the fifth game with a double fault and another in the seventh at love.

At that point, Cilic seemed to be cruising toward victory with some spectacular ground strokes that the tired-looking Argentine watched in disbelief.

But then Del Potro, who has recovered after two injury-hit years, showed the form he displayed in beating now top-ranked Andy Murray as Argentina knocked out holder Britain in the semifinals.

He broke Cilic in the 12th and 10th games in the third and fourth sets respectively to send the match into the decider.

“After losing the third set, I was still confident I could win as he looked tired,” Cilic said. “I started pushing a bit too hard, handing him a chance for a comeback.”

Trailing 15-40 in the eighth game of the final set, Cilic sent a forehand beyond the baseline to give Del Potro the decisive break. He served out the match to keep Argentina alive.