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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.

Rafael Nadal beats Dominic Thiem to win 10th title in Barcelona Open

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rafael Nadal defeated Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-1 to win his 10th Barcelona Open title on Sunday.

It was the second consecutive week that Nadal had won a tournament for the 10th time. He had become the first men’s tennis player in the Open era to win the same title 10 times at the Monte Carlo Masters last Sunday.

“It means a lot to me to win 10 titles here in Barcelona as well,” Nadal said. “To win in Barcelona and Monte Carlo gives me a dream start to the clay season.”

It was Nadal’s second title of the season and 71st of his career. The fifth-ranked Spaniard had lost his previous three finals, including to Roger Federer in the Australian Open.

Next month he will try to win a 10th French Open title. The last of his 14 Grand Slams was three years ago in Roland Garros.

Nadal broke the ninth-ranked Austrian late in the first set and early in the second, then cruised to close out the match for his 51st career title on clay. He saved the only break point he conceded to Thiem at the “Rafa Nadal” center court. He was only broken twice in 47 service games throughout the week.

“It was vital for me to win the first set,” Nadal said. “It was difficult. I had a few more chances than him, but it was very even.”

The 30-year-old Nadal has won 10 consecutive matches and is 21-1 in his past 22 sets.

Thiem, who had upset top-ranked Andy Murray in the semifinals on Saturday, was trying to win his second title of the season. He won in Rio de Janeiro in February.

Nadal won five straight titles in Barcelona from 2005-09, then three consecutive from 2011-13, and now two in a row in 2016 and this year. He has a 10-0 record in finals in Barcelona, losing only one set.

Nadal improved to 53-3 at the ATP World Tour 500 event.

Valverde dedicates his Liege-Bastogne-Liege win to Scarponi

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LIEGE, Belgium (AP) Spaniard Alejandro Valverde dedicated his win at the Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic on Sunday to Italian cyclist Michele Scarponi, who died after a collision with a van while training on Saturday at the age of 37.

Valverde caught Irishman Dan Martin about 200 meters (yards) from the end and comfortably beat him in a sprint to the line. Polish rider Michal Kwiatkowski finished in third place, crossing three seconds behind them on the 258-kilometer (160-mile) route.

Valverde is one of the best classics riders in cycling history and his latest win comes four days after winning the Fleche Wallonne (Walloon Arrow) for a record fifth time. Martin was second in that race as well, which was also run over hilly terrain.

Valverde, who turns 37 on Tuesday, has also secured victories at the Tour of Andalusia, Tour of Basque Country and Tour of Catalonia this season. His win at Liege-Bastogne-Liege equaled Italian Moreno Argentin’s tally and is one behind Belgian great Eddy Merckx’s record.

But Valverde’s mind was far away from his own achievements.

“My first words are to dedicate this victory to Michele Scarponi, who was a great friend of mine,” a tearful Valverde said. “My prize money will go to his family.”

A minute’s applause for Scarponi, the Giro d’Italia winner in 2011, was held prior to the start of the race.