Hostile environs won't derail Mexico

The World Cup kicks off Friday with Mexico playing the host country, South Africa, in what should be one of the toughest environments in which Mexico ever will play.

Between the nonstop blowing of the vuvuzela horns, which sound like a swarm of locusts, and South Africa getting one of the perks of being the host country, friendly officiating, betting on Mexico might appear to be an unwise decision.

However, in this instance I'll be looking to play a hot Mexico squad fresh off beating Italy in a friendly. Mexico is a much better squad than South Africa that under other circumstances -- say, playing on a neutral field in Zurich -- would have Mexico laying a goal at a short price. Instead, Mexico gets to lay minus-120 at pick'em against one of the least-talented teams in this tournament.

The big match of the weekend, as far as U.S. intrigue is concerned, has the USA facing England in a group opener Saturday. This game will be the USA's first meaningful international competition since the Americans upset England 1-0 in the 1950 World Cup. The Las Vegas Hilton Super Book lists England a goal favorite laying minus-125, with the total at 2½ under (minus-120).

I'll be betting over the total in this match, hoping the hype and buildup will force the USA to be more offensive-minded, which will leave it vulnerable defensively to England's counterattack, allowing for more goal chances.

"This is a great spot for the USA to pull off an upset or at least grab a draw," professional soccer handicapper John Netto said. "Getting a goal in this match against a tired England squad, which has a lot of questions in its back line, presents one of the best values in the first wave of games."

Netto also has a strong opinion on two of the home-continent teams, Ghana and Nigeria. He thinks Cameroon might struggle because of internal issues with chemistry, despite having one of the world's best players in Samuel Eto'o.

"Despite Ghana's star player Michael Essien being out, I look for an inspired effort in their first-round match against a Serbian squad that has lots of questions,'' Netto said. ''Getting a half-goal in this match has some value."

But Netto thinks the team that will turn heads is Nigeria in its game against Argentina. "I believe Nigeria is the best of the African teams out there and could pull off the upset," he said.

Nigeria is getting a goal at plus-115, with the total at 2½ over (minus-120). Netto isn't alone with his thoughts on Nigeria. Many people are perplexed by how detrimental coach Diego Maradona might be to his squad throughout the tournament. Betting the total to go over in this match looks like one of the weekend's better plays.

Two other teams Netto likes this week are Chile, laying a goal against Honduras, and the Netherlands -- not only this week but for the entire tournament. The Dutch are listed at 8-to-1.

"I like Chile a lot," Netto said. "I think they'll be a sleeper team that has a chance to do some damage, and the Netherlands may be the best value to win their group and win the whole thing. I'm not a big fan of laying a goal or more in World Cup play, so I'd look to lay either half-goal at a higher price or play them in three-way option against Denmark."

The Hilton has Chile listed as a goal favorite over Honduras and the Netherlands listed at minus-200 to win outright in the three-way betting option.

Proposition Play

One of the interesting propositions offered at the Hilton asks whether the team to win the World Cup will be a first-time winner, with the "no" side a minus-160 favorite. In this prop, you basically get the who's who of soccer with Argentina, Brazil, Germany, England, France, Uruguay and Italy. On the "yes" side, you get one of the co-favorites -- Spain -- with Holland, Portugal and 22 other competing teams.

It's tough laying the favorite in any price, but in a couple of the brackets I did, I kept having three of the teams from the "no" side making the semifinals, with a strong possibility of all four making the semis, which wraps up the bet before the champion is crowned.

Micah Roberts, a former Las Vegas race and sports director, writes for several publications covering all sports. He can be reached at