Here are the best bets for the 2018 FIFA World Cup

Twenty World Cups have been contested since 1930. Brazil and defending champion Germany have combined to win nine of them and are the favorites to win the 2018 World Cup, which starts Thursday in Russia.

Brazil, which last won the Cup in 2002, is the 7-2 top choice and Germany is the 4-1 second choice at the Westgate sports book.

They also lead the way in tickets and money wagered at the betting windows, where Westgate sports book manager Jeff Sherman said certain World Cup matches can generate twice as much money as an NFL regular-season game.

“Brazil and Germany are pretty much dominating the top of the market, even though they’re the two shortest favorites,” Sherman said.

Next on the list are Spain and France at 13-2, followed by Argentina at 8-1 and Belgium at 11-1.

Here are some of the tournament’s best bets from Sherman and soccer handicapper Jeremy Pond, a former Review-Journal sports reporter who picked World Cup winners against the spread at a 70 percent clip in 2006, including champion Italy.

Spain to win World Cup (13-2)

Pond (@JeremyPond) is sticking with Spain as his choice of champion even though it fired Julen Lopetegui as its national team coach Wednesday after he took the coaching job at Real Madrid.

“Front to back, there is no deeper or more balanced country than Spain and its magical collection of world-class players,” Pond said. “I have always been a firm believer that defense wins titles, and Spain has the best in the game, led by Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea and defenders Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos.

“Mix in its balanced midfield, guided by Andres Iniesta, and striking trio of Isco, Diego Costa and Marco Asensio, and you have a recipe for success in Russia.”

France to win World Cup (13-2)

France’s Antoine Griezmann (9-1), Kylian Mbappe (20-1) to win Golden Boot

Sherman’s pick to win the title is France, and he also recommends plays on Griezmann and Mbappe to be the tournament’s top goal scorer.

“I like their front line, and they’ve got a good mix of youth and veterans on the team,” he said. “They’re just so talented. It’s tough for me to bet Brazil or Germany at less than 5-1.”

Belgium to win World Cup (11-1)

“This is the value play of the World Cup field,” Pond said. “This side is loaded with talent from front to back, led by Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku.

“However, there might not be a more disappointing, underachieving country when it comes to living up to expectations on this international stage. The Red Devils are consistently inconsistent, but at some point they’re going to put together a string of top-form matches and go extremely deep in a World Cup. Maybe this is the year.”

Uruguay to win Group A (-175)

Uruguay opened as a minus 150 favorite to win its group, which includes Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

“This is easily one of, if not the biggest underlay in the entire list of wagering options in the group stage,” Pond said. “Expect Uruguay, led by Luis Suarez, to roll into the knockout phase of the tournament.”

Argentina to win Group D (-200)

Argentina opened as a minus 175 favorite to win its group, which also features Croatia, Nigeria and Iceland.

“Lionel Messi and friends are the most talented of the group’s quartet, followed well back in the mix by Croatia,” Pond said. “Play with confidence.”

Brazil’s Neymar to win Golden Boot (8-1)

Poland’s Robert Lewandowski to win Golden Boot (25-1)

Pond also recommends plays on Neymar and Lewandowski to be the World Cup’s leading goal scorer, and he has two early match plays as well:

Russia-Saudi Arabia (Under 2½, -155), 8 a.m. Thursday

“Expect the host nation to come out tight against Saudi Arabia in the World Cup opener. Both sides will be cautious and look to start the tournament on the foot, thus leading to limited scoring chances.”

Uruguay (-1, +115) over Egypt, 5 a.m. Friday

“Egypt’s success at the World Cup relies solely on the health of Mo Salah, and he is nowhere near 100 percent after his shoulder injury in the (May 26) Champions League Final.”

More betting: Follow all of our sports betting coverage online at reviewjournal.com/betting and @RJ_Sports on Twitter.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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