If you are into lumping on favourites this World Cup has just been one big boot in the sprouts after another, with Brazil, Argentina and Germany all failing to oblige despite being heavily odds on during the first week. England at least did the business at 4/9 against Tunisia, but even that victory was bittersweet as I ended up dipping work on Tuesday. A more erudite boss would surely have rumbled the fact I didn’t have laryngitis and had instead been singing ‘Three Lions’ with my top off in Yates’ Wine Lodge until 3am the previous evening.
Also, is it me or are these new England shirts Anti-Fat B**tard? Talking of fashion, Ian Wright’s unswerving commitment to outrageously loud clobber continues to warm the soul.
Betting-wise, hope springs eternal and I’m confident of landing a few winners over the next few days. We are still at a point in the tournament when we are unable to move for live games. And it’s absolutely f**king joyous. The World Cup does strange things to people. I mean I never expected my Aunty Pat (71) to utter the words: “Eeeh weren’t Morocco unlucky against Portugal yesterday?”
England face Panama on Sunday and are an absolute mortgage job according to the bookies, with the Three Lions chalked up around the 2/9 mark for the win. They will certainly want to better Belgium’s own result against the group’s whipping boys ahead of a likely top-of-the-group decider next Thursday against Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and the lads. England’s next opponents were heavily criticised by boss Bobby Martinez for leaving his Belgian side battered and bruised in Monday’s 3-0 win, and things could get physical again at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.
The Group G minnows will look to give it everything and are clearly combative and determined, but this game is all about levels. They say there are no easy games in international football. I say b**locks. Panama are 19/1 to win on Sunday and there’s a reason they are so big. Let’s not forget a national holiday was declared amid wild scenes when they qualified for their first ever World Cup after a late goal saw them sneak through North American qualifying, but they are a poor side and one that England should be rinsing without much fuss. England to cover a two goal handicap is a 2/1 shout and looks the way to bet. They started brilliantly in that first game against Tunisia and more of the same on the sabbath could see them out of sight by half-time.
Elsewhere Uruguay look a cracking punt to see off Russia. The hosts have produced two wonderful results so far to guarantee their passage into the last-16. However it’s worth remembering before the tournament started they were on a shocking run and were actually without a win since last October. There’s plenty at stake given the team that tops the group faces a likely last-16 encounter with Portugal as opposed to Spain, but La Celeste look a bet here at better than 7/4. Granted they’ve not put in two of the most compelling performances so far, but you can’t argue with back-to-back clean sheets and two wins to start any major tournament. If the team starts clicking up top with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, then watch out Mr Putin.
Finally the World Cup holders need a win against Sweden after Joachim Low’s Germany kicked off the defence of their title in disastrous fashion by losing to Mexico. The signs have been there regarding this German outfit for a while after a couple of very ordinary performances in recent friendlies. Ponderous and pedestrian at times, it’s difficult to see where the goals are going to come from and there’s talk that Mesut Ozil may be dropped.
It would be unthinkable if Germany didn’t get out of Group F, but if Die Nationalmannschaft fail to beat the Swedes they would be firmly behind the eight ball. Indeed a defeat in Sochi would see the World Cup holders knocked out at the group stage for the first time since France suffered the same humiliating fate back in 2002.
The Swedes will be bullish of upsetting the odds after beating France during qualification and edging past Italy in the play-offs. Make no bones, they won’t be fazed here and the draw looks a big runner at 15/4 with bet365. In the immortal words of ABBA: ‘Just one look and I can hear a bell ring; One more look and I forget everything o-o-o-oh….’
Betting: England (-2) to beat Panama at 2/1 (Bet Victor/Coral)
Betting: Uruguay to beat Russia at 17/10 (bet365/888 Sport)
Betting: Germany and Sweden to draw at 15/4 (bet365)