“I thought it was a good performance. For large periods I can be more than satisfied”. No, not the words Gareth Southgate after England’s 1-0 loss to Germany in midweek, but those of Roy Hodgson some four and a half years ago after another friendly defeat, on that occasion away at Sweden, as the then Three Lions manager looked for the positives.
There were many pundits who suggested England played well in Dortmund and that they are moving in the right direction, but does anything really change with a team that some argue are the most underachieving nation on the planet? It’s often said that doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, but there are some punters who have backed England for every European Championship and World Cup since 1966 believing that this time…well, you know.
The only benefactors from England fans refusal to be realistic about their nations chances of glory at a major finals tournament are the bookmakers, who know full well that the one-time World Cup winners will be punted at any price. England were 28/1 to win the last World Cup in Brazil after qualifying. Southgate’s team haven’t even booked their ticket to Russia, yet are shorter at 20/1 to lift the trophy in Moscow in 2018.
Sure, England are almost certain to make the finals, they’re 1/10 to win European qualifying Group F, but don’t get swept away by the patriotic punt that only serves to swell the satchels of the odds makers.
Scottish supporters are much more pragmatic. They know their side is struggling to qualify (66/1 to win Group F and 5/2 for a top two finish), and that their team is in turmoil. Like the Tartan Army though, the bookies have also got their number – Grosvenor Casinos Sportsbook price Scotland at 500/1 to win the World Cup next year, which are bigger odds than quoted about Iran.
England v Lithuania
It seems inconceivable that the Group F table toppers will drop points at home to Lithuania at Wembley. England are prohibitively priced at 2/19 to beat the Baltic nation, who trade at 18/1 with the draw 8/1. The pair have met just twice before, in the qualifying tournament for Euro 2016, with the Three Lions winning both games to nil (4-0 at home and 3-0 away). A home victory without conceding, at 1/2, isn’t the worst bet, given England have won their last five qualifying games at home to nil and Lithuania have failed to score in three of their last 14 fixtures on their travels.
Those looking for a bigger return will have to be a little more creative with their staking. Correct score options of 3-0 and 4-0 can be backed at 21/4 and 7/1 respectively – covering both outcomes works out at just over 9/4, which is another sensible play.
With Gareth Southgate set to play a 3-4-3 formation, there appears to be some value in the first goalscorer market. I wouldn’t touch whoever plays up front. Jermain Defoe (31/10 to score first) Jamie Vardy (13/4) and Marcus Rashford (18/5) all look too short, and what we saw against Germany on Wednesday was the ability of Dele Alli (21/5) and Adam Lallana (23/4) to find space in advanced positions. The Tottenham midfielder has scored in each of his last four club games, while the Liverpool man can boast goals in three of his last four appearances for England.
However, it’s worth pointing out that when the two sides met in 2015 in London, three of England’s four goals were headers. It may pay, therefore, to back whoever plays at centre half to score. With Gary Cahill suspended, Chris Smalling (23/1 to net first and 15/2 to score at antyime) and John Stones (30/1 and 19/2) could be the duo to follow – especially the Manchester City defender who has netted twice for his club since the turn of the year.
Scotland v Slovenia
Priced up at 1/3 to beat Canada in a friendly in midweek, Scotland managed to hand their detractors even more ammunition as they failed to beat a nation ranked 117th in the world – lower than even Botswana. So how on earth can any self-respecting punter make a case for backing Gordon Strachan’s team in their crucial Group F qualifier at home to Slovenia. Unbelievably, Scotland are 33/25 favourites to beat Srecko Katanec’s men, who are 9/4, with the draw 41/20.
Strachan claimed that the game against the Canucks was invaluable because many of his squad hadn’t been playing regularly for their club sides and that they needed to get some minutes on the pitch. “It’s like asking a top golfer to be out for six, seven weeks and go and try and play in the Masters” he explained.
That might be true, but while Slovenia have never beaten Scotland in three previous meetings, their form this season has been as slick as some of the greens at Augusta. Unbeaten in seven since June, they’ve held England in Ljubljana and haven’t lost a competitive game away from home since November 2015.
The handicap markets offer several ways to side with the Eastern Europeans, with the advice to back Slovenia +0.5 at 3/5 the safest option.
And don’t expect goals. All of Slovenia’s last six games and Scotland’s previous three home fixtures have featured under 2.5 goals, something that can be backed 13/25. Under 1.5 goals is bigger at 33/20 and cannot be ruled out, while both teams to score ‘no’, at 4/6, also looks a fair shout.
It might turn out to be a dour fixture between two of the less progressive sides in Group F, but that doesn’t mean we can’t profit from it.