The England squad selected by Roy Hodgson for the World Cup is decent a mixture of youth and experience and confidence is growing that the best side since the Golden Generation could actually make an impact at a major tournament. England can still be backed at 33/1 to win the World Cup but patriotic and shrewd money could see that price shorten ahead of the summer festival of soccer.
No European nation has won the World Cup in South America and it will take an exceptional side to break that trend. Germany are the shortest priced side from Europe with only Brazil and Argentina at a lower price to become the world champions of soccer. Five other European nations are seen to have a better chance of winning the World Cup than England.
Greg Dyke may have overreacted pessimistically with his cut throat gesture after the draw was made. However, England are just third favourites behind Uruguay and Italy to win and qualify from Group D. If England do progress they have a winnable match in the last 16 which could set up a huge quarter final with Brazil. That would be a massive occasion in this country and would attract a huge global television audience.
The sport of soccer was invented in England but Brazil took it to a new level. They have won five World Cups and nothing but another star on their shirts would be seen as a success. A World Cup match between England and Brazil this year would be the biggest match in the history of the sport. Brazil beat England 1-0 in Mexico in 1970 in the only previous match between the two nations in the World Cup finals.
There were very few selection issues for Hodgson to ponder and probably 20 names were predictable with no glaring omissions from the squad of 23 players. Selecting Luke Shaw ahead of Ashley Cole was probably the most contentious choice. Cole took the decision with good grace and immediately retired from international football. Leighton Baines looks certain to play against Italy, definitely alongside his Everton teammate Phil Jagielka and maybe Ross Barkley as well.
Gary Lineker a compared Barkley to Paul Gascoigne at his best and Alan Shearer suggested he could make an impact like Michael Owen did in 1998. Barkley clearly has the ability and temperament to play for England in the World Cup. He has youth on his side in context of the tropical conditions for the first match against Italy in the Manaus jungle. He has the stamina to maintain his pace and effectiveness when other could be wilting and playing him tactically as a late substitute could be the best policy.
The media will probably now demand the youngsters start against Italy but it might be imprudent to play inexperienced players in numbers in such an important fixture in the context of progressing from the group. There is no point picking a team full of pace if Italy defend deep in the opener in a tropical climate which could see water breaks due to the extreme heat and humidity. Italy will try to dictate play and that means a slow build up with no commitment to pushing men forward so England will have no room to be effective on the break.
The first match against Italy will be key to England prospects. Lose that match and England will then need to beat Uruguay. Given a win in the opening match a draw with Uruguay would be a good result. However, there is a potential scenario in which a draw between Uruguay and Italy in the last group fixtures would mean elimination for England. That means it is vital England do not lose to Italy and they can take control of the group by beating the side they lost to on penalties in the quarter-finals of the Euros 2 years ago.
Italy are likely to play a controlled game so there would by nothing to be gained if England were set up to counter attack at pace. Despite the temptation to be in control of their destiny by beating Italy England would still be in contention to qualify from the group if avoiding defeat against both Italy and Uruguay. Costa Rica are very beatable and it may come down to needing to win the final game if England are to get out of the group.
In betting on at which stage England will be eliminated the group stage is the favourite. That is a reflection on the difficulty of the group but it seems illogical that bookmakers think it is more likely England will depart in the round of the last sixteen than the quarter-final stage. Playing Brazil in the last eight would be seen as representing a decent campaign. At this point the feeling in the country could affect Brazil’s confidence and England drew with Brazil in a friendly away from home last summer.
The World Cup will be the biggest event in the history of sports betting. Bookmakers will be offering plenty of promotions and incentives as the firms compete for the punter pound. Betfred could have an edge particularly if the Scoop 6 bet is won between now and the start of the tournament. I believe they will continue to make it tough to win and then give it away on the Saturday before the start of the World Cup.
The kick of times are very punter friendly especially for live betting. With all matches being shown live in the late afternoon or evening in the UK this will be a betting bonanza especially if England are still involved after the group stages. However, the Home Office have suggested later licences will not be required during the knockout stages as they think England will be back home by then.
There is often a spike in the sales of barbecues and beer from off licences when England have a good World Cup so the retail alcohol trade will be hoping that England can reach the final to maintain the boom as long as possible.