The FA have booked tickets and allowed Gareth Southgate time to mull over his final squad selection before the Three Lions return to major competition. Russia plays host to World Cup 2018 as the best teams on planet football look to wrestle the crown worn by Germany in Rio four years ago.
Two in-a-row is favourite with bookmakers, who have wasted no time in pricing Joachim Low’s side as antepost jolly to retain their prize, with Brazil leading the attack. What of England’s chances? Well, traders have had their say on a number of outcomes, from outright winner to group betting and it makes for interesting reading.
Here’s what the money men have to say on England.
A number of high profile disappointments at World Cup and European competitions has left fans out of touch with the national side, and bookmakers are happy to oppose them in favour of more consistent sides in the big tournaments. Many on both sides of the counter remain unconvinced Gareth Southgate is the man to turn this around, but his side didn’t put a foot wrong during qualification, topping Group F.
Handing in an unbeaten tally of eight wins and two draws, England last dropped points against Scotland at Hampden before responding to win each of their next four, tightening their grip of the pool. They scored 18 goals and allowed only three – impressive when we remember they drew 2-2 in that Glasgow thriller. Impressive stats at both ends of the park, but this young side must double their efforts when rubbing shoulders with the elite.
They get credit for seeing off the likes of Slovakia, Scotland and Slovenia – leaving the chasing pack for dust, eight points behind – but everyone connected to Wembley knows it’s little preparation for what awaits in Russia over the course of June and July.
There’s 15/1 available on England doing what they famously did in 1966 and winning the World Cup. That quote means they are seventh favourite – traders think six more teams are more likely to get their hands on gold. Those include pre-tournament favourites Germany, second favouritess Brazil and a few of the usual suspects – France, Spain and Argentina.
Each-way players get terms of 1/2 the odds a place 1-2, meaning backers are guaranteed a return on their investment if their side reaches the final, regardless of if they win, lose or draw the decider. You’d deserve it too as this looks to be one of the most competitive World Cups in living memory. Who’s for Russia on home soil? When you see 31/1 being offered, you may just be tempted.
England have been dropped into Group G alongside Belgium, Tunisia and Panama. Two go through to the next round and, without being too ambitious, you’d fancy Southgate’s boys to handle Tunisia and Panama – at least grabbing the silver medal.
It’s an exciting set-up, as they face Tunisia on Monday 18th June, live on BBC from 7.00pm. They’re then up against Panama on the Sunday of that week, again live on BBC with an earlier kick-off time of 1.00pm, before meeting Belgium in what should be a shoot-out for top-spot on Thursday 28th June, on ITV with a 7.00pm whistle.
What may surprise many football fans is Belgium are favourites to win the group and book themselves the easiest tie in the knockout phase. It’s difficult to argue against that stance when learning the Belgians finished as winners of qualifying Group H with a record of nine wins and one draw, a stunning 43 goals scored against six conceded. That suggests England v Belgium will sizzle in the heat of summer. 23/20 England to win their group places them behind the 4/5 of Belgium. That’s a bold call from traders and we’re sure to see fans take aim at the jolly.
England v Tunisia
Speaking of the group matches and, as mentioned above, England start with an intriguing tie vs Tunisia to get the week off to a flyer. The nations have met only once before in competitive action, with the Three Lions winning 2-0 at France 1998. Will they have as much luck two decades on? The betting believes so, and you’ll find England short-priced favourites for all three points.
A win is needed to give Southgate the best chance of qualifying, and any chance of getting fans back home on side early – 20/59 is available at the time of writing against the 35/4 of Tunisia and 15/4 draw. Taking clues from that 98 meeting and there’s plenty of markets that may be of interest.
No in the both teams to score betting is 4/7, sure to prove popular in accumulators, or patriotic punters can fill their boots on the 10/11 for a repeat performance and England winning the match to nil. Not impossible.
Tunisia are no mere opponents, however, as a look through their qualifying record proves. They jet in with confidence onside having topped their division, finishing one point ahead of DR Congo thanks to four wins and two draws. Congo scored three more goals on 14, but it was the Tunisian defence that saw them through, allowing less than any of their rivals with four against.
The result of game one will affect the prices of game two but, at present, England are 2/9 to beat Panama and a chunky 19/10 to upset the odds and get the better of Belgium on a busy evening with four matches scheduled. 31/20 makes their opponent a more likely victor of the points, which should justify their odds to win the group.
Who is the man to fire his country into the record books and delight a nation? Harry Kane must be taken seriously to both top score for England and perhaps even wear the competition golden boot after the final match.
The Spurs striker must be fighting fit and fully rested from another tiring Premier League season and he’ll need his team mates to chip in to give him the best chance of going close. The longer England remain in the competition, the better chance Kane has of featuring in the list, of course.
He should get his confidence up during the group stage and could put himself in a commanding position with strong showings against Tunisia and Panama but going all the way to the top goal scorer award seems unlikely, even for him. Pochettino believes Kane is one of the best strikers in the world but he’s 17/1 to prove it.
The reason for that chunky price is the presence of some real stars of the show. Messi is favourite with 35/4 the early betting and PSG upstart Neymar has a point to prove at 39/4, second-favourite. Ronaldo is never far away and with Portugal targeting a big effort, CR7 may just rate as the value pick at 21/2.
Further down the list and there’s for Premier League stars 15/1 Lukaku, 17/1 Morata, 21/1 Aguero, 39/1 Giroud and 49/1 Salah. Each-way terms on that market is 1/4 the odds the best 1-2-3-4, dead-heat rules apply.
Stage of Elimination
There are plenty more from the specials markets that should keep punters involved. These include winning continent, first time winner yes-no and stage of elimination for every participant. The latter allows you to put your neck on the line and predict exactly when a team will be knocked out.
Southgate and his reps may be expected to sneak through the group phase in second – 17/4 to go out after three games – but they shouldn’t continue their stay too much longer before booking a flight back to London.
Last 16 is favourite, closely followed by the quarter-finals and it perfectly sums up the mood in the industry at the minute as the Three Lions are deemed more likely to go out at the group stage than they are to reach the semi-finals. Will they carry the underdog tag well and prove us all wrong?
There’s always one big name casualty at the group phase – who will it be in 2018? France are 21/2 to play three games, Red Fury Spain 31/4 and what about Brazil at 11/1. Could the Germans fall flat on their face? 27/4 is doing the rounds at the time of asking, Portugal trade 15/4. It may be worth picking one of the front-runners who have weaknesses and having a play at interest stakes.