With Euro 2016 just three days away, Dave Tindall looks at the chances of the home nations and Ireland in France. Can all four get out of their groups?
If the betting is right, England are expected to win Group B, but how often has that actually happened down the years?
Since England topped the group on home soil at Euro 96, here’s their final group position in World Cups/Euros: 2014 (Bottom), 2012 (Top), 2010 (2nd), 2006 (Top), 2004 (2nd), 2002 (2nd), 2000 (3rd), 1998 (2nd).
So, in their last eight major tournaments, they’ve topped the group just twice, finished second on four occasions, finished third once and ended bottom once. Winning 10 matches out of 10 in qualifying (no other country achieved that) suggests they’re good at beating middleweights/lightweights and obviously Roy Hodgson faces a much easier task on paper than at the 2014 World Cup when his first two group opponents were Italy and Uruguay.
As for beyond the group, is there enough there? The likes of Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Dele Alli, Eric Dier and Marcus Rashford bring an exciting freshness to the squad but central defence remains a worry for the bigger tests ahead. And the experiment of Vardy-Rooney-Kane against Portugal raised more questions than answers. Oh, and let’s hope he’s had everyone practising penalties.
Group B opponents
Russia (June 11, 8pm)
Wales (June 16, 2pm)
Slovakia (June 20, 8pm)
To win tournament: 8/1
To win group: 4/5
To qualify from group: 1/16
To finish bottom of group: 17/2
It’s easy to fall into the trap of referring to Wales as a one-man team as a supporting cast is always needed and to aid Gareth Bale they have some quality in the form of Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen, Joe Ledley and Ashley Williams.
Bale, of course, is the difference maker and had a hand in nine of their 11 goals in qualification (scored seven, two assists). To make the most of that paltry number (only Albania of the 32 qualifiers scored less), Wales had to keep it tight at the back and did so with seven clean sheets.
If they can frustrate England and Bale can produce some magic, the 9/2 about the Welsh topping Group B could just look a spot value.
Plenty will think otherwise though after Wales were soundly beaten 3-0 by Sweden in their final warm-up game, the latest in a worrying drop-off in form. One thing they’ve already won hands down is best song. Together Stronger (C’mon Wales) was written by the Manic Street Preachers and, as England fans know from ‘World in Motion’ (1990) and Football’s Coming Home (1996), there’s nothing like a great anthem to soundtrack success on the pitch.
“So come on Ramsey, let’s set the world alight, when Gareth Bale plays, we can beat any side.”
Group B opponents:
Slovakia (June 11, 5pm)
England (June 16, 2pm)
Russia (June 20, 8pm)
To win tournament: 80/1
To win group: 9/2
To qualify from group: 4/7
To finish bottom of group: 2/1
Only eight of the 24 teams will be eliminated from the group stage but, with odds of 4/6 to finish bottom of Group C, Northern Ireland are expected to be one of them. That’s not necessarily saying Michael O’Neill’s side are poor; it’s more a reflection of who they’re up against.
Germany are the world champions, Poland are considered dark horses to win the trophy while Ukraine are hardly pushovers either.
That said, O’Neill is happy to see his team written off as makeweights and will look to tap into the underdog mentality that helped Northern Ireland produce that heroic win over hosts Spain at the 1982 World Cup. “Armstrong!”
Against all the odds, they actually finished top of that group featuring Spain, Yugoslavia and Honduras and there’ll be plenty of patriotic cash going on them to pull off an amazing repeat this time. Some would argue, justifiably so given that, of all 32 teams, they hold the longest unbeaten record going into the tournament (12 games).
One thing they have in their favour is playing Germany last. If the Germans are already through, there’s a chance they could ease off and rotate their squad in the final group game. That could just open the door for the Irish so the 9/5 about them qualifying could be a decent bet. For that to happen, it’ll require a huge collective effort but don’t rule it out.
Group C opponents:
Poland (June 12, 5pm)
Ukraine (June 16, 5pm)
Germany (June 21, 5pm)
To win tournament: 500/1
To win group: 18/1
To qualify from group: 9/5
To finish bottom of group: 4/6
Republic of Ireland
England and Wales are expected to qualify for the knockout phase; Northern Ireland aren’t. But the odds suggest that it’s touch and go whether the Republic of Ireland will make it out of the group.
It’s a tall order with Italy, Belgium and Sweden in opposition but realistic too. Italy have crashed out of the group stage in the last two World Cups while Sweden are hugely reliant on Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
In fact, given his love of the limelight, it would hardly be the biggest surprise if he turns it on against Italy and Belgium but gets frustrated by the Irish. That theory might have greater credence if Sweden v Ireland wasn’t the first group game though. Zlatan will surely be fired up for the opener.
The obvious huge plus from qualifying was that Martin O’Neill’s men took four points off Germany so they’ll fancy themselves against Italy and Belgium. Late equalisers against Poland and the Germans shows there’s plenty of spirit in the camp and you can guarantee that their fans will travel in huge numbers to France.
Let’s be positive and back them to sneak through.
Group E opponents:
Sweden (June 13, 5pm)
Belgium (June 18, 2pm)
Italy (June 22, 8pm)
To win tournament: 100/1
To win group: 8/1
To qualify from group: 11/10
To finish bottom of group: Evens
Despite the new format making it easier to qualify for the knockout phase, it still looks a tough ask for Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to go through alongside England.
Paddy Power go 10/1 that all four make it while the favourite, at 11/10, is that just two progress.
However, three qualifying from the group stages at 21/10 might just be worth a bet so let’s be optimistic and go for it.
As for England, a run to the last eight looks about par for the course while backing them at 4/1 to go out on penalties may ease the pain if it happens again.
Those are big odds for something that has happened to England in six of the last 11 major tournaments they’ve reached dating back to 1990.
You can get more details on offers for the tournament at ukbookmakers.info.
England to be eliminated in quarter-finals at 5/2 (Skybet)
England to lose on penalties at 4/1 (Coral)
Exactly 3 of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland to qualify from group stages at 21/10 (Paddy Power)