‘Thirty years of hurt, never stopped me dreaming.’
That was a couplet from the famous Baddiel & Skinner song ‘Three Lions’, written by Lightning Seeds frontman Ian Broudie, which acted as England’s official anthem during their bid to win the European Championships of 1996 on home soil. Terry Venables’ side would make it all the way to the semi-finals, where – no spoiler alert required – they lost on penalties to Germany.
The ‘thirty years of hurt’ part refers to the last time that England won a major international tournament, the famous World Cup triumph of 1966, and 52 years later a nation still awaits with a sense of expectation but more realistically a morbid perspective that the wait will continue long after this summer’s showpiece is over.
Indeed, the bookmakers have the Three Lions priced at 18/1 to lift the Jules Rimet trophy in July; behind six other countries.
So if you fancy having a flutter on the World Cup this summer, you might just be better off attacking the specials markets that are available, rather than spending your hard-earned cash on Gareth Southgate’s men achieving the improbable.
The good news is that there is some excellent value to be found in these specials markets, and some of them are good for a laugh too!
Who’s On the Plane?
We all fancy ourselves as armchair football managers, and many of us would go close to naming Gareth Southgate’s 23-man squad if asked.
Indeed, the vast majority of players who will make the flight to Russia are no-brainer selections, with only a few other spaces available.
The subject of the third goalkeeper is open to interpretation: Nick Pope is the bookmakers’ favourite at odds of 1/2, but actually would Joe Hart be a more sensible pick at 5/4? It’s unlikely he would actually see any game time behind Jordan Pickford and Jack Butland, but his experience of big tournament football could be vital for those younger shot-stoppers. It’s an attribute that Pope, who has just completed his first full season at elite level, is lacking.
Injuries to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana have left a vacancy in central midfield too. If you were picking on club form alone (and ignoring his potential to be a loose cannon) then Jonjo Shelvey, who has enjoyed a fine six months or so at Newcastle, would be on the plane.
At 6/4, it’s worth chancing that Southgate agrees with us.
Where Will England Finish in Group G?
As you are probably already aware, England have been drawn alongside Belgium, Tunisia and World Cup debutants Panama in Group G.
It’s an easy enough group by all accounts, and a whole nation will be expecting the Three Lions to qualify for the knockout phase of the competition either in first or second place.
Deciding where England will finish is tricky as you would surmise there is little to choose between them and Belgium, although even the most patriotic supporters would agree that the 8/5 available on Harry Kane and co to finish second is excellent value.
If we picture a scene where the English and the Belgians play out a draw in their meeting, then the group winner accolade will go to the team that presumably beats Tunisia and Panama by the widest margin.
By that token, Belgium are surely the value play. With a list of available players that includes messrs Hazard, De Bruyne, Lukaku, Mertens, Carrasco, Nainggolan and co, they have more firepower at their disposal than Southgate does.
Heading for the Exit
It would be catastrophic for English football if the national team can’t find their way through Group G, which really is as straightforward as you can expect a World Cup group to get.
If England win the group they will play the runners-up of Group H, which features Colombia, Japan, Senegal and Poland. If they finish second, they will meet the winner of Group H.
On European soil, the Three Lions would fancy their chances of defeating any of that quartet, which would then set up a subsequent quarter-final against, quite probably, a top-class opponent.
So by taking a logical approach to the market, we can surmise that backing England’s stage of elimination to be the quarter finals, at 11/5, to be a value wager.
England’s Top Goalscorer
This is an interesting market because we are expecting England to play at least four matches at the World Cup, possibly even five given the agreeable nature of their draw.
And so we should have a decent sample size from which to perm England’s likely top goalscorer, with less likelihood of a random outcome being experienced.
All of which makes Harry Kane’s odds-against price of 11/10 rather extraordinary. Assuming the Tottenham forward stays clear of injury, he will lead the England line in a side not blessed with prolific goalscorers at club level.
England play Panama and Tunisia in their opening pair of matches, and so there is little chance of Kane being rested while his side’s position in the group remains in limbo.
There are some cracking England World Cup specials available to punters, and few are better than the category from LV Bet that queries whether an English player will be sent home from Russia on ‘disciplinary grounds’.
Football has changed beyond all recognition from yesteryear, where naughtiness off the pitch was par for the course. A group of famous young men, in a new and exciting country, with money and time on their hands….well, you can guess the rest.
Prior to Euro ’96, there was a famous story of when the England players were allowed to ‘let off some steam’ prior to the tournament, and they duly took full advantage: the likes of Paul Gascoigne, Teddy Sheringham and Steve McManaman were later photographed sans shirts and looking rather worse for wear. The infamous ‘dentist’s chair’ was born….
And you may recall ahead of the World Cup in 2002 when Roy Keane, the captain and a key player in the Republic of Ireland squad, was sent home after a newspaper interview was published in which he criticised his team’s preparations for the tournament.
So there is history of players being sent home on disciplinary grounds, and punters might just tuck into the 40/1 available that an England player falls into the trap.
Written by Craig Simpkin
A sports journalist with a smorgasbord of experience writing for a variety of publications, Craig is a Leicester fan hoping that England can also achieve the impossible this summer.