There’s nothing like a good bet to kick-start the healing process. Time to stop pressing our noses against the glass, put down our Henry voodoo kits and resign ourselves to the depressing fact that next summer’s South African jamboree will be carrying on quite happily without us.
With six months to go, World Cup bets certainly carry an “injuries” health warning. Mishaps to the likes of Torres, Messi or Kaka could certainly skew things in the interim.
But last Friday’s tortuously executed draw crystallised where the leading contenders stand in the betting and now might be a good time to pick your winner before some of the favourites shorten.
Inevitably, the customary hype we are exposed to about England’s chances ensures our neighbour’s odds are prohibitively low at this stage. Fives about a side that has yet to defeat a major power under Fabio Capello’s watch doesn’t represent particularly good value.
Concerns remain about their defensive stability, with no standout goalkeeper and worries about the form of Rio Ferdinand. Nor is Glenn Johnson particularly expert at the defensive part of his right-back role.
The draw has been kind – but a probably quarter-final clash with (whisper it) France will test England. A semi-final place will represent some kind of success after a series of quarter-final exits but Brazil should prove too strong in the last four if the draw pans out as seeded.
Much of the likely draw mechanics hang on the outcome of Brazil’s “Group of Death.” The winner of Group G will probably face a tough quarter-final tie with the Netherlands, while the runner-up will face Spain in the last sixteen. It makes for a tough passage through the rounds for favourites Spain – who are seeded to face Portugal, Italy and Argentina en route to a final with Brazil.
Of course the Ivory Coast will fancy themselves to upset those plans.
The terribly sad death of German goalkeeper Robert Enke will undoubtedly cast a large cloud over their preparations. However, Germany do look to have a manageable route to their customary place in the last four. If tragedy binds the squad together, a quarter-final with Argentina or perhaps Mexico shouldn’t be beyond them. If they do reach another semi, nobody would easily discount their chances of avenging recent championship defeats by Spain or Italy, perhaps on penalties.
Of the favourites, I think Brazil look best value at the moment – with sixes available in some quarters. They will strive to finish top of their group ahead of Portugal and the Ivory Coast – thus avoiding Spain until the final. Pushed for a prediction, I take them to beat England on penalties in the semi-final.
In the other half of the draw, I fear Spain might come unstuck earlier than many think. A Ronaldo-inspired Portugal would be tricky opponents in a last sixteen Iberian derby. If they make it through that, a grim quarter-final reversal of their European Championship shootout with Italy might be on the cards.
There’s usually one surprise run to the latter stages and neutrals will hope for another shock in South Africa. My choice would have been Cameroon but their route is difficult. So I’m pinning my hopes on an improving Mexico as the surprise parties.
Winner: Brazil 6-1
Finalists: Germany 13-2
Last Four: Mexico 9-1