Monday, 7 June 2010


The flags are out, optimism is sky-high and the Carlsberg is in the fridge. But before you get too excited, let me just say: England are not going to win the World Cup.

If you compare our team to the likes of Spain, Brazil and Argentina, it’s not great. Remember that we’re up against the likes of Torres, Kaka and Messi [pictured] here. And whilst possessing Rooney, Gerrard and Terry in your side is certainly not an embarrassment, Fabio Capello’s men are simply too one-dimensional to succeed. We’ve seen that enough during recent friendlies. But the World Cup is not just about England. It’s a wonderful occasion when the best international footballers come to compete on the biggest stage. And I, for one, can’t wait.

So if England don’t win, who will? I believe this could be a World Cup where workmanlike performances grind out results. There are going to be many teams not used to playing in such humidity and high temperatures that may suffer, which is why preparations are crucial. But this is unlikely to affect top sides such as Brazil and Argentina - or even Spain or Portugal - so the factor that this plays might be minimised. However, sometimes progression in the World Cup is not about playing entertaining football. It’s about getting results and knowing how to close down your opponents.

This is why my two outside bets this year are Germany and Italy. You can still get pretty good odds on both from William Hill (14/1 and 16/1), which is primarily because they have already been written off by most of the media.

Italy are, of course, the current holders - and although no team has retained the trophy for consecutive competitions since Brazil in 1958 and 1962; the only other side to do so was Italy themselves in 1934 and 1938. The reason I’m backing the Italians is that they are so strong defensively, have the capability to become very tough to break down and can grab difficult wins when necessary. Players like Cannavaro, Buffon [pictured] and Zambrotta are a defensive wall that will shut up shop to allow the likes of De Rossi and Pirlo to get forward and cause problems. It might not be pretty and it might be 1-0 defensive football, but that’s what the Italians specialise in, and is why they won the tournament in 2006.

Germany are an industrious and reliable team. You always know what to expect from them in a penalty shootout. Their group - like Italy’s - is pretty straightforward, although Serbia, Ghana and Australia could all cause a few problems. Their coach, Joachim Low, was assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann in 2006, and has a team that will not be pushed over. It includes the likes of Podolski, Schweinsteiger and last tournament's top scorer Klose [pictured], who must be taken seriously and shut down by opponents. But I just think Italy are such a strong all-round side that they will concede fewer goals and have a better ability to stop opponents scoring.

There are a few other possibilities worth looking out for and maybe having a flutter on. Japan, who have only appeared at the World Cup three times before and only made it past the group stage when on home soil in 2002, are 5/4 with Ladbrokes to finish bottom of their group (against Holland, Denmark and Cameroon). How about Holland to finish top of the same group on 4/6 (Skybet) - and maybe combining those odds for a better payout. Looking at top scorers, Arsenal’s Dutch striker Robin van Persie looks well-priced at 16/1 (Paddy Power) to be the tournament’s top scorer, and England’s penalty-taker Frank Lampard is 6/1 (Coral) to score the most goals for the Three Lions.

Two surprise packages to look out for could be Serbia and South Korea - both sides with a relatively average past in the World Cup and few star players - but workmanlike and capable of causing a few surprises. You can get good prices on both to cause an upset in their groups - with South Korea 10/1 (Skybet) to beat Argentina and Serbia 3/1 (Boylesports) to defeat Germany. Both of these results might be unlikely, but upsets do happen - and you can at least get a good price on both of these sides finishing second in their groups. How about a semi-final between South Korea and North Korea? OK, I’m getting carried away now...

I can’t possibly describe how excited I am about the World Cup. My life as a student is set to expire this weekend and what better way to celebrate moving into a new stage of life than watching the whole tournament? The anticipation really has been building up since Euro 2008, with fans around the world wondering whether Spain can clinch the world title too - or will Brazil’s flair and creativity outdo the likes of Xavi and Fabregas? Holland have never won the World Cup, so maybe it will be their year. Or perhaps we’ll get a complete shock, like when Greece were victorious in Euro 2004. One thing’s for sure - and I’m sorry to say it, but I’m only being honest - England won’t be lifting the trophy come July 11th.