Mike Holden picks out his best outright tournament bets for Euro 2016.
And what they have got is a core of elite players who’ve spent the majority of their careers lifting silverware for fun, a handful of alternatives that would walk straight into almost any other team and a draw that should enable them to grow in confidence over the next few weeks if any lingering scars remain from a disastrous World Cup two years ago.
Given the expanded format and the likelihood that three teams will progress from their group, another early exit seems almost inconceivable and we’re now approaching a decade since La Roja last conceded a goal in the cut-throat stages of a major tournament. Only twice in 10 knockout matches have they needed a penalty shoot-out to triumph, a sample that includes games against Germany (twice), Italy (twice), Portugal (twice) and France.
If Vicente Del Bosque’s men top their group, then it’s plausible they could be as short as 1/5 to make the quarters, then 1/3 to make the semis and 1/2 to reach the final. The market projects games against a third-placed finisher followed by Poland and England, while the top two in the betting look set for a collision course in the semis. Therefore, the 11/2 on Spain to win the competition feels like a confident step.
The group won’t be a cakewalk by any means and a good start is essential. But the opener is the kindest available and victory against the Czechs in Toulouse on June 13 should put them in command. Once a position of strength has been established, you would expect Spain’s vast tournament experience and supreme game-management capabilities to take hold.
France will have it all their own way until the semis but that’s usually when all the perks of home advantage tend to evaporate and Germany are the last team you want to face. As Spain (1982), Mexico (1986), Sweden (1992), England (1996), South Korea (2002) and, of course, Brazil (2014) can all testify, the merciless German psyche shows no remorse when dousing the hopes and dreams of a host nation.
Get 8-1 on Spain, France and Germany all winning their groups with BETBRIGHT
With that in mind, stick a point on the Spain v Germany final at 14/1 for good measure. The schedule is too fraught with ifs, buts and maybes to be throwing money at the lesser seeds but these are the two big powerhouses of European football, so a greater degree of faith can be extended to them taking care of business. If they both reach their best, there might not be much the others can do.
But that’s not to say there isn’t some value knocking around further down the order and the 100/1 on Ukraine to win the competition looks like a decent each-way punt for an outside interest. A combination of factors could leave the door ajar for Mykhaylo Fomenko’s men to make good progress quietly, presenting them with a relatively easy passage to the quarter-finals.
By my reckoning, Ukraine are superior to Group C rivals Poland, an assertion that both Elo ratings and UEFA coefficients agree with, so the market making Poland favourites to finish second behind Germany is the first bone of contention. Secondly, the idea that Switzerland finish as runners-up to France in Group A is far from a formality, so a last-16 clash with either Romania or Albania is quite feasible, but I’d make Ukraine jollies to progress in any case.
Beyond that, we’re asking for something extraordinary but it’s only two more hurdles that need to be cleared for a bumper payout. And as the wheel turns back from the high-tempo pressing game of the Guardiola era towards more counter-attacking ideologies, it suits that Ukraine are threatening to be ultra-defensive with inverted wingers Yehven Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko capable of causing enough damage on the break.
Spain would be the likeliest opponents for Ukraine in the quarters, at which point you’d hope the extended winter break of the Ukrainian Premier League - from which all but one of the likely starting 11 are drawn - might give them a chance. Then a semi-final against a contender from either Group B, E or F would represent a fairly modest barrier to the place money.
Finally, there’s also a political motive to consider. Sport has a fabulous way of enabling countries to restore immense pride in their national identity following periods of conflict or crisis, a cause that transcends the normal pressures of a competition like this. We shouldn’t rule out the possibility that Ukraine will be psyched-up in a way that clears the mental obstacles that have maybe prevented them from fulfilling their potential at previous tournaments.
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