Jun 102010
 

This time tomorrow, the World Cup will have kicked off, and I, along with many others, will be spicing up the matches with a bet or two. Historically, I’ve always done quite well with the World Cup by following some golden rules, which are as follows:

  • Bet on African and Asian nations to do well. They are always underestimated.
  • There is more to South America than Brazil and Argentina.
  • Never ever ever ever ever ever ever bet on England to do well.

That these rules stand you in good stead is no fault of the bookies – it is supply and demand. Pick anyone in the street and ask them who will have a good World Cup, and you’ll never hear an answer outside the top European nations, Brazil and Argentina. I’m not saying an African side will lift the trophy, but sometimes you can get extremely generous odds on them just escaping the group stage.

The more observant among you may have noticed the betting tracker on the right hand side of the screen, which will list each of the bets throughout the course of the competition, with recent wins and losses displayed alongside all remaining open bets. There is also a Twitter hashtag against which they will be listed – #groanswcbets – you can search for them using this link. If you are a Twitter user, feel free to add your comments or suggested bets – if you add the hashtag to the tweet it will appear in the search. If Twitter is not your thing, you can always comment on this post instead.

So, without further ado, here are the first ten tips (and yes, I am staking my own money on these). All the bets are placed with Sportingbet, as they do excellent odds and a very wide range of bets.

1. Holland the win the World Cup – 9/1

Might as well start with the big one. The Dutch are a mercurial nation – talented, yet like Spain prior to 2008, they inexplicably fail in major tournaments. But they seem more united than usual this year, and have the talent to go all the way. A look at their squad makes it mystifying that no-one is tipping them to lift the trophy, as they are unlikely to face a major challenge until the quarter finals – an easy group should be followed by whichever of New Zealand, Paraguay and Slovakia accompanies Italy into the knockout stages. Their only potential problem is one familiar to English fans – the prospect of penalties (they are the only nation with a worse record).

2. Luis Fabiano to be top scorer – 11/1

The Brazilian striker is a bit special – 25 goals in 38 international appearances, 90 in 152 for Sevilla. Top scorer in the Confederations Cup last year, he is proven at all levels, and with Brazil playing North Korea intheir opening match, he has a great chance to get off to a flyer. The bookies may favour either of the Spanish pairing, or Lionel Messi (who has a poor record for his country), but Fabiano is my pick.

3. South Africa to qualify from their group – 7/4

Host nations never go out in the group stage. In 2002, the world was convinced that the statistic would change, but both Japan and South Korea confounded their critics, and South Africa are likely to do the same. France are exceptionally wobbly, Mexico hit and miss and Uruguay poor outside South America. The odds on the host nation progressing are exceptionally generous.

4. North Korea to score at least twice in the tournament – 11/8

Yes, they are in a tough group, and yes, they are the lowest ranked team in the tournament, but an impressive qualifying campaign suggests that North Korea are better than the whipping boy status they have been given. Scoring twice in three games is a perfectly reasonable ask, especially given that Brazil and the Ivory Coast are not known for keeping clean sheets.

5. France to go out in the group stage – 15/8

Blessed with a terrific set of players, the French squad is nonetheless an uneasy place. A loss to China last week, questions over team selection (although reports of infighting are exaggerated), and the second barmiest manager at the tournament (behind Maradona) is not a recipe for success. The bookies tip them to qualify with Mexico, but as I said earlier, the hosts cannot be discounted, and Uruguay famously denied them eight years ago. France could be the big casualty of the group stage.

6. Chile to get 4-5 points – 11/5

Group H should be hard fought. Spain are the clear favourites, while Honduras look set for disappointment, but Switzerland and Chile will be fighting for qualification. Assuming Chile beat Honduras, a couple of tight draws would leave them on five points, and even a loss to Spain drops them to four. Either is very possible, and as a result these odds seem very generous.

7. Serbia to win Group D – 11/4

Germany’s presence in the group automatically puts them as favourites to progress in top spot, but Serbia were also underdogs in their qualifying campaign, where they forced France into that playoff with a string of impressive performances. Now ranked 15th in the world, they are a close-knit squad that are undoubtedly my dark horses.

8. South Africa v Mexico to finish 1-1 – 5/1

Moving on to the individual matches, and I’m tipping a stalemate in the opening game, but not a goalless one. Both sides carry a threat going forward, but are vulnerable at the back, and if the score is level going into the last ten minutes, both may settle for not losing their first match.

9. France v Uruguay to be heavy on the cards – 8/5

These two have history. Eight years ago Henry was sent off when the teams met in a crucial match that eventually helped eliminate France, then holders. These days, Uruguay rely on Forlan and Suarez up front, but behind them is a bruising team full of players sure to catch the eye of the referee, while France themselves are known to get riled a little easily. The referee for the match is Japan’s Yuichi Nishimura, who can be card-happy, and so the odds on more than sixty points (ten for a yellow, twenty five for a second yellow or a straight red) looks a great prospect.

10. England and USA to draw – 14/5

Four times in the last twenty years, England have drawn their opening match of a major tournament, and with USA favourites to join them in the knockout stages, a repeat would not be the disgrace the media would likely label it. With Algeria and Slovenia to come, a point for each side would be a reasonable start, and as ever, betting against England carries fantastic odds.

And there you have it. There will be plenty more bets to come as the tournament progresses, but these ten all strike me as potential winners. You can keep up to date with the successes and failures of these tips and those that follow by watching the tracker to the right. Enjoy!

One day to go. I’m excited. Are you?

Jun 022010
 

A stag weekend and a loss of internet connection have prevented me from blogging over the past week, but in truth there has been very little to talk about – the Cesc saga rumbles on without a solitary bid from Barcelona, who have rapidly descended into being the most despicable club in terms of how they go about their transfer business.

But with the announcement of the final England squad yesterday, there was at last some news regarding someone else in the squad. Unfortunately, that news was a hammer blow to Theo Walcott, whose apparently nailed on position in the squad was ripped from under his feet by Fabio Capello.

In fairness to the England manager, Walcott has been inconsistent at best since that memorable hattrick in Croatia. There have been glimpses of his outrageous ability, but they have been fleeting. Too often he is sent on as an impact substitute, only to make no apparent difference. In the end, his one-dimensional play has cost him his place.

While his omission can be explained in those terms, it is still surprising for two reasons. The first is that Walcott is a big game player. Look at the matches he is remembered for – his first goal for the club in the Carling Cup final, his run against Liverpool in the Champions League, the Croatia hattrick, and his display against Barcelona a couple of months back – there is a pattern. While he disappoints in the ‘regular’ games, he has sparked to life against the top opposition, precisely the sort he would have been asked to face this summer.

But more than that, his absence is a surprise when you look at the man replacing him – Shaun Wright-Phillips. If Walcott has missed out due to inconsistency, why is the City man there? Even though I had an inkling that Walcott was in danger (due to him playing both friendlies and not doing much in either), I figured that if he was dropped, Adam Johnson was his obvious replacement. After all, the youngster has been comprehensively outperforming Wright-Phillips since joining the same club.

Walcott’s reaction was mature, but now he needs to get angry. He needs to take this as a personal rebuke and use it to spark a determination never to have another unhappy World Cup experience. Not many can say they have suffered from World Cup selection drama twice by the time they are 21. He needs to improve, and he now has a few months to refocus and start again. As Goonerholic points out, his preparations for last season were hampered by playing both senior and Under-21 internationals in the summer – there are no such problems this time around.

So now eleven remain – we still have a decent representation at the World Cup, although if you take the departing Gallas and Senderos out of the equation we have nine travelling to South Africa.

Speaking of the World Cup, the lovely people at Sportingbet are putting together a terrific promotion for all those who fancy their chances of predicting results at the event. All you have to do is pick which team will win each of the 48 group stage matches (team 1, team 2, draw) and also who will lift the trophy. If you get 45 or more correct (and the tournament winner), you will win a share of £1,000,000. Even if your prediction skills are as ropey as mine, you start winning prizes as soon as you get 25 games correct. You don’t even need to predict the scores – just the match winners.

Here is the full prize list (all prizes shared between those qualifying for that particular band):

45+ games correct and outright winner: £1,000,000 cash
40-48 games correct: £40,000 in free bets
35-39 games correct: £35,000 in free bets
30-34 games correct: £30,000 in free bets
25-29 games correct: £25,000 in free bets

Not too shabby. To play, you need to place a qualifying bet (£10 on any sport between now and June 11), and you’ll get a play code. Further bets will earn you more codes.

As an extra bonus, if you are a new user, click here or on the banner in the top right, and you’ll get a £25 sign-up bonus after registering. If you already have an account, you can get straight to the prediction action by clicking here.

Enjoy. And buy me a pint if you win, m’kay?

May 172010
 

Apologies for the lack of posting recently – I took a bit of a break from the blog as I was a little burnt out and absolutely nothing was happening. In the background, I’ve been compiling my end of season report and awards so look out for that soon.

Also, there won’t be a podcast this week – after all, there has been no football, no interesting transfer stories (I don’t count Chamakh flying into the country, or Barcelona players opening their mouths about Cesc), and the sight of Ashley Cole and John Terry celebrating on Saturday has forced me to ignore the game entirely this week. The podcast will, of course, return next Wednesday (May 25).

The dearth of genuine news has led the press to create their own, with the Mail on Sunday stitching up Lord Triesman by sending his former mistress to record a dinner conversation in which he (probably drunkenly) suggested Russia might help Spain this summer by bribing World Cup officials, in return for the Spaniards withdrawing their 2018 bid. No doubt Triesman was an idiot to voice that opinion, but am I alone in pining for the days when the media reported the news instead of creating it in such a manipulative way?

Back to Arsenal, and it seems we may benefit from a World Cup summer for once, with many of our number resting their tired legs as their countries either failed to qualify, or overlooked them. None of our keepers are going (quelle surprise), and neither are any of the centre backs likely to stay beyond the next few weeks (Vermaelen, Djourou, Gallas).

Elsewhere, Rosicky, Nasri, Arshavin and Denilson make up an impressive quartet of midfielders taking a breather, while Eduardo will also be staying at home. And that is before you count the various travellers who are unlikely to feature (here’s looking at you, Diaby).

We probably have more first teamers without a World Cup on the horizon that any of our rivals, which is certainly a boost going into next season, as long as those missing out are suitably refreshed instead of reflecting on a summer away from the limelight. We shall see.

I’d like to bring you more news tonight, but I can’t. There isn’t any. Stay tuned for the season review, but until then, don’t panic that Cesc is leaving, don’t believe the Spanish papers, don’t believe the English papers, and don’t put your contact lenses in after putting aftershave on. A lesson painfully learned.

Dec 052009
 

There is a certain irony that after a period of pain, in which we’ve struggled to cope with the physical side of games, we face a Stoke side who rely almost entirely on football played above head height. We have to be prepared for an aerial bombardment, a whole load of jostling, and numerous suspect challenges. And with Mark Clattenburg as a referee, don’t expect a clampdown.

But in truth, this is an opportunity. November is over, the first team have had a rest, with the exception of Alex Song, whose midweek booking ensures he gets his before the trip to Anfield next weekend, and Stoke actually aren’t all that good. This isn’t Chelsea, who combined strength with skill, or City, who overran our kids with pace and experience. This is Stoke, who rely on throw ins. Yes, throw ins.

The back five is fairly set in stone – Traore will continue his run of games at left back while Sagna should be fit to start on the opposite side. Denilson will play the holding role, alongside Cesc and perhaps Ramsey, while Eduardo, rested in midweek, has another chance to find form up front, probably alongside Nasri and Arshavin.

On paper, despite the injuries, it is a very strong lineup, the sort that Stoke should not be able to cope with. Does it matter how brutish their defenders are when we pass around them?

I’m going for a 3-1 win, with Eduardo finding his feet with a much-needed goal. I have a suspicion that Cesc might take it on himself to be the catalyst though – it is when you are down that you need your captain the most, and he is more than capable of taking on that responsibility.

Elsewhere, the fallout from the Hughes handshake continues, with Wenger biding his time, waiting for the City manager to bitch and whine, before coming back with a neatly worded slap in the face:

“Tomorrow, by coincidence, I am managing my 500th game at Arsenal, and I believe I have shaken hands maybe 497 times. It is a ceremonial courtesy. But the most important is not the ceremonial but the courtesy of behaviour.”

“I don’t deny that I am a bad loser but on this occasion I would have done exactly the same if we had won the game or lost the game. I am in accordance with the principles I think are important on the football pitch and I maintain exactly what I said and did.”

“I am used to treating this kind of thing with the needed distance and I do not want to make a fuss. There are incidents on the touchline but you have never heard me ever say anything about another manager after the game, in a press conference or during the week after. I maintain exactly the way I behave and do not regret one second of what I did.”

In other words, Hughes acted like an oaf, and did not deserve the public display of friendship that would have been faker than Charlize Theron’s American accent.

Speaking of which, the World Cup draw was made earlier today, and while I can’t stand international breaks, I unashamedly love the World Cup, and am now officially excited. USA, Algeria and Slovenia representa near-perfect draw for Capello, but the occasion wasn’t as happy for some other nations. Here are my thoughts:

  • Our first two games are on a Saturday night followed by a Friday night. Pub owners everywhere must be rejoicing. If we get through, our second round match will also be at the weekend, along with the quarters. Happy days.
  • I hope the bride at the wedding I’m going to on June 12 appreciates that not many will be paying full attention while we play USA in the evening.
  • The Ivory Coast have it rough. Their debut in the World Cup was in 2006, and they crashed out of a brutal group containing Argentina, Holland and Serbia. This time, they’ve got Brazil and Portugal. Ouch.
  • Speaking of Brazil and Portugal, they meet on the final day of group matches, at 3pm on a Friday afternoon. I fully expect offices everywhere to empty early that day.
  • I have a sneaky suspicion Chile will top Spain’s group. Seriously, Chile are very decent.

Six months to go until we all get to be glued to the TV, all day every day. Well, those of us who don’t have tickets anyway.

But until then, there are some hugely important club matches, starting tomorrow. And I’m sticking my neck out and predicting the start of a revival. Mark my words.

Enjoy the game.

Nov 192009
 

One thing about not blogging for a week is you can sit back and watch the hysterical reactions going on in the world of football without feeling like you have to dive in and add your voice. It has been one of those weeks.

First we had the curse of the international break rear its ugly head again, in the form of injuries to Van Persie and Gibbs. The timing of the former is painful because he was on such a hot streak, and with important games coming up it helps to have the players likely to strike fear into the opponents. For the latter, it is also a blow, but for different reasons – with Clichy out, Gibbs had a great chance to stake his claim for a regular first team spot. Ask Fabianski how a mistimed injury can drop you down the pecking order.

But in both cases, panic spread like wildfire, only for subsequent reports to confirm that the injuries were not as bad as initially feared. Which, frankly, made some of the outlandish statements made in the interim seem all the more foolhardy. As soon as the Dutchman collapsed on the turf, our season was being written off, a bizarre conclusion given how many goalscorers we have. As it turns out, Gibbs might be fit in just over a week, with Van Persie returning just after Christmas. It isn’t ideal, but it isn’t a crisis either.

If you were to make me select positions to lose players to injury, I’d plump for strikers and left backs, as we have the cover. Just wrap Gallas and Vermaelen up in cotton wool and we’ll be fine.

And then we have the internationals. Fans and the media do like to get overboard from time to time, don’t they? We had Eduardo, and now we have ‘Handball-Gate’, the inevitable title of last night’s incident. For those who don’t know, you must be living under a rock, but essentially Henry instinctively (perhaps) handled the ball, crossed for Gallas, who scored to put France into the World Cup.

And that’s about it. Was it a clear handball? Yes. Was it deliberate? That depends largely on whether you consider instinct to be the same thing. Should the goal have stood? Absolutely not.

But it was one of a million incidents that referees and linesmen miss. Yes, somehow, this has got the footballing public into such a flurry that we have fans calling in to Sky to get the match replayed, and beyond that, Kevin Kilbane and Liam Brady are demanding the match to be null and void.

Some go even further – one caller on Sky Sports was comparing Henry’s actions with the business world, where fraud can land you in jail. Has the world gone mad? Even the Irish Justice Minister waded in:

“They probably won’t grant it as we are minnows in world football but let’s put them on the spot. Otherwise, if that result remains, it reinforces the view that if you cheat, you will win.”

Kilbane said:

“Well, I’d like to think it would be replayed and I think everyone in the squad would like it replayed.”

What possible grounds are there for replaying the game? Imagine the precedent – suddenly every team that loses to a goal that shouldn’t have stood because of a handball or a foul could demand the same. Or to take it further, maybe a result is canned because a throw in was awarded the wrong way, leading to the winning goal. After all, the argument here is that Henry deliberately cheated – is appealing for a throw you know isn’t yours any different?

It is beyond ridiculous. Yes, it is a harsh way to go out, but it is hardly new. I remember South Korea knocking Italy out in 2002 thanks to a series of horrendous refereeing decisions. Australia lost to Italy in 2006 to a penalty that wasn’t. Did anyone demand a replay then? Of course not.

Get a fucking grip.

Disclaimer – please don’t think this is an anti-Irish rant. Strangely enough, most of the hysterical reactions have come from the English media and English fans. Most Irish I’ve seen mention the incident are understandably pissed off but at the same time accept that’s how football is sometimes. Check out an excellent post by Arseblogger (who is Irish) for evidence of rationality.