Good value still to be found in backing the Czechs and Swedes

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 June, 2004, 12:00am

The Czech Republic and Sweden were popular choices as dangerous outsiders but, despite both making impressive winning starts, they are still being underestimated.

The Czechs have claims to be favourites for tomorrow's Group D clash with Holland, having taken four points off them in qualifying, but the available odds are based more on reputation than results.

The Dutch have been made favourites despite the doubts over Dick Advocaat's tactics and team selection, which resulted in another largely unconvincing performance in their 1-1 draw with Germany.

Pierre van Hooijdonk's introduction as a second striker helped to turn the game, but Advocaat may well stick with his lone-striker formation against the Czech Republic and, even if he doesn't, there is no guarantee that Van Hooijdonk would be so effective in a starting role.

The Czech Republic have not always managed to fulfil their potential on the big stage, but they refused to panic after slipping to go a goal behind against Latvia and in the end they ran out deserving winners.

Their midfield and attack will threaten any team in this tournament and, even with some doubts over the quality of their defence, they should be backed on the handicap to avoid defeat against Holland.

Sweden are even longer odds for tonight's late clash with Italy in Group C, even though the Italians were unimpressive in their 0-0 with Denmark while Sweden cut Bulgaria to shreds for a 5-0 win.

Sweden are a better defensive unit than Denmark and pack more of a punch on the counter-attack, so Italy will have to improve significantly to justify favouritism.

Sweden might be happy with a draw, which would keep them in pole position in the group, and that is enough to reduce confidence in those attractive win odds.

Denmark posed a constant threat to Italy in their opening game and a similar performance should bring victory against Bulgaria.

There is a slight reservation over Denmark's ability to land the killer blow but Bulgaria's defence is likely to give them enough chances.

Bulgaria started well against Sweden and cannot be written off completely, but there was always a danger that this tournament might come too early for their bright young talents and that they could lose heart again if they fall behind.

Germany are strong favourites against Latvia in tomorrow's other Group D game but don't appeal at short odds for the win, and certainly not for a clear-cut success on the handicap.

Latvia didn't show too much up front against the Czech Republic, so there is little to be gained from backing them either.

Low goals looks the best bet.

Nick's best bets: $400 Czech Republic on the handicap; $200 win Denmark.