Fear of failure makes two full-time draws the likely scenario

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 June, 2004, 12:00am

Losing a semi-final is one of the worst feelings in football, according to many players, and the desperation to avoid that fate at all costs has been very evident at previous European Championships.

The 'fear factor' has manifested itself in a series of tight, tense semi-finals at the past five tournaments - the only previous editions to feature a semi-final stage.

Of those 10 semi-finals since 1984, seven have ended in a draw after 90 minutes and the same number have featured fewer than three goals in normal time.

With stats like that, the draw and low goals must dictate the betting options on both of this year's semi-finals - Portugal v Holland tonight and Greece v Czech Republic tomorrow night. The Jockey Club odds compilers have got on the right side of the HiLo market but they could hardly justify narrowing the draw odds, with the available odds meaning that even one draw from the two semi-finals would net a tidy profit.

For a bigger return, punters are advised to try the draw-draw double-result forecast, which has occurred in six of the past 10 tournaments.

With the stats pointing so strongly to a draw after 90 minutes and a low goals tally, it is clear that the chance of a draw at half-time is also high. Higher, certainly, than is reflected in the Jockey Club's odds on the draw-draw.

This tournament has been a good one so far for the form stats. Seven of the quarter-final places were taken by sides ranked in the top eight on qualifying form (Portugal's status as hosts meant they also had to be rated in that group) and only four of the 28 matches so far have brought victory for a lower-ranked side over a team above them - three have involved Greece (their victories over Portugal and France, and their loss to Russia) and the other was Denmark's 2-0 group win over Bulgaria. Fourteen matches have been won by the higher-ranked team, with 10 draws.

Of the semi-finalists, Portugal were put in the rankings at number two (slightly subjective but borne out by results), with the Czech Republic at three, Holland at five and Greece at seven.

It is interesting that the semi-final quartet are drawn only from Groups A and D, which suggests that France and England (the qualifiers from Group B) may not have been so close to the standard required as most people think. On the other hand, Spain and Germany - third in Groups A and D respectively - may not have performed as badly as has been suggested.

It would also be remarkable if the Czech Republic and Holland were to meet in the final, having been paired in Group D here and in Group Three during qualifying for the tournament.

On the evidence so far, however, the advantage lies with Portugal and the Czech Republic - the top-ranked teams in the semi-finals - and they are justifiably favourites. But, with so little to choose between the four remaining contenders, the draw has to be the value call in the semi-finals.

Nick's best bets: $100 Draw-Draw Portugal v Holland. $100 Draw-Draw Greece v Czech Republic.