Follow the group winners

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 June, 2008, 12:00am

Euro 2008 has a higher-quality group of quarter-finalists than any previous tournament and that is reflected in the overall betting with very little separating the top five in the HKJC's Champion market. The Netherlands are favourites, followed by Portugal (5.5) and Germany, Italy and Spain (all 6.0).

The top seven in the market are all in the world's top 20 teams, according to the latest Fifa rankings, and that has never happened before at the Euros since the introduction of the rankings in 1993.

The four group winners (Portugal, Croatia, Netherlands and Spain) all had straightforward passages to the quarter-finals after winning their opening two games. Notably, four teams had managed that only once before at the European Championships (in 2000) and on that occasion those four teams filled the semi-final slots.

This year's group winners look formidable on the form they have shown so far, and it is also notable that group winners have won through in eight out of 12 quarter-finals at the three previous European Championship since the expansion to 16 teams.

Bigger tests lie ahead on the road to the final, however. In their opening two games, this year's four group winners got in front every time, so it remains to be seen how they cope with the pressure if they go behind or are still level late in the game. At the 2006 World Cup, both Portugal and the Netherlands were knocked out on the first occasion when they conceded the opening goal, while Spain cracked when France turned up the heat in the last 16.

Portugal face a serious test of their mettle in tonight's first quarter-final against Germany, who along with Italy have the best record among European teams in knockout competitions and are ranked higher than Portugal. Group runners-up with a higher ranking than their opponents have a slight edge in the first knockout round. It is only small, however, and this is a difficult game to call.

The second quarter-final presents a better opportunity, with Croatia looking good to beat Turkey. At the past six major tournaments, (World Cup and European Championship), 12 teams have gone into the first knockout round with a perfect record from the group stage and 11 have got through to the next round, with eight winning in 90 minutes. On that basis, Croatia look overpriced.

Best bet: $200 Croatia win.