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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 September, 2009, 12:00am

Just when the domestic leagues were getting into full swing, everything is on hold this week as attention switches to the final autumn leg in the race to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

For once, among the usual mismatches that make betting on international football so difficult, there are some potential bets that catch the eye.

England, a big draw in international football just as the Premier League is around the globe, will not be in competitive action until Wednesday, when they can seal their place in South Africa with a home win over Croatia.

That is something they should manage, as long as they avoid the sort of defensive mistakes that led to home-and-away defeats against Croatia, and failure to qualify in the Euro 2008 campaign.

Under Fabio Capello, England have been less error-prone and a more reliable attacking force, as they showed with a 4-1 win in Croatia 12 months ago, and it is unlikely they will slip up again. As for today's friendly against Slovenia, they should win by two or more goals, as they have in nine of their 16 games under Capello, though England's clear superiority is well reflected in the odds.

Like England, Spain and Holland have cruised through their qualifying campaigns, but life has been much more difficult for some of the other countries expected to qualify from the European zone.

Portugal, semi-finalists at the 2006 World Cup, are in real peril in group one, lying seven points behind leaders Denmark and four points off second-placed Hungary with four games to play, and they must take at least four points this week from away games against those two countries.

First up tonight are Denmark v Portugal, and the odds may have been skewed slightly by the 'must win' nature of the contest for the visitors. Portugal are favourites at 2.25, which appears to give insufficient respect to Denmark. In the past six years, only Spain, two years ago, have won a competitive tie in Denmark, and on current form Portugal are not as good as Spain.

Denmark know they can beat Portugal, having achieved a remarkable 3-2 victory in the away fixture 12 months ago. Denmark did not get on the score sheet until the 83rd minute, when Nicklas Bendtner equalised Nani's opener, but a flurry of goals in the closing stages saw Deco restore the hosts' lead from the penalty spot before further strikes from Christian Poulsen and Daniel Jensen gave Denmark three vital points.

The Danes might play a cagey game this time, knowing that a draw will keep them clear at the top, but they look a good bet on the handicap.

Similarly solid, making them a good handicap bet, too, are Greece away to Switzerland. Although Greece lost 2-1 at home to Switzerland last year, there is not much to choose between the two countries, and there could easily be a reversal of fortune tonight. Greece are unbeaten in their last nine competitive games on the road (seven wins, two draws) and look tough to beat.

Another big name having trouble qualifying, at least in the top spot that will guarantee direct entry to the finals, are France in group seven. Like Portugal, they face a crunch double-header this week against Romania and Serbia, and it would be something of a surprise on current form if they could take six points from those two games.

France have scored only eight goals in six qualifiers and aren't a team to trust at short odds. Both games this week could be low-scoring.

Other games with low-scoring potential tonight are Denmark v Portugal, which could be tense and tight, Poland v Northern Ireland and Slovakia v Czech Republic.

Slovakia won over the border in April, but the Czechs could gain revenge tonight and they are another solid choice on the handicap.

Scotland are another team that could reverse the form from a previous meeting when they host Macedonia tonight. The Scots are prone to bad results on the road, as they showed with a 1-0 defeat in Macedonia and a disastrous 4-0 thrashing in Norway last month, but their passionate supporters make them a different proposition at home.

Italy are the only visiting team to have won there in Scotland's last eight competitive home games, and Macedonia are worse travellers than the Scots, having lost their last five competitive away games while scoring only one goal.

Scotland are odds-on, which does not sound too appealing in the wake of that dreadful display in Norway, but even so they offer value because their odds should be shorter. Scotland are ranked 30 in the world by Fifa, while Macedonia are 56, yet that gap is not reflected in the odds.

Macedonia's scoring figures point to under 2.5 goals in this match, but six of Scotland's last eight home qualifiers have had at least three goals and the best bet could be to go for over 2.5 goals.

Spain v Belgium is a more obvious pick for a high-scoring match (the reverse fixture was 2-1 to Spain), while the potential for over 2.5 goals might have been underestimated in the odds for Bulgaria v Montenegro and Israel v Latvia.

Net gain

Goals scored by Fabio Capello's England in 11 games against teams ranked outside the world top 10: 35

Defensive Trap

Qualifiers without defeat for Ireland under Giovanni Trapattoni: 7

Goal getters

Denmark's positive goal difference is bettered in qualifying only by England, Germany and the Netherlands: 11

Top 5 tips

1 Over 2.5 goals Bulgaria v Montenegro.

Reverse fixture was 2-2 and more goals on the cards tonight

2 Denmark on handicap v Portugal.

Hosts look solid against a team that are not the force of old

3 Czech Republic on handicap v Slovakia.

Czechs should gain revenge for defeat in the reverse fixture

4 Under 2.5 goals Slovakia v Czech Republic.

The visitors have kept six clean sheets in their last seven away

5 Greece on handicap v Switzerland.

Greece have won 20 and lost only five of 30 qualifiers since winning Euro 2004


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