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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 September, 2010, 12:00am

For those countries that underperformed at the World Cup - notably England, Italy and France - last night's opening Euro 2012 qualifiers offered hope of a fresh start and they will be keen to press on in the second round of back-to-back matches on Tuesday.

At least any hangover from South Africa won't be made worse by the droning of the vuvuzela, which has been banned from all the major competitions run by Uefa. Symbolically, that draws a line under the 2010 World Cup - something many countries might like to do, too.

Italy and France have brought in new coaches after their South African disasters, but England have stuck with Fabio Capello and that is not necessarily a bad thing. The clamour for a change of management ignored the dearth of potential replacements, as well as the historical example that England had their best tournament of the modern era under the same coach who had led them ignominiously only two years before.

At the 1988 European championships, Bobby Robson's England exited at the group stage after losing all three group games, to the Netherlands, the Soviet Union and Ireland. Yet Robson was left in charge and two years later he led England to the semi-finals of the World Cup and that famously agonising defeat on penalties by Germany.

The current England model has its first away match of the qualifying campaign on Tuesday with a trip to Switzerland, not the easiest place to visit in recent years. Early in World Cup qualifying, England had a stunning 4-1 win in Croatia and, having never reached those heights again under Capello, it would be encouraging if they could find a similar performance in Basel.

England's away form in World Cup qualifying was strong, but then so much of the build-up under Capello seemed promising, only to fall flat in South Africa. They played two teams at a similar level to Switzerland in that campaign, winning in Croatia and then losing 1-0 in Ukraine when qualification was assured. England's true level probably is somewhere between those two results.

Switzerland's level is easier to gauge. They are a resilient, hard-working but low-scoring side who present a tough test for any opponent. They have lost only one of their last 15 competitive home matches - strangely, that defeat was against lowly Luxembourg - and in recent seasons they have beaten Spain and Portugal in tournaments.

Switzerland scored only one goal in South Africa - the shock winner against Spain - and all three of their World Cup games had under 2.5 goals, which gives England a good chance if they can open up the Swiss defence. That won't be easy and a more solid bet is under 2.5 goals, which has occurred in six of Switzerland's last eight competitive games against highly ranked teams.

Several other matches look likely to be low scoring, notably Russia v Slovakia, Turkey v Belgium, Croatia v Greece, Norway v Portugal and Serbia v Slovakia. The pick of those are the games in Croatia, Norway and Serbia.

For high-scoring matches, look to Bulgaria v Montenegro (4-1 to the hosts a year ago in World Cup qualifying) and Denmark v Iceland.

The away teams with most appeal at decent odds are Israel, Romania, Latvia and France, who should start to recover quickly now that Laurent Blanc is at the helm. Romania had an up-and-down World Cup qualifying campaign and paid dearly for home and away defeats by Serbia, but they are a capable side and in the past four years they have lost only three of their 14 competitive games against teams ranked below them. That sequence includes home and away wins over Tuesday's opponents, Belarus (both 3-1).

Latvia's only defeats in World Cup qualifying were against Greece (twice) and Switzerland and they should be a solid side again in group F. Having won on the road against higher-ranked teams, they should not be overawed by Tuesday's trip to Malta.

The Champions League will loom large once Europe's big clubs have their players back from international duty and the best bet in the group betting is Arsenal to win group H.

Jose Mourinho, whose success with Inter Milan last season was his second in the competition, does not have Arsenal among the seven teams he believes can win the Champions League, but the betting says otherwise. Arsenal are joint-sixth in the overall betting at 13.00 and the next-highest from group H are Shakhtar Donetsk, who are 17th on the list, which suggests the Gunners should have no problem in finishing top.

Mourinho's Real Madrid are around the same odds as Arsenal to win their group, even though it includes Milan - one of the teams Mourinho has on his list of potential winners. Real Madrid do not look such a good bet as Arsenal, but they won their group ahead of Milan last season and the same outcome looks likely in group G.

Another of the group favourites likely to face a strong Italian challenge are Bayern Munich, who look vulnerable to being overturned by Roma in group E. Bayern were beaten finalists last season, but they look overrated on the back of that performance and it is worth noting that they did not win their group last year.

A Roma/Bayern Munich forecast looks a reasonable bet and the most solid forecast is Manchester United/Valencia in an unbalanced group C.

World Cup tally

Goals scored by England and Switzerland in seven World Cup matches: 4

Home glory

Wins in their last 18 home matches for Croatia: 14

Shortlist: Israel, Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Denmark, France, Croatia, Austria, Hungary

Top five bets

1 Romania away win

Have won nine of their last 14 competitive games against lower-ranked teams

2 Latvia away win

Recent wins in Israel and Moldova make them a decent bet against weak opposition

3 Israel away win

Started with a win and should follow up in Georgia

4 Manchester United/Valencia forecast in Champions League group C

Head and shoulders above their opponents and United should be top

5 Arsenal to win

Champions League group H The Gunners appear to have the easiest passage to the knockout stage

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