It's the margin that's of interest when England meet Wales

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 September, 2011, 12:00am

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With most of the first round of soccer's autumn internationals completed last night, attention is already turning to Tuesday's Euro 2012 qualifiers where England's return match with Wales in group G is the main attraction.

The reverse fixture in Cardiff in March ended in a 2-0 win for England, who were always in control after scoring both goals in the first 16 minutes, and they are massive favourites again.

Tuesday's rematch is akin to a Premier League versus Championship match-up in a cup competition, with Wales outclassed on paper but hoping to produce a one-off upset. England's squad is drawn almost exclusively from the Premier League and they will be aiming to impose their superior class on Wales, who have a smattering of good players but several from lower-level Premier League sides or the Championship.

In qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, England won 2-0 at home and 1-0 away against Wales and they are on course for a similar double.

The clear difficulty for Wales is how they might score, with all three of those recent defeats being to nil and only one goal scored in their four qualifiers so far.

The margin of the probable England victory is open to question, with conflicting signals from their record against other British sides and their home form under Fabio Capello.

Since the annual British 'home international' competition was wound up in 1984, England have played the other British nations on 17 occasions and have won 12 (10 of them to nil and eight by at least two goals). Notably, 14 of the 17 have had under 2.5 goals, which points to a tight, low-scoring match.

With England at home, they have won five out of six and there has been an even split of games with under and over 2.5 goals, as well five to nil and four by at least two goals.

Capello's England have had mostly clear-cut wins in home qualifiers - including scorelines of 6-0, 5-1 (twice), 4-0 and 3-0. The others were 2-1 against Ukraine, their closest challenger in World Cup qualifying, the disappointing goalless draw against Montenegro, who are level on points in group G after five games, and 2-2 versus Switzerland in June.

With Wales clearly not in the class of the sides who have caused problems for England, Capello's team should win by at least two goals and probably to nil. Scorelines of 2-0 and 3-0 are suggested as the best bets to add value to the England win.

The other match in England's group on Tuesday is Switzerland v Bulgaria, with the hosts looking a good bet. In the past decade Switzerland have lost just two out of 17 qualifiers at home - against a rampant England 12 months ago and, bewilderingly, against Luxembourg in 2008 - and otherwise have performed well against some high-class opponents.

There has been a recent tendency to draw too many games, but their vibrant performance at Wembley in June suggests a new-found attacking edge. Having drawn 0-0 in Bulgaria, Switzerland look good value to win this time.

In group D, France rate a good bet to win in Romania. The French stabilised during Laurent Blanc's first year in charge, which included a 2-1 friendly win over England at Wembley. Having lost their first qualifier 1-0 at home to Belarus - when they were still feeling the after-effects of the divisive 2010 World Cup - Blanc's new-look team won their next four without conceding a goal before ending last season with a 1-1 away to Belarus.

Failures to beat the lesser nations are always criticised, but France met an improving Belarus, who are now ranked 41 in the world, and their head-to-head results may not be as bad as they look for Blanc's team.

Romania, France's opponents on Tuesday, are lower-ranked than Belarus at 54 in the Fifa standings and are not the force of old. France won the reverse fixture 2-0 in October, while Romania have beaten only one team ranked in the world top 50 in the past two years and that was Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Bosnia v Belarus in the same group looks tight and is one that could have under 2.5 goals, along with Russia v Ireland, Croatia v Israel, Denmark v Norway and Italy v Slovenia.

Russia v Ireland is one of the crunch matches, with group B looking tight after Ireland recovered well from losing 3-2 at home to Russia in the reverse fixture. That was a surprise as Ireland have generally been well organised under Giovanni Trapattoni and it would be even more surprising if he allows a similar match to unfold this time.

Shortlist: Turkey, Greece, France, Ireland, Switzerland.

TOP 5 BETS

1 Switzerland v Bulgaria home win

Reproducing their Wembley form should be enough

2 Turkey on handicap v Austria

Visitors should get something after 2-0 win in reverse fixture

3 Romania v France away win

France on the upgrade against declining hosts

4 Iceland v Cyprus over 2.5 goals

Both teams have scored in eight of Iceland's last 10 home qualifiers

5 Scotland v Lithuania over 2.5 goals

Neither defence looks secure enough to keep the score down