England likely to win World Cup qualifier against Ukraine
Roy Hodgson's team should win World Cup qualifier, though unlikely by a wide margin
Roy Hodgson’s England begin their home campaign in a World Cup qualifying match on Tuesday night against Ukraine, who are becoming increasingly familiar rivals.
Each side recorded a home win when they were paired in the last World Cup qualifying programme and they met again at Euro 2012, where England won 1-0 in what amounted to an away victory over the co-hosts. As the earlier home win for Ukraine in October 2009 came after England had secured qualification for the 2010 World Cup, the balance of power is clearly with England and should remain that way on Tuesday.
Ukraine’s results, just like Andriy Shevchenko’s legs, have been on the wane in recent years and there is nobody who can fill the boots of their talismanic striker now that he has retired. Shevchenko was their one world-class player and, once he passed his prime, they became a limited, workman-like side.
Home support could not raise their level at Euro 2012, where they lost to nil against both England and France and needed goals from Shevchenko for a 2-1 comeback victory over Sweden.
Ukraine’s first post-Shevchenko game, a home friendly with the Czech Republic last month, ended goalless, which means that no player in the current squad has scored in the past five internationals.
It is worth pointing out that Ukraine’s world ranking of 39 underestimates them. This always happens with countries that recently hosted a major tournament, simply by virtue of the fact that they did not have to go through qualifying for that tournament and so their ability to collect rankings points diminished. Even so, Ukraine would struggle to get into the top 30 at the moment.
England should win, although it may not be by a wide margin. Hodgson has brought organisation more than excitement to the England set-up, which is not a criticism given how little time he had to settle into the job before Euro 2012 and the difficult opposition he has faced.
Until last night’s match in Moldova, Hodgson hadn’t played one of the minnows of European soccer, and yet he had not lost in 90 minutes’ play in seven matches against teams currently ranked no higher than 40. His record in those seven matches was five wins and two draws (including the 0-0 match against Italy at Euro 2012 that ultimately led to England being knocked out on penalties).
England scored more than one goal in just two of those seven games, however, and wide-margin wins are unlikely to become the norm under Hodgson.
As the score went over 2.5 goals only twice in those seven games and England kept a clean sheet in four (the only teams that scored against them were ranked in the top 20), under 2.5 goals looks a good bet.
Hodgson’s tactics may also be influenced by the paucity of attacking options. With Wayne Rooney and Andy Carroll injured, he was left with Jermain Defoe, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck in the striker department. All three have scored recently when given the chance to represent their country, but their ability to lead the line at international level is still open to question.
All three like to use their speed and receive the ball beyond the back line, but opportunities to do so may be limited by a deep-lying Ukraine defence. Scorelines of 1-0 and 2-0 to England are worth considering.
In today’s two qualifying games, Denmark stand out as a good-value home bet against the Czech Republic. Having been drawn in the toughest group at Euro 2012, Denmark did well to beat Holland and push Germany and Portugal all the way before losing to late goals.
Serbia have a sporting chance of an away victory against Scotland and are worth backing on the handicap. Scotland have yet to beat a higher-ranked nation in a competitive match during Craig Levein’s three-year reign and, Serbia are capable of stepping up on a disappointing qualifying campaign for Euro 2012.
In the second set of qualifiers on Tuesday, look for over 2.5 goals in Scotland vs Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina vs Latvia and Greece vs Lithuania.
TOP 5 BETS
1 Denmark home win
Good value against Czech Republic
2 Serbia on handicap
Should get something in Scotland
3 Croatia on handicap
Tough opponents for Belgium
4 Norway home win
Home form remains a strength
5 Russia on handicap
Israel are weaker at home than in the past
Denmark, Serbia, Croatia, Norway, Cyprus, Russia