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England the pick on handicap despite Germany's quality

Results against main World Cup fancies have not been as gloom-laden as many of the predictions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 November, 2013, 10:11pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 November, 2013, 10:11pm

England are hardly taking the easy route to the World Cup under Roy Hodgson, either in their laboured qualification from a relatively easy group or in the choice of opponents for their warm-up friendlies.

Money plays a part, of course, as the Football Association wants full houses at Wembley, but no doubt Hodgson sees the on-field benefit of giving his developing squad the sort of tests that will stand them in good stead in Brazil next year.

Tuesday's opponents are Germany, second favourites behind the hosts to lift the trophy in Rio de Janeiro on July 13. That will be the sixth match of Hodgson's reign in which England have faced one of the top eight in the betting for the World Cup (England themselves being one of those top eight). All of those opponents are also currently ranked higher by Fifa than Chile, who nevertheless are well up the list in 12th place.

So far the results against the main World Cup fancies have not been as gloom-laden as many of the predictions for England's chances at the tournament. Hodgson's side are unbeaten in their five matches against teams from the top eight in the betting, with three wins and two draws.

Fourteen of the 20 meetings since the 1966 World Cup final have had no more than a goal between the sides
Nick Pulford

Most of the games were in European conditions, but notably England managed a 2-2 draw against Brazil last June in the Maracana - the stadium that will host next year's final. Brazil probably should have won comfortably after running the game in the first half without being able to score, but England's strong finish, with both of their goals coming in the final quarter of the game, belied the argument that the Brazilian heat will be too much for them.

Hodgson's team were similarly outclassed by Italy in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals, but it is worth remembering that Italy did not score and the match was decided only on penalties. Whatever England's limitations in terms of skill and possession, they are lacking nothing in resilience and organisation.

England's ability to mount a World Cup challenge will rest ultimately on their ability to get results against the top teams and Tuesday's match is one of their biggest tests yet. Germany cruised through qualification, taking 28 points out of a possible 30 and scoring an average of 3.6 goals per game. Their talented squad includes Arsenal's Mesut Ozil as well as several key players from European champions Bayern Munich.

In the period since Hodgson became England coach, Germany have played eight teams from the world's current top 10 (plus Brazil, who are ranked 11th but are actually better than that as their rating has slipped owing to a lack of competitive action) and their record is won five, drawn one and lost two. That is not so very different from England's record, which suggests a close match in prospect.

The history of England-Germany contests is long and famous, of course, and generally there has not been much to choose between the two sides. Fourteen of the 20 meetings since the 1966 World Cup final have had no more than a goal between the sides, although the balance of results is in favour of Germany (and before reunification West Germany) with 10 wins, while England have won five and five have been draws.

The underdogs are always tempting in matches that might be close and, with home advantage, England are the pick on the handicap despite Germany's evident quality.

The play-offs for the final World Cup qualification spots from Europe conclude on Tuesday and under 2.5 goals is worth considering in all four matches, based on recent trends. Seven of the eight play-off matches for the 2010 World Cup had under 2.5 goals, including all four of the second legs, while three of the four second legs in the play-offs for Euro 2012 had under 2.5 goals, even though the overall trend was less strong (five of the eight play-off matches had under 2.5 goals).

The pick of the match bets is Sweden on the handicap at home to Portugal. Sweden have won 10 of their last 12 home competitive matches and the only defeat was against Germany, 5-3 in their final group match last month. Portugal are not in Germany's class, which is why they have ended up in the play-offs.

League action is thin on the ground, but there are a few decent bets in England's League One. They are headed by second-placed Wolves away to bottom club Notts County, which looks a mismatch.

Leyton Orient, Wolves, Sheffield United, Rotherham, England, Romania, Sweden