Wayne Rooney is expected to captain England against Switzerland. Photo: Reuters
You Bet
You Bet

Higher-ranked teams usually live up to billing

But a punt on 'underdogs' England securing a low-scoring draw with Switzerland seems decent


The 2014 World Cup still lingers in the memory as a throwback to the old days of international football, with goals, excitement and worthy winners, but from a betting perspective the standout element of the tournament was the dominance of the better teams.

To some extent, that trend was masked by Spain's meltdown and the surprise successes of minor countries such as Costa Rica, but the final tournament figures made it abundantly clear that the cream rose to the top.

Once Spain were out of the picture, Germany were the top team left in the tournament according to Fifa's rankings and they duly lifted the trophy with a deserved success over Argentina, who were the highest-ranked team in the other half of the draw once Portugal had been eliminated at the group stage.

The Fifa rankings are imperfect, mainly because they overrate the most recent form, which means countries that had a good World Cup are higher now than they were three months ago

Taking every match into account, the higher-rated team on Fifa rankings won 59 per cent of the games - the figure had been 65 per cent at the end of the group stage but dropped in the typically cagier knockout rounds as the draw rate increased.

The dominance of the better nations was just as clear in the fact that only 10 matches (16 per cent) were won by the lower-ranked side. England's supposed underperformance, for instance, was put into perspective by their status as the third-ranked team in group D - they lost to Uruguay and Italy, the two nations ranked above them, and drew with Costa Rica.

As the international cycle starts again, with qualifiers looming for Euro 2016, it will be interesting to see if that trend continues to be as strong. There were only six direct head-to-heads between European teams at the World Cup, but the higher-ranked team won four of them (67 per cent), with the lower-ranked side winning the other two.

The Fifa rankings are imperfect, mainly because they overrate the most recent form, which means countries that had a good World Cup are higher now than they were three months ago. More to the point, some nations that did less well have gone down considerably and, with the slippage perhaps overdone by Fifa, it could take a while for the rankings to come back into line.

England are a case in point, as they have dropped from 10th to 20th in three months. On paper that makes them underdogs for Monday's away tie in Switzerland, who are ranked ninth, but it is likely that the Swiss should be a few places lower and England a little higher.

Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has struck a rich rein of form. Photo: AFP

Nevertheless, it is a close-looking tie and England may be happy to leave with a draw. Under Roy Hodgson, England have won three and drawn three of their six competitive away games but the victories were against the three lowest-ranked sides they faced. A low-scoring draw, under 2.5 goals and England on the handicap look the bets to consider.

Switzerland v England is the standout tie in the coming Euro 2016 qualifiers, as it is the only one to involve two countries that went to the World Cup. Substantial variations in the quality of the teams are what make international football difficult to bet on at this level, and punters have to go to some unlikely places in search of decent bets.

One of those places this week is Austria, where visitors Sweden are worth backing on the handicap. This is a rematch from World Cup qualifying and, although Austria won the equivalent fixture 2-1, Sweden were the better team overall.

In a group neither had realistic hopes of winning, as they faced Germany, Sweden lost only two out of 10 (away to Austria and home to Germany) and finished runners-up, three points ahead of Austria. The Swedes then had the misfortune to draw Portugal, the highest-ranked team in the play-offs, and lost 4-2 on aggregate.

Sweden were one of the best European teams not to go to the World Cup and they can make a good start to the new campaign.

More obscurely, Slovenia are attractively priced away to Estonia. The home side's only victories in World Cup qualifying came against Andorra and they lost seven of their other eight ties, while Slovenia were in contention right to the end of their group.

Ukraine rate a good bet at home to Slovakia and it is possible they will benefit from a fervent nationalistic atmosphere given the political situation. In their last competitive home match, they beat France 2-0 in the World Cup qualifying play-offs before a heartbreaking turnaround in the return leg. The Netherlands and Italy look good away bets.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Higher-ranked teams usually live up to billing