Last updated at 17:00, Friday 8th June 2012

Nothing assured about Azzurri

Mike Holden
Euro 2012 - group betting
2pts Greece to qualify from Group A at 13/8A tight group that promises few goals should suit the 2004 winners down to a tee.1pt Germany/Portugal dual forecast in Group B at 3/1This bet is over-priced when placed in direct contrast to the Germany/Holland alternative at 11/10.2pts Italy NOT to qualify from Group C at 11/8Cesare Prandelli has all kinds of problems, while Ireland and Croatia are both under-rated.1pt Italy to finish bottom of Group C at 11/2The Azzurri finished bottom of a group containing New Zealand at the last World Cup!0.5pt England/Ukraine dual forecast in Group D at 5/1Speculative bet that serves as a handy saver on our Karim Benzema top scorer bet.


It wasn't so long ago that most punters considered it a formality for a host nation to progress beyond the group stage but interest in that school of thought has cooled somewhat following the failure of three host nations in the last two major tournaments.

We can't really make our minds up on Poland in what promises to be a tight section but we do think odds of 13/8 on Greece to qualify are too long. The promise of caution from all sides should suit them to a tee.

Fernando Santos has breathed fresh life into the Ethniki after the Otto Rehaggel era went stale but the culture for high uncertainty avoidance remains and we're backing them to revel in three wars of attrition against opponents who pose limited goal threat.

The jury's out on Russia but we can say with some confidence that the Greeks are stronger than both the Poles and the Czechs (geographical factors notwithstanding) and we shouldn't underestimate the motivational incentive of the country's financial state. It's been talked about by every player in every interview that has been conducted from within the camp.

Back Greece to qualify at 13/8


We have our reservations about Holland, we made that much clear in our outright preview, and it's a matter we're prepared to underline once again with a bet on the Germany/Portugal dual forecast at 3/1. The value in the price jumps out when placed in direct contrast to the best-price 11/10 on the Germany/Holland option.

On top of the general questions that the Oranje have to answer, we also believe the schedule works against them. While Germany and Portugal are thrown in at the deep end by virtue of facing each other first up, the Dutch have the thankless task of going up against outsiders Denmark before they become battle-weary.

Three points in that game is vital but the Dutch have history of losing focus when a date against Germany is looming large on the horizon. It happened in the semi-final of Euro 92 and it could happen again here. Meanwhile, that second pivotal game against the Nationalmannschaft could take plenty out of them whatever the outcome.

Expect Holland to be emotional, Germany to be professional and Portugal to be thankfully detached from it all. Paulo Bento's men are no doubt resigned to the idea that their final game against the Dutch is going to be crucial and, unlike Holland, they might be setting themselves up to peak for that particular match.

Back Germany/Portugal dual forecast at 3/1


Spain are sure to make all the running in this section and they could put Italy on the back foot right from the off in Gdansk on Sunday. The Azzurri aren't nearly so superior to Croatia or Ireland as the market suggests, so take some of the 11/8 on Italy NOT to qualify.

Cesare Prandelli's men might have reached the finals impressively on paper but they were gifted the initiative in what transpired to be a weak group after their game with Serbia was abandoned due to rioting away fans, handing them an early three-point six-goal advantage over their likeliest challengers.

Back Italy NOT to qualify at 11/8
Now Prandelli is short of options in attack and defeat in the opener could leave Italy in a position where they have to force the issue from thereon, playing right into the hands of two teams set up to counter-attack. As such, there's also some value to be found in the 11/2 about Italy to finish bottom of the group.

The Azzurri will already be fearful of needing to beat a team in their own cultural image, managed by Giovanni Trapattoni, but Croatia also carry the potential to surprise. Slaven Bilic's relationship with his national media has turned sour but he still retains the support of his players and they'll be motivated to prove a point on his behalf before he steps down.

Back Italy to finish bottom at 11/2


Our cultural feature on high power distance painted France as an all-or-nothing nation and a small bet on the England/Ukraine dual forecast at 5/1 serves as a handy saver on our Karim Benzema top goalscorer bet.

History tells us the French need a talisman and everything points to Benzema being the man in the spotlight. If he doesn't step up to lead the team, then you don't need a long memory to recall how abject Les Bleus can be when the big players are passing responsibility.

Their first game against England will reveal plenty but we're of the mind that the Three Lions can actually benefit from their chaotic preparations and low expectations, not to mention the memory of their humbling at the hands of Laurent Blanc's men at Wembley in November 2010.

With home advantage, Ukraine should be stronger than Sweden and, if they both get off to fliers, then we'd fancy both Roy Hodgson's men and the co-hosts to follow up with positive results on June 15. If that did prove to be the case, then we wouldn't rule out a French-thwarting carve-up in Donetsk on June 19.

Back England/Ukraine dual forecast at 5/1


Read Mike Holden's further ante-post previews of Euro 2012 focusing on the outright winner, tournament specials and team specials.

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