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The world at their feet

So, you want to make a mint on the 2010 World Cup but can’t pick a team to win outright? Then join Gambling’s Duncan Wilkie as he weighs up the main contenders from the oft-overlooked but potentially lucrative ‘To Reach The Final’ market

While we all want to come away from this summer’s World Cup in South Africa with heroic tales of how we lumped £50 on Portugal to win at 28/1 back in January, the reality is that calling an outright champion is a betting minefield. Short of striking gold with a rank outsider, you’re essentially limited to choosing from a group of evenly-priced teams in a high-risk, low-return market – and nobody wants to be part of that.

But while picking the team that will ultimately lift the World Cup in Johannesburg this July might be a tall order on its own, you do at least know that the eventual winner is likely to come from a very select pool of teams. It stands to reason, therefore, that while choosing between Spain and Brazil to win the World Cup would be a tricky call to make, it is highly probable that at least one of the two teams will reach the final.

With that in mind, in terms of betting on South Africa 2010 you are perhaps better served by casting your eye over the easier-to-call To Reach The Final market when deciding where best to invest your betting coin. Much like placing an each-way bet in horse-racing, by backing a team to reach the final you will be paid-off whether they win the World Cup or finish runners-up – greatly reducing the risk factor attached.

Of course, as a result of your bet paying out over two places the odds your receive are slashed in half but – at the risk of winding up with some serious egg on my face come the showpiece finale – when you can get 21/10 (Extrabet) on Spain reaching the final, who the hell cares? When being offered over triple your money on a team like Spain doing their absolute minimum, I think you simply have to take the plunge.

The reigning European champions have been in scintillating form over the past year and their perfect ten wins from ten games in qualification is testament to the quality that manager Vicente Del Bosque has at his disposal. Indeed, in the past 12 months, La Furia Roja have been defeated just once – a shock loss to the USA in the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup – and such imperious form cannot go unnoticed.

With a resolute defence, a midfield that is the envy of the world and front pairing of two of the game’s greatest strikers in Fernando Torres and David Villa, Spain are unquestionably the strongest team in the competition and should be nailed-on to reach the final – a bet which, providing you can get anything better than double your initial stake on – simply looks like buying money if current form is anything to go by.

Behind Spain, many people will look to Brazil as deserving second favourites, and rightfully so. Dunga’s team of Samba superstars have been electrifying the world football stage since his appointment in 2006, winning both the Copa America the following year and the Confederations Cup in South Africa last June with some truly breathtaking football, and they are currently priced at 5/2 (Betfred) to reach the final.

As with Spain, the seemingly small price on Brazil is offset by the huge likelihood of them making the final in South Africa, but unlike their European rivals this must be tempered by a frank appraisal of their qualifying campaign. Despite topping the CONMEBOL standings with 34 points, it should be noted that Brazil only won half of their qualifying games, drawing seven of their 18 group fixtures and losing twice.

Such results are a million miles away from Spain’s 100 percent qualifying campaign and indicate that Brazil can be subdued when things are not going their way – as recent defeats to Paraguay (29th in FIFA’s world rankings) and Bolivia (58th) will attest – but should the likes of Kaka, Alexandre Pato and Luis Fabiano all be on-song, they still look a very reasonable price to make the final in spite of a fairly tricky opening group.

And what of England? Unsurprisingly, the newspapers will claim that 2010 could “really be our year”, but perhaps this time out there is a little more weight behind their customary pre-tournament hyperbole. Under Fabio Capello, the Three Lions look a far tighter unit than they have in recent decades and having lost just once in qualifying to the Ukraine and conceded only six goals, they’ll be highly fancied here.

Their task of reaching the final will certainly be aided by what would appear on paper to be a fairly straightforward opening group, but before anyone gets too excited about the 11/4 on offer (various) it should be noted that blind patriotism often drives down the price on England. In truth, it may be a little short – and a recent 2-0 defeat to Spain indicates they still have some way to go to justify their third-favourites tag.

Of the other main contenders, Argentina (9/2, 888sport) certainly have the quality to perform on the biggest stage, but having only just scraped through qualifying thanks to the barmy and, quite frankly, often inept management of Diego Maradona, they look very risky at that price. And for Maradona, see also Raymond Domenech and the hard work he made of France’s (7/1, various) qualification for South Africa.

Perhaps of more substantial value are the first European team to have secured qualification to the tournament this year, Holland (13/2, Bwin) – whose reputation for bottling major tournaments will be tempered somewhat by their 100 percent record in qualifying – and Germany (13/2, SkyBet), who almost always perform when the chips are down and are usually good to make at least the semi-finals of a major competition.

Whatever the final game of South Africa 2010 turns out to be, there’s certainly some tantalising betting opportunities to be had ahead of kick-off – and for those looking for a low-risk way to spin-up a sports-betting bankroll, the To Reach The Final market could certainly see Johannesburg live up to its nickname as the ‘City of Gold’.
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