Almanack: Simply the best bets

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TALES of gambling derring-do from the World Cup, as the delightful sound of wailing bookmakers fills the air. William Hill's Graham Sharpe describes the final as 'a nightmare' for his firm, which stands to lose pounds 1.5m whichever team lifts the trophy tonight.

But Hills have already taken some heavy hits. A Hong Kong restaurant owner took a deep breath and placed pounds 115,000 on Brazil to beat Sweden at odds of 4/7. He collected pounds 165,000 - 'What a takeaway,' as Sharpe, witty in the face of adversity, puts it.

Another canny punter, this time from north London, constructed two pounds 400 accumulators including Manchester United (Premiership), Rangers (Scottish Premier) and Crystal Palace (First Division). One bet concludes with Brazil, the other with Italy. If Italy win he collects pounds 120,000; if Brazil triumph, only pounds 106,000.

But the punters have not had things all their own way. Unluckiest, or silliest, of all is the Essex woman who backed both sides in last Sunday night's quarter-final between Sweden and Romania - and still lost a fortune.

She put pounds 29,000 on Romania to win, and pounds 24,000 on Sweden to prevail, both inside 90 minutes. Thomas Brolin's goal had her looking at a potential profit of pounds 13,000. But Florin Raducioiu's equaliser cost her pounds 53,000.