England backers must be sweating

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The Independent Online
It was not just Liverpool supporters who switched off at the end of the Cup Final in a mood of bitter disappointment. For anyone who has already backed England to win Euro 96, Saturday's lifeless encounter did nothing to advertise the strengths of the national game, particularly since the only player capable of breaking the deadlock will struggle to find a place in the French squad.

England had already started to drift in the championship betting, and while the latest quotes are still around 7-1, they will head towards double figures if they fail to beat Hungary at Wembley this Saturday.

In betting terms at least, it is hard to see how Terry Venables can emerge from this fixture as a winner. England are 2-7 with William Hill to beat the Hungarians, a price which in a Premiership contest would point towards victory by at least two goals. Yet England's shortcomings in front of goal are now well-documented, and while Hungary failed to qualify for Euro 96, they should be eager to perform with credit against the tournament hosts. A scrappy 1-0 victory will do nothing for confidence within the team or in the betting markets.

Time is running out for Venables to find a side and system he is happy with, and he may still be tinkering in this, England's last game at Wembley before the championship opener against Switzerland. Only blind patriots will back them at such short odds, and while victory may be beyond the Hungarians, the draw is a realistic alternative at 100-30, though for betting purposes this is probably a match best left alone. Put the money aside for the tournament itself, when the games really matter and shrewd punters will hope to make a killing.

The Scottish Cup Final is, according to the betting at least, marginally more competitive than England's friendly.

Rangers are rated 4-6 to secure yet another Double within 90 minutes. Many punters will simply approach the match as a chance to buy money. But anyone intending to walk into a betting shop with a bankers' draft earmarked for Rangers should remember that Hearts did beat them during the regular season.

FRIENDLY INTERNATIONAL (Wembley, Saturday): Hills: 2-7 England, 8-1 Hungary, 100-30 draw.

EURO 96 (Ladbrokes): 9-2 Germany, 5-1 Italy, 11-2 Holland, 6-1 England, 7-1 Spain, 8-1 France, 10-1 Portugal, 12-1 Croatia, 16-1 Russia, Bulgaria, 20-1 Romania, 25-1 Denmark, 50-1 Switzerland, 66-1 Czech Republic, 80- 1 Scotland, Turkey.

SCOTTISH CUP FINAL (Sunday): Hills: 4-6 Rangers, 9-2 Hearts, 2-1 draw. Outright: 2-7 Rangers, 5-2 Hearts.