England World Cup value at 20-1

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Patriotic punting is strictly for the hard of thinking, but even the most cynical UK passport holder will find the quote of 20-1 about England to win the 1998 World Cup from Coral extremely tempting.

The increasing incidence of penalty shoot-outs in both the 1994 World Cup and Euro 96 clearly illustrates that there is no outstanding side in the world at present. And, while the purists may hate penalty shoot- outs, for the football form student, they are are of vital use.

When a side loses on penalties they sadly go no further in the competition. But the fact that, after two hours of play has failed to break the deadlock, a team has only lost on penalties shows, usually, they are every bit as good a side as the one that does progress - losing on penalties is a better formbook performance better than losing in 90 minutes or extra time.

England in 1992 were patently a match for the finalists, Germany, and so too was the, arguably rather better England side that again went down on spot kicks to Germany last Wednesday night.

Believe that Euro 96 is simply the World Cup without Brazil and Argentina, believe that England were the better side on Wednesday night, home advantage notwithstanding, and believe that England's best players are young enough to be relied upon and will have retained - perhaps even enhanced - their level of ability come 1998, and taking that 20-1 grows into something more than just a good idea. It becomes a religion. Hills and Ladbrokes both offer a similarly sporting 16-1.

A glance at the latest ante-post lists illustrates what good value England are. Brazil (presumably the same Brazil that only won the 1994 World Cup on penalties) are 5-1 favourites (lucky, lucky), Germany are 7-1, and France (that is the France that found two hours an insufficient amount of time in which they could reasonably be expected to score a goal against the Czech Republic) are 7-1.

It gets better. Italy (that is the Italy that actually managed to lose to the Czechs) are 8-1, Holland (yes, the same Holland that lost 4-1 at Wembley the other day) are only 14-1 with Coral and William Hill (perhaps the alternative Netherlands epithet is confusing the bookmakers - there can be no other rational explanation), and Spain (hold on, didn't they lose to England on penalties) are 14-1 as well.