Football: Heart always rules head with England

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The argument over Paul Gascoigne's suitability for the England squad has slightly obscured the fact that Saturday's trip to Georgia is the most serious obstacle so far on the path to France in 1998.

The bookmakers are well aware of the pitfall potential, however, and while England will travel as odds-on favourites, their price of 8-15 with William Hill indicates that victory is not a foregone conclusion. The home side are available at 5-1 with the same firm, while the draw is 5- 2 with Ladbrokes.

As Dave Brown, Hills' odds compiler, points out: "This is a game which any side with serious pretensions to winning the World Cup should win." Anything but success will have a serious impact both on England's odds to win their group (currently 11-10), and on their price for the tournament outright, which at 14-1 already looks painfully short.

As so often, the bookmakers are well aware that punters back England with the hearts rather than their heads, and they can cheerfully lay the national side at several points less than their true odds. Georgia, whose crushing defeat of Wales should still be fairly fresh in backers' memories, are a skilful side, and in Georgi Kinkladze could claim to possess the best player on either side.

Odds-on chances rarely represent value, still less so when a team is playing away from home. For serious betting purposes, this game does not make much appeal, but the pain of an England defeat would be that much easier to bear if you happen to have taken 5-1 about the winners.

GEORGIA v ENGLAND (Hills): 5-1 Georgia, 8-15 England, 9-4 draw. (Ladbrokes): 4-1 Georgia, 4-7 England, 5-2 draw. World Cup Group Two (Hills) 8-11 Italy, 11-10 England, 16-1 Poland, 50-1 Georgia, 250-1 Moldova. World Cup (Hills) 5-1 Brazil, 6-1 Germany, 7-1 France, 8-1 Italy, 12-1 Netherlands, Spain, 14-1 England, 16-1 Argentina, 25-1 bar.

PREMIERSHIP (Ladbrokes): 11-10 Newcastle, 2-1 Liverpool, 7-2 Man Utd, 9-1 Arsenal, 16-1 Chelsea, 25-1 Aston Villa, 33-1 bar.