Sports betting: Italy and France short but not sweet

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The Independent Online
With two cycles of Euro 96 group matches now complete, punters can reflect on some dramatic changes of fortune during the last nine days, with the promise of plenty more to come before the quarter-final line- up is complete.

England, for instance, were out to 10-1 after their opening draw with Switzerland, but they are now just 5-1 with both William Hill (6-1 from 8-1 with Ladbrokes). Italy, by contrast, were close to outright favouritism after beating Russia, but they must now be odds against even making the quarter-finals following their loss to the Czech Republic, whose 40-1 quote with Ladbrokes seems remarkable when a place in the next round is still within their grasp.

The over-riding impression after the matches so far is that almost all the sides are capable, on their day, of beating any of the others, and it would be foolish to take a short price about any side, in particular those such as France or Italy who may not even be in the tournament by Wednesday night.

If Ladbrokes are correct, though, home fans can start trying to work out who England will meet in their Wembley quarter-final, since a draw with the Netherlands tomorrow would be enough to send them through as group winners. The firm offer just 4-9 about England topping Group A, and 13-8 against the Dutch.

Since a point is enough for both sides, the draw at 6-4 is predictably the favoured result in William Hill's match odds on tomorrow's game, with 7-4 against both sides for victory. As for who their next opponents might be, Group B is still impossible to call, with Ladbrokes' group betting reading: 10-11 France, 6-4 Bulgaria, 4-1 Spain.

Hills, by contrast, show 4-7 France, 5-2 Bulgaria, 4-1 Spain, which may be closer to the mark since Uefa's tortuous process for resolving ties seems to favour the French if the deciding game tomorrow ends in a draw. Bulgaria, though, have looked more solid than most, while France's victory in their opening match was secured thanks only to a dreadful error by the Romanian keeper. In effect, Hills are offering 5-2 against a Bulgarian victory, which appears to be extremely good value.

EURO 96 BETTING

(Ladbrokes): 2-1 Germany, 5-1 England, Netherlands, 6-1 France, Italy, 10-1 Spain, 12-1 Portugal, 14-1 Croatia, 20-1 Bulgaria, 33-1 Denmark, 40-1 Czech Republic, 100-1 Russia, 250-1 Scotland, Switzerland.

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