Goals set to be off the menu in Manaus


Tomorrow 11.00pm

THE ENGLAND football team has suffered under the weight of expectation from this small but very patriotic nation for the past few decades, so it’s actually quite refreshing that the normal World Cup fervour hasn’t reached fever pitch yet. Perhaps that can inspire Roy Hodgson’s side to a decent showing in Brazil.

They are going to face a stern test in the Arena da Amazonia and not just because they are playing Italy, the second most successful nation in the history of the competition. The conditions in Manaus are going to be absolutely brutal.

Temperatures are set to be in the 30s, even though the game is kicking off at 6pm local time, but it’s the humidity which is going to cause the problems. And that’s not even mentioning the pitch, which looks dreadful.

This really isn’t the ideal location for either side for their first game and both Hogdson and Cesare Prandelli will be desperate not to lose. The bookies are struggling to split them and I tend to agree. It is likely to be a very cagey match and I just can’t get away from the draw at 2/1 with Paddy Power.

Stalemates are very much the order of the day for these countries in their first group game at major tournaments – the scoreline was 1-1 in both England’s and Italy’s opening game in South Africa 2010 and Euro 2012.

England have a youthful side, which should give them a no fear approach, although the lack of experience at this level has to be a concern. The pressure will be on the likes of captain Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney to deliver, but tactics are going to be far from gung ho, especially when having to deal with the genius that is Andrea Pirlo.

Pirlo is one of the greatest playmakers of the modern game and he is sure to control the midfield for lengthy periods, just as he did against England in Euro 2012. The Italians have always been master defensive tacticians and they won’t want to take risks here.

The draw at 2/1 is the safest option, but I also wouldn’t put anyone off backing no goalscorer at 11/2 with Coral, which was the final score when the teams met in the quarter-finals of the Euros two years ago in Kiev.

Spread bettors will want to sell total goals with Sporting Index, even though the quote is low at 1.95-2.15. Buying the time of the first match goal at 46 is a risk, but looks worth chancing.

Draw at 2/1 with Paddy Power
No goalscorer at 11/2 with Coral
Buy the time of the first match goal at 46 with Sporting Index

Today 8.00pm

SPAIN have dominated the international football scene for the past six years and have the chance to win a historic fourth straight major tournament in Brazil.

But they have got a tough group with Netherlands, who they met in the final four years ago, first up this evening and then a potentially tricky contest against interesting outsiders Chile next Wednesday. Australia in the final group game should be a formality, but Spain will likely know their fate before that match.

The air of invincibility may have gone slightly, but this remains one of the most talented squads in the competition and conditions should be less of a problem for them than the more northern Europeans.

Barcelona’s midfield duo of Xavi and Andres Iniesta have pulled the strings for years, spraying passes around at will and grinding down their opponents. However, neither achieved previous heights for Barca in La Liga this season and it may just be that age is starting to catch up with them.

They have great depth to the squad, though, with the likes of David Silva, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas and Koke all world class midfielders who can play their part. Diego Costa, the Brazil-born striker, is the big goalscoring hope up front, but he has had a long season for Atletico Madrid and has been suffering with an injury, while Fernando Torres isn’t the player he was.

Netherlands disgraced themselves when trying to kick Spain off the park in the final four years ago. They were then a shambles at Euro 2012, where they lost all three group games. Despite coasting through World Cup qualifying scoring 35 goals, it was a poor pool.

The squad also doesn’t look the strongest – Robin van Persie has been struggling with his fitness all season, while Dirk Kuyt’s best days are surely behind him. Arjen Robben can always cause problems, but Wesley Sneijder is another that seems on the downgrade.

As I’ve already mentioned in the main World Cup preview, I think the Dutch should be taken on at this tournament and I strongly fancy Spain to kick things off with a win at 17/20 with Paddy Power.

I’d be surprised if it was high scoring, though, and spread bettors are advised to sell total goals at 2.1 with Sporting Index.

I would also suggest having a small buy of bookings at 50 points (10 pts per yellow card, 25 pts per red card). Netherlands have a few disciplinary issues and there could easily be more than five yellow cards.

Spain at 17/20 with Paddy Power
Sell total goals at 2.1 with Sporting Index
Buy bookings at 50 with Sporting Index