After a humiliating exit at the group stage in Brazil four years ago, England fans will be hoping for better in Russia this summer. And let’s face it, there can be no excuses this time. Instead of the so-called “group of death” that they faced last time, including Italy and Uruguay, they appear to have an easy route to qualification this time. But then again, as Germany showed against Brazil in the 2014 semis, anything can happen at a World Cup.
So, what are England’s chances in Group G, and where is the value if it is a foregone conclusion? Backing England at 1/8 to qualify will bring you little return and only add to your heartbreak if they fail, and at 1/12 to qualify, Belgium is virtually unbackable.
On the other hand, Tunisia has never made it out of the group stages in four attempts, and Panama has never even made it to the finals before. Nonetheless, at 6/1 and 8/1 to qualify, they could be worth a punt in case either of the big names bottles it somewhere along the way.
In truth though, with England having faced Tunisia on June 18th and Panama on June 24th, and Belgium playing them in the reverse order on the 18th and 23rd, it all looks set for a Group G decider on June 28th in Kaliningrad. With Belgium 8/11 to win the group and England 6/5, it’s clear who the bookmakers think will win on the day, but there isn’t that much to choose from between the teams.
England has had an excellent qualifying campaign, unbeaten with eight wins, two draws and eighteen goals, while Belgium is also undefeated with nine wins and one draw. Belgium’s 43 goals would seem to set them apart, but closer inspection finds that 15 of those were scored against lowly Gibraltar.
England can claim to have history behind them, with just one loss in 21 meetings with Belgium, way back in 1936, but as Brazil knows, history means little when it comes to the World Cup.
Both teams can also boast their fair share of Premiership stars, with Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne and Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku all lining up for Belgium while England can boast the free-scoring talents of Tottenham’s Harry Kane.
Baring a shocking result, a qualification for both teams seems reasonable, and the straight forecast offers better-than-even money either way around. But beyond that, it is anyone’s guess. As sixth and seventh favorites, respectively, with Belgium at 10/1 and England at 14/1, the two teams quickly moved from favorites to outsiders as they leave Group G. Should England top the group, Sky Sports predicts a quarterfinal meeting with Brazil and a final against holders, Germany, if they get through that while a second place finish would reverse those meetings, leaving Germany waiting in the quarters.
And perhaps that’s where the real World Cup value lies, with Brazil a generous 4/1 and Germany even more attractive at 5/1 to lift the trophy. Meanwhile, for the real dreamers, a fantasy final between England and Brazil or England and Germany at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on the 15th of July will return 40/1.
One thing is for sure, England can’t do much worse than their last time out. With two defeats to Italy and Uruguay and a draw against Costa Rica, we had just one point and two goals to take with us on the long plane ride back from Brazil. As Brian Cox famously told us, “things can only get better!”