The international break, despite being of huge annoyance to club supporters and punters, has this time around played a crucial role in shaping the outright betting market for Euro ’16.
This double-header of friendlies is, for most if not all, countries their last chance to bring their squads together, try out new personnel and shapes, and determine who will be on the plane to France and who won’t be.
As expected, a pair of victories for France has cemented their position at the head of the market, defeat to their old enemy has left Germany lagging in second, those perennial contenders Spain are in the mix once again according to the bookies, while this could be the best chance that England have of winning a big tournament – that’s according to the traders anyway. So how has this big four come to prominence?
The French were always likely to be on the bookmakers’ hit-list thanks to their phenomenal record in tournament play on home soil. The last time they hosted a biggie was the World Cup of 1998, where they claimed victory. The time before that was the European Championship of 1984; and, yep you guessed it, they waltzed off with the gold there too.
What came out of their brace of wins over the long Easter Weekend – 3-2 and 4-2 over handy Netherlands and Russia outfits – is the options that coach Didier Deschamps has at his disposal. All in all he used 18 different players in those two games, and you couldn’t even tell which of his two teams was the weaker.
He is truly blessed with options: Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet dovetailing with the flying Kingsley Coman on the wings, the likes of Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi, N’Golo Kante and Morgan Schneiderlin fighting it out for places in midfield. And a strikeforce of Olivier Giroud, Anthony Martial, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Andre Gignac is never going to be short of goals. And we’ve not even mentioned Karim Benzema yet….
The Germans’ stock fell slightly on Friday night when they were vanquished by a late England rally, and the good news from an English perspective was that German starting eleven wasn’t a million miles away from the one you could imagine starting in France.
But you can’t keep a good man (men) down, and just three days later Germany spanked Italy 4-1 – so we really don’t know where we stand with Joachim Low’s side. Crucially though, the world champions have shown a certain amount of vulnerability this week.
That’s not a bad price on the reigning champions, but it has to be said that this isn’t the bumper crop of Spanish players that delighted the neutral so much four years ago.
The recall of 35-year-old Aduriz, despite his excellent club form, is an indictment of how the Spanish are struggling in attacking areas, and this was evidence by their results this weekend: 1-1 and 0-0 stalemates with Italy and Romania hardly set the world alight.
They boast a wily old coach in Vicente del Bosque and will inhabit a relatively easy group in France, but there is a feeling on the betting floor that the Spaniards are slightly behind the French and Germans in the race for honours.
Set faces to stunned: England are the fourth favourites for Euro ’16. That’s a remarkable turnaround for a team so belittled in recent times, and finally Roy Hodgson seems to have caught on to the notion that players in form (Vardy, Alli, Dier, Rose etc) are more worthy of their place in the side than his old favourites (Walcott, Barkley, Shelvey, Baines etc).
If the English can play with the same amount of verve they did in the second half against Germany – and it’s a big if – then they have a chance. If they play with the classic English ‘headless chicken down a blind alley’ strategy they showed for much of the loss to the Netherlands on Tuesday, it could be a case of same old England in major tournament play.