The best of the rest
WORLD CUP - THE REST
FRANCEFrance are sixth in the betting (12.0 at Bet 365) and pundits continue to exalt them as a side capable of snatching the World Cup this time around.
It's not going to happen this time.
They are only in the finals because of the talismanic figure of Zinedine Zidane who rushed out of retirement at the 11th hour to give them the momentum to qualify. In fact, if it wasn't for a touch of class from Thierry Henry then the Republic of Ireland would be lining up in Germany and not France.
With Zidane not even the best player at Real Madrid last season (believe it or not that was David Beckham by some distance) and likely to spend a fair amount of time in or around the bench, France will look to Henry for inspiration.
Much will rely on who Raymond Domenech picks to play up front with Henry. If it goes for the obvious - Djibril Cisse (erratic) or David Trezeguet (out of form) then they may struggle.
A better path may be Man Utd's Louis Saha (the pick of the French strikers), but Domenech has been reluctant so far to play him from the start.
With such a straightforward group France should make a better fist of things than they did four years ago when even qualifying for the latter stages was too much for them. But expect Switzerland to top the group.
Betting the Betfair way
Don't touch the French (currently 14.5 at Betfair) until they qualify for the second phase and then LAY them, particularly if they run up against Spain in the round of the last 16.
ARGENTINAMuch touted as the biggest challenge to Brazil in this tournament, but history - both recent and distant - tends to suggest otherwise.
Their supporters point to the fact that Argentina (9.0 at Bet 365) beat Brazil in Buenos Aires to qualify, but since that game Argentina have been moving backwards, winning just once after qualification and losing to England in Geneva into the bargain.
Add to the mix that they find themselves in a group of death and it will be a feat in itself for them to get out of the group stages.
Alongside a focussed and united Holland squad, stand the Ivory Coast who are without doubt the best of Africa's representatives this time around. Serbia & Montenegro are no slouches - a point they proved by winning Spain's qualifying group, unbeaten and incredibly conceding just a single goal in ten matches.
Betting the Betfair way
LAY Argentina from the off (currently 10.0 at Betfair). If they fail to get anything out of the Ivory Coast in the first game then their price will rocket as a draw against Serbia (who have the tightest defence in this year's finals) will effectively send them out.
ITALYWE have talked before about Italy (10.0 at Bet 365) who are always fancied to reach the final stages of the competition - but tend to suffer constantly under the pressure from home to perform.
But this time the pressure is a little bit more serious. The corruption scandal is likely to become a watershed for Italian football and will affect all aspects - from the Juventus management currently at the epicentre through Serie A, B, and Cs and is almost certain to touch on members of the world cup squad, too.
I highlighted six Serie A games towards the end of the last season where the draw was a ridiculously short price and at least two of the games featured at least seven members of Marcello Lippi's squad. Naturally, all six games ended in draws - some in incredibly strange ways.
It's a shame that this squad will be tarnished with such a wicked brush because, for the first time in perhaps 20 years, Italy have been playing with an engaging attacking flair.
With the Czech Republic my team to win this group it is simply a question of whether they can maintain their composure to beat Ghana first up and get more than a draw out of the Americans. Anything less will see them on their way home.
Betting the Betfair way
If Italy look at any point that they are not going to win the group then throw your money against them. You can LAY them at 12.5 now, but wait until before they play the Czech Republic and you may be able to LAY them at a much lower price. If they come second they play Brazil in the last 16.
AND THE REST…..
VALUE BETS (but not winners)
You'll get a run to the last 16 out of Portugal (23.0 at Bet 365) and Mexico (51.0 at Bet 365) who have a straightforward group including Angola (751.0 at Bet 365) and Iran (751.0 at Bet 365) to get out of.
Tunisia (301.0 at Bet 365) are probably the likeliest minnow to reach the latter stages. If Ukraine (67.0 at Bet 365) disappoint then Tunisia may sneak a last 16 game against Switzerland (126.0 at Bet 365) who are worth a bet, or France - both teams they are capable of beating. Then they get to slug it out with the Czechs in the quarters for Brazil or Spain in the semis. As Greece will tell you the Czechs are beatable.
Paraguay (201.0 at Bet 365) are also capable of springing a surprise. If they get something out of England in the first game and hold Sweden next up then they could even top the group.
OUTSIDERS (for a very good reason)
Costa Rica (751.0 at Bet 365) and Ecuador (301.0 at Bet 365) in Group A are bad travellers and are unlikely to make much impression.
In Group B Trinidad & Tobago (1501.0 at Bet 365) will be happy if they score a goal, let alone grab a point. Lucky qualifiers Ghana (301.0 at Bet 365) are in the same boat in Group E with the Czechs, Italy and USA (81.0 at Bet 365) to contend with.
South Korea (251.0 at Bet 365) have more hope than expectation and the whole thing will be an experience for Group H also rans Saudi Arabia (1001.0 at Bet 365).
What do you think? How's your luck? E-mail me your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org