England slight outsiders but expect a close one

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The talking, not to mention the procession of international friendly fixtures, finally stops today (Thursday) as the real business of the World Cup gets under way.

And for England it begins with what is theoretically their toughest Group D assignment – a mouth watering showdown with Italy in Manaus.

The pair last met in the knockout stages of Euro 2012, the Azzurri prevailing on penalties after a goalless encounter on that occasion and while this contest won’t be decided from the spot, Cesare Prandelli’s charges are nevertheless BetVictor’s narrow 7/4 favourites to emerge triumphant again.

The Three Lions are slight outsiders at 21/10 via Ladbrokes but it’s clear that bookmakers are anticipating a close affair as the top price available about a stalemate is Skybet’s 2/1.

Similarly, it’s just 11/2 at best via BetVictor to be 0-0 again while bet365 rate a score draw at 15/4 and it’s 5/1 at Paddy Power to end one-apiece.

Patriotic but cautious punters can back Roy Hodgson’s side at 4/5 in Stan James’s ‘Draw No Bet’ market and Winner.com hand them a goal start in the handicaps at 9/20 but even though England go into the tournament mercifully free of the hype that usually surrounds them, there are still likely to be fans expecting big things and they’re sure to want to risk their hard-earned a touch more optimistically.

For them, bet365 price the Three Lions at 3/1 to shade it by a one-goal margin and in a fixture that’s a banker at 4/9 (betway) to produce fewer than three goals, BetVictor offer 13/2 about England grabbing the only one.

Alternatively, Stan James mark 21/4 against Hodgson’s men coming out on top following a level first period and it’s 16/5 at William Hill for them to combine victory with a clean sheet.

At the other end meanwhile, Daniel Sturridge is a 13/2 chance with Stan James to break the deadlock, Wayne Rooney is priced identically, this time via BetVictor and supporters seeking heftier odds can opt for skipper Steven Gerrard (14/1, bet365) who may well have the responsibility for taking penalties.

Hosts Brazil get the tournament under way tonight and bet365 make them just 1/3 to make a winning start by defeating Croatia in Sao Paulo.

In the same group tomorrow (Friday), BetVictor make Mexico 13/10 to get the better of Cameroon in Natal and it’s an enticing 6/5 (bet365) for both teams to get on the scoresheet in that encounter.

In a repeat of the 2010 final, Spain meet the Netherlands in Salvador and the defending champions can do the business again according to bookies, Winner.com chalking them up at 17/20 to overcome Louis van Gaal’s troops.

La Roja are 13/5 courtesy of Ladbrokes to sneak it by one and it’s 19/2 at BetVictor for the holders to finish on the right side of a 2-1 scoreline.

Completing tomorrow’s line-up of matches, is the Cuiaba clash between Chile and Australia, which is a safe-looking 9/20 via betway to go the way of the South American outfit.

On Saturday, bet365 offer 17/20 about a Colombia success against Greece and in the other match in England’s group, it’s difficult to oppose Uruguay, who are just 4/9 (Stan James) to pick up maximum points at the expense of Costa Rica.

For those with less of an interest in football, golf’s US Open also gets under way today at Pinehurst, where Rory McIlroy heads the betting at 12/1 (Ladbrokes).

Stan James rate Phil Mickelson at 18/1 to pick up the only major that still eludes him, defending champion Justin Rose is 28/1 at betway to retain his title but Winner.com’s 28/1 about a sensational triumph for Texan youngster Jordan Spieth is the stand out price.

England gave a good account of themselves despite suffering a narrow defeat in the first Test against New Zealand in Auckland but despite a fearless performance, Stuart Lancaster’s men are Skybet’s 6/1 outsiders to get the better of the All Blacks (1/8, Paddy Power), in Saturday’s second encounter in Dunedin.

However, the margin of victory for the hosts in the opener was just five and as that result will give the tourists a confidence boost, England look generously-treated in the handicaps where they benefit from a massive 14-point start at odds of 10/11 courtesy of Stan James.

Bet of the week: England v Italy draw – 2/1 (Skybet).

Odds supplied by www.betrescue.com