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Italy best placed to ‘do an Italy’ at 2014 World Cup

| 12.11.2013

Conventional wisdom dictates that less than a handful of teams can win the World Cup and that handful are priced up accordingly at the top of the market.

Brazil, Argentina and Germany have won ten of the last 15 renewals of the summer jamboree and they head the betting accordingly at 10/3, 5/1 and 5/1 repectively.

Reigning champions Spain are next up at 11/2, but then there is a massive drop off to the rest of the field.

England  – at 25/1 odds – are among a clutch of ‘second-tier’ teams priced between 14/1 and 33/1, which include Holland at 20/1, France at 28/1 and Portugal at 33/1.

These are the countries that are expected to reach the quarter-finals – unless they face one of the big four in the last-16 – and bow out on penalties, or reach the semis without really standing a chance of making the final.

Punters always look for a dark horse at the World Cup and the outsiders du jour are Marc Wimots’ Belgium, who are the aforementioned 14/1 poke.

There is no doubt that a team with Chelsea/Atletico Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois, Man City captain Vincent Kompany, midfield wizard Eden Hazard and either Christian Benteke or Romelu Lukaku running through the ‘spine’ will be a force on the biggest stage in football.

However, Belgium have not competed at a major tournament for over a decade – the 2002 World Cup – and have only got through the last-16 once in their history, which was in 1986.

Although they were impressive in qualifying, Wilmots’ side have little form in the book against the big teams and were dominated by Germany in Group A of Euro 2012 qualifying only two years ago.

Their price is too short at this stage, even for an each-way bet at 1/2 odds on the first two places, but there is a team in similarly impressive form who have caused this kind of upset before and can be backed at slightly more generous odds.

The country in question is of course Italy, who are 16/1 to repeat the trick they pulled off eight years ago and emerge from the chasing pack to lift the World Cup for a record-equalling fifth time.

The Azzurri were nobody’s favourites before the 2006 World Cup, but a combination of defensive solidity and midfield tenacity carried them through to the final, where they triumphed on penalties against a Zinedine Zidane-inspired France.

Italy topped their qualifying group for the 2014 World Cup without losing a match and have excellent recent tournament form in the book, having beaten much-fancied Germany somewhat convincingly in the semi-final of Euro 2012 before, admittedly, losing heavily to Spain in the final.

Coach Cesare Prandelli  – who made palpable progress during a five-year spell at Fiorentina – has been in the Azzurri hotseat for three years now and is credited with fostering a winning attitude within the current Italian squad.

Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon are still putting in performances week after week for Juventus and talented former Man City striker Mario Balotelli is one of a number of eager goal-getters in Italy’s striking ranks.

Considering they have reached three major finals since the turn of the century, the 16/1 about Italy has to be the best value each-way bet in this market.