England and Scotland are the oldest rivals in international football and they meet for the first time in 14 years at Wembley Stadium in the pick of Wednesday’s friendly games.
Bookmakers are reluctant to lay England, quoting the Three Lions at odds of around 1.44, but one really ought to be taking on Roy Hodgson’s team at such prices. England has failed to beat Ireland at home and Montenegro away in its last few matches and its 2-2 draw in Brazil reads better on paper than it does on the video. Brazil should have won by two or three goals in Rio de Janeiro rather than requiring a pretty late Paulinho strike to share the spoils.
England against football in football is similar to, say, New South Wales versus Queensland in rugby league. One gets the distinct impression that the historical underdog in both sporting contests – Scotland and Queensland – takes its clashes against it big brother much more seriously.
Only if England was playing Scotland in a competitive game such as a FIFA World Cup qualifier well into the British football season would odds of around 1.44 about the Three Lions have any appeal and even then one could probably find a similarly priced side on the coupon with a stronger claim. Taking place only three days out from the kick off of the English Premier League season, England manager Hodgson is under all sorts of pressure not to play his country’s star men for more than around 60 minutes of the derby match.
For example, Hodgson has reportedly promised Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger that he will not field Gunners midfielder Jack Wilshere for the full 90 minutes and the England chief would make Manchester United manager David Moyes look ridiculous if he played Wayne Rooney from start to finish after the Red Devils declared their striker unfit for the FA Community Shield game at Wembley Stadium just four days earlier.
With England off the punting menu, what is the best bet in the Auld Enemies encounter? Well, betting under 2.5 goals is one of the most attractive options in most international friendly games and, with bookmakers enabling punters to invest at odds of around 2.00, that is the play here.
Each of the last six matches between England and Scotland – three competitive and three non-competitive – has produced fewer than three goals and that statistic becomes 12 out of 13 if one goes back to 1980, with the exception to the rule occurring in 1986 when the Three Lions beat the Tartan Army 2-1 at Wembley Stadium. Terry Butcher and Glen Hoddle scored for England before Graeme Souness converted a penalty kick.
If one excludes England’s games against football minnow San Marino, Three Lions home matches have gone under 2.5 goals six times out of the last eight and eight times out of the last 12. Scotland is an under team as well, with three of its last four away games being relatively low-scoring affairs. The exception was its 2-1 win in Luxembourg.
If one is looking for a more exciting exotic England versus Scotland bet, a punt on Theo Walcott opening the scoring may appeal at odds of around 8.00 with Bet365. Walcott is so quick that he could represent some countries in the men’s 100 metres at the current World Championships in Athletics. One of the things that Scotland’s probable starting line-up lacks is pace, particularly in defensive positions, so Hodgson favourite Walcott may be the biggest thorn in its side.
Walcott sustained a slight ankle injury during training for the match but Hodgson, in a clear sign that he rates the Arsenal forward highly, went out of his way to play down concerns that the lightning fast striker would not be an option. The beauty of first goal-scorer bets is that, if Walcott does not have a chance to score the first goal, bookmakers will refund all stakes placed on him.
In summary, bookmakers should be offering odds of around the 1.70 mark that England and Scotland combine for fewer than three goals so the 2.00 with Coral that is available stands out as an unusually decent bet on an international friendly match, while Walcott represents a bit of fun to score first.