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26/06/2008 No.19
rendspotting Football/Rugby
Dan Roebuck
Friday June 26, 2008
Britain's bookmakers will have their fingers crossed that Spain are knocked out of Euro 2008 by Russia tonight. After a disastrous start which saw the industry pay out more than £5m when 75% of the better-backed teams won their group matches, the layers have fought back with few bettors backing the draw in 90 minutes and most knockout ties entering extra-time.

Before tonight's second semi-final, however, Luis Aragonés's team are responsible for the majority of liabilities for almost all bookmakers. "The worst result for us by far would be victory for Spain," said William Hill's spokesman, Graham Sharpe, whose firm has taken a £50,000 bet at 11-2 on the Group D winners.

Spain and Russia, of course, contested the opening match in Group D, with Spain winning 4-1 (Blue Square and 888sport are biggest price about a repeat of that scoreline at 66-1). No one predicts it will be that easy for Spain tonight, although on the last three occasions when one team has beaten another in a group game at a major tournament and the pair have met again in the knockout stages the outcome has been the same.

It appears the main reason Spain are a bigger price to beat Russia tonight than they were a fortnight ago - 11-10 (Sky Bet) as opposed to 8-11 in the group game - is because of the form of Andrei Arshavin. The Zenit St Petersburg playmaker is only 4-1 with Sky Bet to be named as Uefa's player of the tournament even though he was suspended for the first two games. Ladbrokes offers only 6-4 Arshavin will be playing in the Premier League next season although Paddy Power makes Barcelona, at 5-2, his most likely next employers, with Arsenal 7-2.

There is no doubt Arshavin's presence in the starting XI has made a big difference to Guus Hiddink's team but the question is whether he can help land odds of 14-5 (general) about Russia defeating Spain without extra-time or penalties; the draw in 90 minutes trades at 5-2 with Boylesports. Bettors can back either side to win on spot-kicks at 10-1 (general), while Spain are 11-1 (Bet365 and Ladbrokes) to win in extra-time with Russia 14-1 (Blue Square and 888sport).

Both teams deserved their quarter-final wins over Italy and Holland respectively, although the Russians' extra-time defeat of the Dutch, who were by then tournament favourites, was arguably the more impressive result. With that win in mind, Russia are worth taking a chance backing on VC Bet's Asian handicap market. Russia are priced at 11-10 and are given a handicap mark of +0.25. Should Russia win, your bet wins while, if the match is all square at 90 minutes, half your stake is settled at 11-10 and the other half refunded. Only if Russia lose, will you fail to secure a profit.

Russia defended naively in their first match with Spain but Hiddink is unlikely to let that happen again, even though the defender Denis Kolodin is suspended. The gushing praise for Arshavin has meant the form of the three-goal striker Roman Pavlyuchenko has, perhaps, been overlooked and at 15-2 (Boylesports and Sportingbet) he is a fair price to score the opener. Arshavin is a 9-1 shot (Bet365 and Paddy Power) while Coral is taking a chance by going top price with both David Villa and Fernando Torres at 6-1.

The spread betting firms have noticed that both tonight's semi-finalists are the top two in the "corners won" table, with Russia amassing 38 and Spain 24. However, quotes of 10.75-11.25 for total corners from both IG Sport and Sporting Index look too high. The two produced only 10 in their group fixture and, with extra-time not counting in this market, a sell is advised.

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