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9/6/2010 No.28
rends in Football/Rugby
Barry Glendenning
Tuesday 9 June 2009
  World Cup 2010 betting guide: How to lose your shirt on Jesus

Whether it's the common-or-garden staples of outright winners and top goalscorer or quirkier markets offering odds on the nationality of the first player to reveal a Jesus T-shirt, odds layers are providing punters with an eclectic array of opportunities to lose as much money as is humanly possible during South Africa 2010. That's bookies for you, they're good like that.

Rather than sensationally predict the blindingly obvious, our intention here is to ferret around in search of more bang for your betting buck, so if you're hoping for prescient assurances that, yes, Brazil probably are worth backing to edge past North Korea in the group stages, then this probably isn't the gambling guide for you. If, on the other hand, you're after a handful of decent-priced punts that could help fund the professional counselling required once those value-free jingoistic wagers on England have gone south, read on.

At the risk of sounding Boering, no host nation has ever failed to qualify from the group stages and it would be astonishing if the Dutch stumbled at the first hurdle in South Africa. Their unfairly maligned back four are nowhere near as inept as some would have you believe, while in Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie, they have a potential player and top scorer of the tournament.

The Internazionale midfielder arrives at the World Cup high on the hog after a treble–winning season conducting Mourinho's Philharmonic, while the Arsenal striker is fit and raring to go after a season largely spent crocked on the sidelines at the Emirates. Whether the pair can put their seething mutual contempt for each other to one side remains to be seen, but thenthe Oranje has long been a byword for rancorous bickering of the kind that helps Dutch players pass those interminable hours between training sessions.

Despite finishing only one point behind Brazil in South American qualifying, Chile are priced at a preposterously generous 90-1 to win the tournament and could well be the dark horse in the 32-strong field worth swinging your leg over. Managed by the innovative eccentric Marcelo Bielsa, they habitually line up with rampaging wing-backs supporting a playmaker and three strikers you've never heard of and look set fair to be the most swashbuckling team of the tournament. A reasonably cushy draw in Group H suggests a potentially lucrative white-knuckle ride through the knockout stages is very much on the cards.

Like Van Persie, Brazil's Luís Fabiano also seems a stand-out price at 12-1 for top scorer, but it is in Group A where the real value in this market lies. There lurks two-time European golden boot winner Diego Forlán. With a potential boot-filler against South Africa in the group stages, the Atlético Madrid striker's greatest concern could be the prospect of being eclipsed by his team-mate Luis Suárez. No mean goal-getter himself, the lantern-jawed frontman cleaned up with Ajax last season with 49 goals in 48 games.

Elsewhere, egg-headed stat buffs should be advised that eight out of England's past 10 games have produced more than 2.5 goals, as have nine out of 10 played by the USA. The two sides meet on Saturday and a successful bet on that game serving up three or more goals will double your money; a good return on an outcome that, statistically at least, looks a shoo-in.

And so to the bookie benefit that is World Cup novelty betting. In the aforementioned Jesus T-shirt market, South Africa (16-1) could be a sound investment, but while church-going midfielder Steven Pienaar has form in the field of unveiling religiously themed undergarments, the T-shirt he revealed after scoring a winner for Everton in 2008 specifically proclaimed God, rather than his son, to be "great". While you'd expect any bookie who has a passing familiarity with the central dogma of Christian theology to pay out on the grounds that both are one and the same, the potential for becoming embroiled in an unwinnable ecclesiastical debate is just too great. With that in mind, a few quid on the hot-headed Argentinian ref-botherer Javier Mascherano getting sent off at some point during the tournament might be a shrewder investment. In terms of fun betting, it isn't so much a laugh as the proverbial lock.

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