Spain's price of 13/2 to win the tournament seems a little generous
PRESIDENT Higgins has given the Irish nation the all-clear to cheer for England in the World Cup, but if His Excellency wants to put his money where his mouth is, there are plenty of bookmakers near the Áras that will happily lay the Three Lions at 33/1.
With Premier League sides enjoying such a huge following in this country, one can't help being interested in how well or otherwise our neighbours perform, although it's fair to say they rarely live up to the hype – their best achievement since their 1966 win has been a semi-final appearance in 1990. For betting purposes, they are unreliable and best avoided.
As hosts, Brazil join Germany, France, Italy and Mexico as countries which have held the event twice, and the advantage of playing at home would appear to count. Indeed, the history books tell us that one in three host nations go on to win, the most recent being France (1998).
Brazil have skill, class and flair and no one would be surprised to see them lift the trophy on July 13. Luiz Felipe Scolari has any number of top-class players at his disposal, including Neymar, and they are almost certain to qualify from Group A.
But all of those positives are built into their price, and the bookmakers are taking no chances by offering 3/1 about the World Cup's most successful team.
Reigning World and European champions Spain are a better value bet at 13/2. They join the Netherlands, Chile and Australia in Group B and at 4/5, bookmakers expect the Spaniards to come out on top, with the Dutch most likely to follow them through.
Some would argue that Spain's golden period is coming to an end and one or two of their players are getting on, but it would be foolish to underestimate a squad which includes Andres Iniesta, Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas.
While no European side has won the tournament when held in South America, a win over the Netherlands in their first match would be a great starting point for Vicente del Bosque's men, who top the FIFA world rankings.
Support for Germany has been solid and the 2002 runners-up now trade at 5/1. Like Brazil, they are spoiled for choice in terms of talent and Bastian Schweinsteiger's influence will be crucial.
But on the negative side, their defence is a bit shaky and they were caught napping in the qualifiers when Sweden fought back from 4-0 down with half-an-hour to go to draw 4-4. For once, I'm not sure I'd trust the Germans with my money.
Argentina have very strong claims, although their current price of 9/2 seems a little short. Arguably the greatest player in the world, Lionel Messi, is a priceless asset to the squad up front, although Alejandro Sabella's formations have often left the defence somewhat exposed.
Of the outsiders, Portugal catch the eye at 33/1. According to Sepp Blatter, Cristiano Ronaldo spends too much time at the hairdresser, but on a good day the 29-year-old can wreak havoc. If he's in top form this summer, Portugal can go further than their odds suggest.
IN THE MARKETS
Q THEY say that lightning doesn't strike twice, but English fans might disagree. England were knocked out on penalties at Italia '90, Euro '96, World Cup'98, Euro 2004 and World Cup 2006 and Euro 2012. They are 7/1 to go out in a similar fashion in 2014.
QMessi heads the top scorers market at 7/1, with Neymar second-favourite at 12/1. Ronaldo can be backed at 14/1, while Wayne Rooney trades at 50/1.
QOF the Premier League players, Sergio Aguero is favourite to score the most goals at 7/2. Robin van Persie and Romelu Lukaku are both priced 8/1, while Alvaro Negredo and Rooney come next in the betting at 12/1.
QBELGIUM had considerable success in the '80s and '90s, but had slipped to 71st position in the FIFA world rankings by 2007. But for a small country, they are punching above their weight again under manager Marc Wilmots and are now ranked 12th. They are 7/10 to win Group H and 20/1 to win the tournament.
QA BRAZIL-ARGENTINA final would be a dream for the organisers and if both sides win their groups, there's a decent enough chance we'll see it happen. Bookmakers have it priced up at 10/1, while an all-European final of Germany-Spain is available at 20/1.
QGROUP D is the only group where the favourite to come first is not odds-on. Italy are available at 7/4, with Uruguay not far behind at 2/1. England are third in the betting at 9/4, while Costa Rica are the rank outsiders at 66/1.
QKNOWN as El Tigre, Colombia's Radamel Falcao is one of the best strikers around and the 28-year-old should help his country top Group C, provided he gets over a cruciate ligament injury. Falcao is even-money to score any time in Columbia's first match against Greece.
QFRANCE are 4/5 to top Group E, but the 2006 runners-up are as high as 11/1 to reach the final again.
QFOR the eternal optimists, Honduras can be backed to win the tournament at 4,000/1.
QIf Ronaldo is on top of his game, Portugal can rattle a few cages and get as far as the final at 14/1.