» Football ¦ What You Can Get Away With

Given that it will be at a neutral venue between the two losing semi-finalists, could this year’s FA Cup Final also be seen as the Champions League third place playoff?

It seems that football can still produce a shock result, even if it’s only at the administrative level, with the news that Poland and Ukraine have suprisingly beaten Italy in the race to host Euro 2012.

Though it’s a bit worrying that Platini still seems to be going ahead with the plan to boost participation to 24 teams in 2016 and beyond – first, because it will limit the opportunities for the smaller nations to host the tournament and second, because one of the best parts of the European Championships has always been the strength of the competition. It’s rare to see a match there that looks like a complete mismatch on paper, so unlike the World Cup, there’s a sense of every game being a challenge, rather than sleepwalking through the group until the real competition starts.

In football hell, all games are 0-0 draws between Ukraine and Switzerland commentated on by Mick McCarthy. That Clive Tyldesley wasn’t sitting beside him in the commentary box tonight is the only indication we have that we’re not all damned to watching passes that made Ray Wilkins look ambitious for all eternity.

I’ve come up with a good reason to not want England to win the World Cup. If we were to do it, you know that within seconds of David Beckham lifting the trophy, recording studios up and down the country would be full of people recording versions of ‘We Are The Champions’ to clog up the airwaves and the charts for months afterwards. Do you want to listen to Heather Small warbling her way through it, accompanied by the sound of Freddie Mercury rolling in his grave from now until Euro 2008?

But, it doesn’t matter, as England won’t win, but they stand a good chance of being runners-up. This year’s footballing patterns show that English teams are very good at getting to major international finals, but then losing them – Liverpool in the World Club Championship, Middlesbrough in the UEFA Cup and Arsenal in the Champions League.

For those of you interested, there are some interesting odds available on Betfair right now. For instance, Costa Rica are currently being offered at 16.5 (15.5/1 odds) to beat Germany this afternoon. Given that this is one of the weakest German sides for years, plus the tendency of opening matches to cause shocks, that seems rather good value to me. Other good value bets being offered are 6.4 (just under 11/2) on Poland to beat Germany and 4/1 on Ukraine to beat Spain.

There’s also good value in the overall market – you’d be hard pressed to find the Czechs at better to 25/1 from conventional bookies, yet Betfair have them available at 40 (39/1) while Mexico at 70 and Ukraine and 75 also look good value, given their relatively easy groups. Ukraine’s price seems especially good value to me, as I’d say they have a good chance of winning their group which would mean a second-round game against the runners-up in France’s group, likely to be Switzerland or South Korea. And, of couse, this is Betfair, where you can easily lay off your bets for a profit before the end of the tournament should the prices drop, as they likely will for teams who qualify from the group stage.

And who do I think are going to be beating England in the final? I’m plucking for the Dutch or the Czechs, while wondering just how long a Holland-England final would take to complete if it went to penalties.

As has been mentioned in most of the papers today, Arsenal are the first London club to make it to the European Cup final which is one of those strange bits of football trivia, whereby the largest city in Europe has had to go fifty years before being represented in the continent’s biggest club match – except for hosting the final, of course.

But, it’s hardly unique in that accomplishment. A quick scan through the list of the largest cities in the EU shows that only 4 of the top 10 (Madrid, Rome, Hamburg and Barcelona) and 9 of the top 20 (Munich, Milan, Birmingham, Turin and Valencia) have had clubs there. My quick searching couldn’t find a list for the whole of Europe, but I suspect it wouldn’t change the numbers too much – while Bucharest and Belgrade have both had clubs make it to the final and would be in the top 10, other large cities such as Moscow (which might knock London off the number 1 spot, depending on how population is counted) and Kiev haven’t had any teams make it to the final yet.

It’d be tempting to come up with a theory about how large cities and EU membership affect your chances of getting to the European Cup final, but Real Madrid’s successes throughout the history of the competition scupper both of them.