Both France and England approach tonight's Group D deciders in a good position, but Ukraine's win over Sweden means that Laurent Blanc is in a much more comfortable position right now than his English counterpart and the betting on offer for the two games reflects this. England are best priced at 6/5 to beat the Ukraine (Ladbrokes, Stan James), while France are a clear odds on shot to beat Sweden, who have nothing but pride to play for tonight.
While no country would want to lie down in a big European Championship finals fixture in front of a worldwide television audience, France will have that extra competitive edge tonight and even though the best priced wager on offer at the moment is 3/4 with BetVictor, that's still the only side we'd like to be on in that fixture. The French are playing some excellent football at the moment, they have an unbeaten run stretching back to the start of this qualifying campaign and the comfortable nature of their win over Ukraine in the previous round of games is a clear indication that Les Bleus are in an excellent position. Sweden will compete honourably, as is their nature, but they have neither the craft nor the drive to derail the French side at the moment.
However for England, tonight will be a much tougher battle, and in breaking down the betting for the game, we start by pointing out one thing - there is not three outcomes to this game, as is normally the case in a match betting environment - there are two. England to qualify or Ukraine to qualify is the only question that matters to the players involved and even if they are favourites with the bookmaking community, England would be delighted to take a draw here and secure their place in the last eight. Those who would argue that England would do well to avoid the Spanish are missing the long term point - if England qualify on top of the group, their path to the final would be Italy-Germany-Spain, most likely. If they qualified in second, it would most probably be Spain-Portugal-Germany. There isn't a lot to call between those two routes, so we revert back to the binary situation - it's about qualify or not, not win, lose or draw.
Before betting on the game, either pre-match or in play, this is something that must be factored into our calculations.
The phenomenon in sport of teams playing differently depending on their target is widely known. If a league game is level, both teams will chase a victory. If one side is winning by a goal, only one of the two teams are really chasing a change in the current score - the other would like another goal, but they won't go all out for one.
So it is here - England might like to win the game, but if the game remains level as time ticks down, then the goalposts will shift. The temptation to withdraw a striker for a midfielder will be strong, while Ukraine will go all out in front of their own fans looking for the move that will win the game.
In that environment, it's remarkable that 12/5 is freely available about the draw. This might be the correct price if this was the first or second round, when all three results were meaningful - but now, it's too big.
Home advantage is another factor that cannot be dismissed, however the betting market as it stands appears to have given sufficient weight to that aspect of the game. England are roughly 0.25 goal favourites at the moment, which would imply that they are 0.55 of a goal the better team on a neutral venue, or 0.85 goal favourites if they were playing at home. As a stand alone qualifier, this is probably a bit kind to Ukraine if anything.
The conclusion can thus be drawn that the general market is a little short on Ukraine - no doubt in part fed into by the natural bravado of odds compilers who like to take on favourites, particularly popular ones - and of the other two match outcomes, the draw is the more obvious candidate to be overpriced. Unless England break out to a two goal lead, it's hard to imagine the in-play betting offering the draw at anything bigger than 12/5 at half time, regardless of the score - so on that basis alone, it looks like an excellent back and lay opportunity tonight, for those who can leave their partisan nature aside of course!