In the midst of the Jubilee celebrations, it is perhaps apt that the England football team host their very own pre-Euro 2012 coronation in the capital this weekend.
Saturday sees Roy Hodgson make his bow as England manager at Wembley against Belgium in the last warm-up match before the squad head to their Krakow base for the summer tournament.
In truth, it seems likely to be the most low-key inauguration an England manager has experienced for some years. The FA’s safety-first option may be understandable, but sensible never gets the pulse racing and as such, Wembley will greet Hodgson with polite acceptance and well wishes rather than outright rapture.
Harry Redknapp would have been a different story, but it is perhaps best that England’s expectations are lowered to a reasonable level for the first time since 1966.
Saturday’s 1-0 win over Norway did little to raise the hopes of the sceptics. Anyone not familiar with Hodgson’s style got a glimpse of what to expect and it is not the type of football that sells out Wembley ten-year season tickets.
Sitting back on a lead during the second half with two solid banks that are difficult to break down is not the champagne football England fans want, but Hodgson prides pragmatism over inspiration and his outlook will jar with those who, y’know, enjoy watching their football.
England’s record at Wembley has been poor for some time. They have won only three of their last eight at home, failing to beat Ghana, Montenegro and Switzerland as well as losing to France and Holland. By contrast, Belgium have lost just one of their last 16 games.
Still, it could pay dividends of sorts if England negotiate a tough group with France, Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine and get in a situation where draws can be turned into progress.
Hodgson’s next assignment is a far more difficult one than his last, despite home advantage. Belgium are a fine side and odds of 1/2 on England are no more exciting than a Hodgson side. The draw is 3/1 and Belgium are 11/2, a big price for a team who were so close to qualifying for Euro 2012.
An ever-improving Belgium finished third in Germany’s qualifying group, two points behind Turkey, against whom they missed a late penalty in a crucial 1-1 draw.
Axel Witsel, who fluffed the spot kick, is just one of a host of promising young talents that coach Marc Wilmots has at his disposal – a group which includes everybody’s favourite new egotist, the Chelsea-bound Eden Hazard.
So Belgium, who would have added a great deal to Euro 2012 had they qualified, will be no pushovers, and the 1/2 on England is no price.
For starters, England’s record at Wembley has been poor for some time. The Three Lions have won only three of their last eight at home, failing to beat Ghana, Montenegro and Switzerland as well as losing to France and Holland.
By contrast, Belgium have lost just one of their last 16 fixtures – away at Germany – and have proved hard to beat on their travels recently.
That Germany defeat is the only one in their last eight away games and a defence marshalled by the brilliant Vincent Kompany has kept five clean sheets in that sequence, including holding France to a 0-0 draw.
So this is no gimme for Hodgson and with the team still adjusting to his methods, it could well be a low-scoring affair.
Four of England’s last six outings have featured under 1.5 goals and with Hodgson’s emphasis on avoiding defeat first and foremost, the 11/4 that Wembley sees fewer than two goals could be the play.
Punters registering with bwin can claim a free £25 bet and placing it on this selection would return a cool £93.75 if the tip proves successful – not a bad way to boost the pre-Euro 2012 betting balance.
Recommended bet: Under 1.5 goals in England v Belgium @ 11/4
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