Northern Ireland head into Euro 2016 without being beaten in a competitive fixture for more than 18 months, and avoiding defeat of any kind for over a year, yet bwin.com make them rank outsiders at 9/4 to emerge from a Group C containing Germany, Poland and Ukraine.
Leaving aside the world champions, who have been beaten four times in their past six outings, there seems little for Michael O’Neill’s men to fear from the pair supposedly battling for second place.
Poland are in fine form, winning five games on the bounce and cruising past Finland 5-0 last time out, but Adam Nawalka’s lot dropped five points in their final two away qualifiers for the tournament, losing in Germany and drawing with lowly Scotland.
Greece, who O’Neill’s side took six points off in qualifying, held the Poles to a 0-0 draw in Gdansk a year ago and, with only three competitive away wins this decade, against Georgia, Gibraltar and San Marino, there’s a suspicion that Robert Lewandowski and co can’t perform on the road.
Ukraine’s bare form also appears sharp, with only 1-0 home and away losses to Spain blotting the Yellow-Blue copybook since going down 1-0 to Slovakia at headquarters in their first qualifying fixture 21 months ago.
However, like Poland, Mykhaylo Fomenko’s men have only beaten Europe’s lesser lights on the road over the last two years, with Slovakia and Slovenia both holding Ukraine at home since the start of the season just past.
With three potential qualification spots from Group C, Germany are 1/100 certainties, Poland 1/3 and Ukraine 9/20, odds that effectively rule out the chances of the Green and White Army, winners of competitive away games against Hungary, Greece and the Faroe Islands en route to France.
Furthermore, Northern Ireland seem likely to start the tournament in tip-top form, having seen off Belarus 3-0, Slovenia 1-0 and Latvia 1-0, and drawing 1-1 away to Wales, since qualifying ahead of schedule by topping their group, which only Germany of their immediate competitors also managed.
At 9/4 to make the last 16, they look the value bet of the group stage.