Weblog: The football punter

England should ease past feisty minnows Malta

World Cup qualifier
ITV, 7.45pm Friday

England have lost only one of their last 28 World Cup qualifiers and they are just 1-20 to continue their march to next year's finals in Russia with a victory in Malta.

The Three Lions have been unconvincing away from Wembley during this qualifying campaign but bookmakers are anticipating a mismatch in Attard, where the hosts are 90-1 for victory.

England needed a 90th-minute winner from Adam Lallana to see off ten-man Slovakia in their opening game in Group F before drawing with Slovenia (0-0) and Scotland (2-2) in two subsequent away fixtures.

Another draw would be a 20-1 shock but Malta will be intent on damage limitation and punters should probably refrain from backing wide-margin England wins in the correct-score market.

Gareth Southgate has plenty of attacking options despite the retirement of Wayne Rooney, with Harry Kane likely to start up front and Jermain Defoe, Jamie Vardy, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and Marcus Rashford all named in the squad.

Southgate is still searching for the right combination behind Kane, however, and England are unlikely to run riot against dogged opponents.

Malta lost their first qualifier 5-1 at home to Scotland but they finished that game with only nine men and have avoided humiliating defeats since then.

Their next game was a 2-0 defeat to England at Wembley and they haven't lost any of their last seven internationals by more than a two-goal margin.

England's victory in the reverse fixture was a 2-0 hammering, though - they had almost 80 per cent of possession and won the shot count 17-1 - so a small punt on a 3-0 scoreline could be worthwhile.

Another bet to consider, given the likely pattern of the game, is Sky Bet's 7-2 that a red card is shown by arbiter Artur Soares Dias. 

The Portuguese referee isn't averse to brandishing his cards, dismissing 16 players in 71 club and international matches in the past three seasons. 

There have been five sendings-off in Malta's six qualifiers, with the minnows responsible for four of them.

In Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, England have the kind of pacy wide players who can win fouls from weary defenders.

Dele Alli doesn't shy away from confrontation, as he showed in the incident that saw Newcastle's Jonjo Shelvey dismissed in the first weekend of the Premier League season, and Malta's overworked defenders may struggle to keep their cool.

Kane is 9-4 favourite to score first with Sturridge, who opened the scoring against Malta at Wembley, 7-2 and Alli the possible each-way value at 4-1 with bet365.

The Tottenham man scored the second goal in the reverse fixture and has struck the first blow in two of his three league games for Spurs this season. 

England to win 3-0



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Match in Focus

11:30 Su 25Feb BT3

Crotone v Spal

Home Win Draw Away Win
Key stats
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Expert verdict
Three successive defeats to nil have seen Spal get detached from safety but they can stop the bleeding by getting a point at the team immediately above them. Crotone blew their chance of opening up a gap with the bottom three by losing at Benevento last weekend while Spal have to be heartened by the manner of their 1-0 loss at leaders Napoli.