Weblog: The football punter

Bank on Sterling to bag some big-money profits

ITV, 5pm Saturday

England missed out on Nations League glory but they are second favourites to win Euro 2020 and should make it three qualifying wins from three by beating Bulgaria at Wembley.

Gareth Southgate's team flew out of the traps in Group A, posting convincing wins at home to Czech Republic (5-0) and away to Montenegro (5-1), and they top the table despite having played fewer games than all of their rivals.

There is likely to be a scramble to finish second but it may not involve Bulgaria, who have taken just two points from four matches.

As the section's third seeds, Bulgaria hoped to have a decent chance of qualifying but they have given themselves a mountain to climb.

After starting with disappointing 1-1 draws at home to Montenegro and away to Kosovo they parted company with head coach Petar Hubchev, who has taken over at Bulgarian side Levski Sofia.

Hubchev was replaced by Krasimir Balakov, one of the heroes of the 1994 Bulgaria team who reached the World Cup semi-finals, but results have gone from bad to worse.

Balakov started off with losses away to Czech Republic and at home to Kosovo, leaving the Bulgarians propping up the section, and they will stay there unless they pull off a stunning result at Wembley.

In an effort to boost their chances Balakov has shaken up the squad, calling up six uncapped played, including Brazilian-born Ludogorets attacking midfielder Wanderson, who has Champions League experience and has scored 60 goals in 218 appearances for his club.

Wanderson became an unlikely internet star last month after scoring a league goal against Slavia Sofia, celebrating by kissing his wife in the stands and then returning to find his effort had been ruled out for offside.

The 31-year-old's inclusion adds extra quality but Bulgaria need a big improvement from everybody simply to keep the score respectable.

England continue to impress and look in even better shape than they were at Russia 2018.

Since that tournament Jadon Sancho and Declan Rice have quickly established themselves as important players and significant strides forward have been made by Ross Barkley and Trent Alexander-Arnold, who have been elevated from Southgate's second string to the first-choice line-up.

England are evolving and there is justifiable excitement at the promise shown by James Maddison and Mason Mount, who are hoping to win the first of many senior caps.

But the next generation face a massive battle to get into the side because of the quality ahead of them.

Harry Kane will captain the team after recovering from last season's injury-hit campaign but he looks a short price to score the first goal.

Arguably the most exciting element of England's fluid attack is Raheem Sterling, who no longer appears burdened by wearing three lions on his shirt.

Sterling has excelled for Manchester City for several seasons but his watershed moment for England came last October when he bagged a brace in a 3-2 victory over Spain in Seville.

Since then he has impressed on the international stage and he tops the Group A scoring charts with four goals in two matches.

Bulgaria's defence possesses neither the knowhow nor the pace to stop Sterling and there is value in backing the 24-year-old to notch first.

Best bet
R Sterling first scorer

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