It feels like only a few weeks since Spain were crowned European champions again, playing a style of football in the Euro 2012 final which thrilled the watching millions, yet here we are in early September and international football is with us once more.
This time it’s World Cup qualification on the agenda and Scotland start their campaign with a tough-looking Group A duel against Serbia on Saturday before facing Macedonia at Hampden Park next Tuesday in the second of a classic double-header.
The pair have never met before, although Scotland did face the old Yugoslavia in a World Cup qualifying competition in 1988-89. This time, the Serbs are priced at 11/5 (Ladbrokes) to win Group A (Croatia are Skybet’s 2/1 joint favourites with Belgium) and at 8/11 (BetVictor.com) to claim one of the group’s top two places.
The Serbian squad is packed with players with whom most Scottish fans will be familiar. Captain Branislav Ivanovic is a regular in Chelsea’s back line, while Aleksandar Kolarov was one of Manchester City’s best players last season. Up front, Partisan Belgrade teenager Lazar Markovic can be backed at 3/1 with bet365 to score at any time.
Yet Scotland know that if they can keep what looks like an inexperienced forward line at bay in the opening half, their home advantage could prove crucial in the second period. Punters who concur can get evens (Skybet) against the first half ending with honours even, while Paddy Power post 5/1 about Scotland emerging victorious following a drawn first period.
Few bookies appear to anticipate a goalfest and William Hill chalk 4/7 against the match yielding fewer than three, while bet365 offer 10/11 in favour of the game’s total goal minutes being less than 105.
In the absence of Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidic, Serbia have endured a difficult 2012, winning only once (against Armenia) in six attempts this year, a record which suggests that Scotland, despite their underdog status, can go into this fixture with confidence. They’re 85/40 at Stan James to secure a point.
Bolder punters, mindful that should Scotland get up a head of steam, they’re capable of scoring an unexpected victory, can get a massive 6/1 against them winning 1-0 (bet365), while Stan James chalk an even more sizeable 17/2 in favour of a 2-1 home win.