International Friendlies Preview

International football makes a return this weekend and, for once, I’m pleased to welcome it back. It’s been a tough couple weeks punting on the Premier League and a change of pace could do me good. I’ve already lined up a couple decent bets which I’ll share with you here. This weekend provides the final opportunity for managers to tinker with their squads ahead of this summer’s major tournaments, so keep an eye on the final team sheets. With a little bit of insight you can take advantage of incorrect pricing and bag yourself a tidy profit before the Premier League rolls around next week.

Thursday 24 March

9/10 Turkey | Draw 9/4 | Sweden 32/10 (20:45)

We get things started in Turkey on Thursday evening, with two of the last teams to qualify for the Euro 2016 doing battle. Turkey qualified as the best third-placed finishers, while Sweden needed two-legs and some magic from Zlatan Ibrahimovic to book their place in France. Since then each side has played two friendly matches, with a win and a draw apiece. The last time the sides met was in 2014, with Turkey running out 2-1 victors in a friendly match. There is very little to go on here, though, apart from the sides recent form which has been relatively solid. There’s not too much to choose between these sides, with home advantage likely to be the deciding factor. Turkey are 9/10 for the win, but I wouldn’t go too big on it.

2/1 Italy | 2/1 | Spain 29/20 (21:45)

Thursday’s other match of interest sees the Euro 2012 finalists face-off in a glamour friendly. Both sides finished top of their qualifying groups earlier this year, with Italy going unbeaten and Spain winning nine of their 10 matches. The big news coming from the squad announcements is Antonio Conte’s decision to leave out Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio in favour of some new faces. Spain’s squad has a familiar look about it, with Valencia’s up-and-coming striker, Paco Alcácer, expected to lead the line. Vicente Del Bosque’s side have won each of their last seven matches, keeping six clean sheets in the process, and are tipped to get up here at a generous 29/20. 

Friday 25 March

23/10 Netherlands | 22/10 | France 12/10 (21:45) 

Perhaps my bet of the week is France to do the job over a diabolical Dutch side in Amsterdam on Friday evening. The 2010 World Cup finalists are in a bad way at present – finishing below Czech Republic, Iceland and Turkey following a dismal qualifying campaign. To add insult to injury, coach Danny Blind has seen five players withdraw through injury since announcing his squad for this set of fixtures. France coach, Didier Deschamps has opted for form players, drafting in Leicester’s N’Golo Kanté and West Ham’s Dimitri Payet to add some brawn and beauty respectively. There is very little to suggest Netherlands might spring a surprise here, and I’ll be going big on the French and doubling them onto a couple things through the week. I suggest you do the same.

7/4 Ireland | 2/1 | Switzerland 31/20 (21:45)

Two of the potential dark horses for this summer’s tournament will meet in Dublin on Friday, as Ireland play host to Switzerland. The Swiss finished second behind England to book their place in France, while Ireland progressed through the play-offs after taking third-place in a group involving Germany and Poland. Their qualification was built on their strong home form, which included a win over world champions Germany. The Irish have won their last three on home soil as well and picked up a clean sheet in each of those. Switzerland, meanwhile, are a side that veers between uninspired and promisingly enterprising, which usually occurs against weaker opposition. This is likely to be a low-scoring affair, with Under 2.5 Goals a solid bet a 6/10. Otherwise, Ireland to Win-To-Nil could be worth a stab at 7/2.

7/20 Portugal | 36/10 | Bulgaria 87/10 (22:45)

Portugal may have enjoyed a relatively simple passage through to the finals in France, but I don’t expect them to make too much of an impact in the tournament. Under Fernando Santos, Portugal have been economical, but hardly thrilling. Too much of their play still depends on Cristiano Ronaldo, whose ability to influence matches at the very top seems to be on the wane. Their squad remains unbalanced and short of a top-notch striker. Having said that, their match against Bulgaria on Friday should be relatively straightforward. The Bulgarians have lost three of their last four matches and have won just once on the road in their last six matches – against Malta. Portugal are odds-on here, and provide little value. They should win, but given their flaws, the price seems too short to get involved.

Saturday 26 March

3/10 Russia | 4/1 | Lithuania 82/10 (18:00)

Drawn alongside England, Slovakia and Wales in Group B, Russia have a tough task to qualify for the knockout stages in France. After a disappointing World Cup showing and a shaky start to European qualification, the Russians sent Fabio Capello packing, replacing him with CSKA Moskow manager Leonid Slutsky. His appointment brought about an upturn in fortune, with three wins from his four matches in charge. Their resurgence hinged very much on the form of  Artyon Dzyuba, who ended qualification as Russia’s top goalscorer with 8 goals. He is expected to lead the line on Saturday against Lithuania and could be a decent anytime goalscorer bet. As for a result, the Russians shouldn’t have any problem seeing off a side ranked 128th in the world.

11/20 Poland | 11/4 | Finland 11/2 (18:30)

At 50/1, Poland look like a solid dark horse for the European Championships. Unlike the World Cup, where only a handful of sides are capable of winning it, the European Championships tend to throw up some surprise packages from time to time. Think Greece in 2006, or Denmark in 1992. This year could be the year of the Poles. They finished just one point behind Germany in qualifying and in Robert Lewandowski, they have one of the world’s best strikers. This weekend they face Finland in what looks to be an open-and-shut case. At 11/20, they may be a bit short to back on the nose, so throw them into a couple multiples. The double with France comes in at 24/10 – I’ll have some of that.

4/10 Austria | 7/2 | Albania 67/10 (18:30)

Another side that could cause problems for some of the more recognised names in European football this summer is Austria. The small Alpine nation were most impressive during qualifying, going unbeaten to finish top of  their group with nine wins from their 10 matches. Their campaign was built on a strong defensive unit, which conceded just five goals during qualification. Throw in the attacking talents of David Alaba and Marko Arnautovic and you’ve got a decent outfit. This weekend they host Albania, a surprise qualifier for the finals. It will be a first major tournament for the Albanian’s, whose victory over Portugal was the high-point of a memorable qualification campaign. This one should be tight, with Austria tipped to triumph by a single goal at 5/2.

2/1 Hungary | 9/4 | Croatia 13/10 (19:00)

With UEFA increasing the size of the tournament, we will see a number of new faces in France this summer. It has been a number of years since Hungary challenged at the top of the world order, but they will return to the big stage this year. In preparation for what lies ahead, Hungary will face Croatia in an intriguing friendly this weekend. The Croatian’s qualified as runners-up in their group despite a managerial change midway through their campaign. Stocked with talented footballers, they will have high hopes of progressing from a group involving Spain, Turkey and Czech Republic. As for the match at hand, the sides have met four times in Hungary, with three of those ending in a draw. On that evidence, a repeat result looks decent value at 9/4.

Written by Commodore Vegas
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Friendly Picks
Turkey WIN 9/10
Spain WIN 29/20
France WIN 12/10
Ireland WIN-TO-NIL 7/2
Portugal WIN 7/20
Russia WIN 3/10
Poland WIN 11/20
Austria WIN BY ONE GOAL 5/2
Hungary DRAW 9/4