Tottenham, Real Madrid and Rangers players in the spotlight for Euro 2016 qualifiers

 

Rejoice, football lovers, for when the sun is settling down and the wind shooting through Wembley stadium this Friday evening, you’ll at least be in the company of ONE OF YOUR OWN. Harry Kane, that lad at school who treated his Adidas ‘preds’ better than you did your girlfriend. Harry Kane, who of course skipped class to watch Sven’s men in a Chingford pub called the Sirloin. Harry Kane, not just boyhood Spurs (oops) but ‘patriotic England fan . . . sang God Save the Queen with pride, always do.’ One of us. One of us.

Yes, international week, where European football comes to die, has rolled round once more. First to discuss is England vs Lithuania, a match Roy Hodgson’s players – debut-ready Kane excepted – care so little about that they’re not even bothering to watch the individually-tailored videos that their manager has so painstakingly put together in advance. Not that it would make much difference, the squad being what it is.

England vs Lithuania Betting Odds:

England win 1/10

Lithuania win 18/1

Draw 15/2

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

A flurry of injuries means that Rob Green, as sharp as a bag of wet mice to paraphrase the real star of Sunday’s Clasico, deputises for Joe Hart. Andros Townsend, to Arjen Robben what Hugo is to Bart, covers for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. And so worried is Hodgson by the threat of Saulius Mikoliunas, the Lithuanian winger formerly of Hearts and now at Belarusian club Shakhtyor Soligorsk, that he has called up three left-backs in Leighton Baines, Kieran Gibbs, and Danny Rose.

Expect a drab England win in the manner of every England win: 0-0 at the hour; a twitchy Andy Townsend, Clive; a cheap penalty for 1-0 and a deflected free kick to seal it. But do enjoy Harry Kane, the everyman with the remarkable ability to leave supporters even more open-mouthed than he is.

Israel vs Wales

Wales, the only home nation to play away from home, will leave Europe behind for the Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa. The long trip to Israel, however, will not worry them so much as the form of their opponents. Wales (333/100 with Intertops.eu) have been solid, with two wins and two draws from their opening matches; Israel (5/6) have been perfect, their 100% record comprising an especially impressive 3-0 defeat of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Facing the twin-hindrance of tough opponents and the management of Chris Coleman, that Wales are even in with a chance here tells you something about the talent in their starting eleven. Exhibit A: Britain’s best midfield, lovely little Joe Allen and the now sadly bearded Aaron Ramsey supplemented by the even beardier Joe Ledley. And Exhibit B: It’s Gareth Bale, taking some time off from making Cristiano cry to chill with Hal Robson-Kanu. Granted, not enough to win a match all by themselves, but probably enough to give Tal Ben-Haim a good working over.

This, though, is not the time for rational analysis. With Wales teasing a first major tournament appearance in nearly 60 years, it’s time to stop what you’re doing, stand up, and listen to Paul Robeson belt out Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau. Imma let you finish, Harry Kane, but Wales got one of the best anthems of all time.

Scotland vs Gibraltar

Scotland’s squad, meanwhile, are ‘not special yet,’ assistant manager Mark McGhee helpfully pointed out this week. Beat Gibraltar, who boast four losses from four, a goal difference of -21, and 13 players from the almost certainly fictional Lincoln Red Imps F.C., and they’re one step closer. The whole world is watching. And a 6-0 home win is shorter odds than smaller margins of victory.

Northern Ireland vs Finland

Off the back of a friendly against Scotland, Northern Ireland face Finland knowing that a win could put them a massive five points clear of third place with half of the campaign gone. This is wonderful news for the neutral, Norn Iron suddenly emerging as the most don’t-give-a-damn of all the home nations.

First there was January’s Ballon d’Or boycott, the Irish Football Association – alone among peers – failing to send their voting ballots back to FIFA on time. In any case, manager Michael O’Neill didn’t deem Lionel Messi to be one of the world’s best three players; Ronaldo, Philipp Lahm, and Thomas Mueller would, save for the IFA’s incompetency, have been his preferred choices. There’s also Jonny Evans, eligible for this match despite having eyeballed and spat at a man lying on the floor, before then going on to brazenly deny the subsequent FA charge. And what about the call-up for Shane Ferguson, coming as a great surprise to loan club Rangers who were told that he would be injured for the rest of the season?

No matches played, but a strong year so far for the Northern Irish – and with 43 in the world rankings coming up against 78 on Sunday, it might well be that they take that scintillating off-field form on to the pitch and cap an unusually exciting international break.

Betting Instinct tip Northern Ireland to keep up their unlikely run with a win is 17/10 with Intertops.eu

Kieran avatar KIERAN DODDS  is a masters student and writer. He has written about sport, politics and current affairs for the Guardian, the Huffington Post, Africa is a Country, When Saturday Comes, IBWM and others. Follow Kieran on Twitter.

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Tough tasks for Ireland and Wales in Euro 2016 Qualifying

robbiekeane

34-year-old Robbie Keane is still going strong for Ireland

 

No one enjoys the international break do they? There are very few that pipe up to defend it, or argue in favour of it. For some it inspires complete apathy, while for others it is utterly intolerable.

A fortnight of England-centric media coverage, of footballers pretending to care and Roy Hodgson bathing in the limelight. The World Cup was great, EURO 2016 will undoubtedly be a lot of fun, but the whole truncated and tiring qualifying process can do one.

Unfortunately the world doesn’t work like that and we’re stuck with the qualifiers and the regular fortnights of doom forever.

So early are we in the qualifying process for EURO 2016 that very little importance rides on the next week’s set of fixtures, but for some of the Home Nations this has traditionally proved to be the hurdle where qualification has been lost.

 

Euro 2016 Qualifying Group B Betting Odds (To Win Group):

Belgium 11/50

Bosnia and Herzegovina 5/1

Israel 18/1

Wales 18/1

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Wales lost three of their opening four qualifiers for World Cup 2014, while Scotland, in the same group, drew twice and lost twice. By October 2012 and with the tournament still 20 months away, it had become a foregone conclusion and the process reduced to a demoralising, damage-limitation exercise.

For Chris Coleman’s side, their scrappy 2-1 victory over Andorra on one of the most disgraceful 3G pitches ever provided for an international match, looks ever more important now. Back-to-back home fixtures against Bosnia and Herzegovina and Cyprus provide a real catalysing opportunity.

 

By virtue of Michel Platini’s utopian dreaming, qualification for EURO 2016 is decidedly easier than it has ever been for a European Championships, but Wales have been dealt with a blow with the injuries to Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey – the only two Welsh footballers who can hope to hold a candle to the blistering talent of Gareth Bale.

Bale will need to be in full Superman mode and evoke his latter-day Spurs form if he is to single-handedly fire his country through this great opportunity.

 

Gordon Strachan, taking a break from ITV punditry to fulfil his other duty as Scotland manager, will be approaching their games against Georgia and Poland in characteristically forthright manner after their narrow loss to world champions Germany last month.

If the Scots can recreate the no fear attitude that Strachan cited in their 2-1 defeat in Dortmund, they will be confident of coming away from Warsaw with a positive result to set their qualification hopes alight.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Scotland to beat Georgia is 7/10 with Intertops.eu

 

Elsewhere in Group D the Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane experiment continues apace for the Republic of Ireland, with an effective bye against Gibraltar coming before a mid-week trip to Germany. It may be 2014, iPhones may bend and even watches are becoming must-have gadgets, but somehow there is still space in the Ireland squad for Robbie Keane and Shay Given.

Northern Ireland’s first away win in four years, coming in Hungary last month, has similarly ignited their qualifying campaign. They host minnows Faroe Islands on Saturday, the rare sight of Northern Ireland with six points from six a very real possibility. A trip to harbingers of doom Greece next Tuesday will likely prove their toughest assignment during qualifying; don’t expect goals.

 

Betting Instinct tip – A £10 bet on Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to both qualify for Euro 2016 returns £166.70 with Coral

 

As for England, frankly, who cares? The empty Wembley bowl will play host to the neutral’s darling San Marino, Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend will insult the part-time plumbers and brick-layers causing some overdue twitter beef between the Sammarinese FA and ITV.

Hodgson’s men beat San Marino by five and eight during World Cup qualifying; can we expect another Danny Welbeck hat-trick to go with his double salvo in Switzerland last month?

Or how about another Captain Wayne Rooney sending-off? He could do with a bit of a break in November.

 

Betting Instinct tip Danny Welbeck to score a hat-trick is 4/1 with Coral

 

JamesDutton JAMES DUTTON is a freelance journalist who has written for The Mirror, The Guardian and The Times. James helps to  run The False Nine football website, contributes to The Anfield Wrap and is a columnist for uMAXit Football

Champions League: Returning Ronaldo can give Real first-leg lead

Can Cristiano Ronaldo add to his 14 goals in 8 Champions League games this season?

Can Cristiano Ronaldo add to his 14 goals in 8 Champions League games this season?

Cristiano Ronaldo is set to return for the first leg of Real Madrid’s semifinal match against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. The 29-year who missed the Copa Del Rey final against Barcelona has been suffering from an apparent hamstring injury but returned to full training a few days ago. Gareth Bale, the hero of the final against Barcelona, was reported earlier this week to be suffering from the effects of the flu, but he has also seemingly recovered in time to welcome Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich to the Bernabeu.

 

Real Madrid v Bayern Munich Betting Odds:

Real Madrid win – 2.38

Bayern Munich win – 2.74

Draw – 3.30

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Real Madrid enter the game aiming for their first Champions League final berth in 12 years, though they have famously won the trophy nine times so far. History is not on the side of Los Blancos as they have lost four out of the last five semi-final matches against Bayern and Guardiola was also responsible for breaking the stranglehold of Real Madrid in Spain –not losing in any of six visits to the Bernabeu– during his time at Barcelona. Though most of the team is healthy for Madrid, Marcelo is set to miss out, leaving Fabio Coentrao to start in his place and Álvaro Arbeloa’s injury woes means that Daniel Carvajal will retain his starting spot. These issues leave Real Madrid vulnerable in Bayern’s strongest position, the wings, where Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry ply their trade.

Real Madrid’s last match in the Champions League suggests that they will have a hard time dealing with the pace of Bayern, as they were exploited by Borussia Dortmund’s pace numerous times as they went on to lose 2-0 to the Germans in the second leg of their quarter-final. While they were able to hold on and progress, the loss against Dortmund was a shock as they were able to dispatch their opponents very easily during the first leg, and in the second leg, completely collapsed as Dortmund threatened throughout, with only the width of the post preventing them from forcing extra-time.

Bayern are to all intents and purposes a better team than Dortmund, and have more weapons while retaining the same intense pace. Ronaldo’s return and Bale’s good health will be welcome news for Real but the more important factor will be if their defence can stand up against their German opponents.

 

Bayern are also welcoming back a talisman of their own in the form of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who was serving a suspension for a red card offense in the last round. The Germans were held to a 1-1 draw by Manchester United in the first leg of the quarterfinals before coming from behind to eventually run out 3-1 winners in the second leg. They wrapped up the Bundesliga title in record time but have become complacent in the league in recent weeks, suffering uncharacteristic losses to Augsburg and at home to Dortmund, though this seems to have been remedied by their most recent performances, winning 5-1 against Kaiserslautern and 2-0 against TSV Eintracht Braunschweig. This suggests that they are over there complacency issues and are back to their winning ways, something that should be concerning to Real Madrid fans everywhere.

If the Bavarians have a weakness it is their response to counter-attacking play, something that Dortmund feasted on as they ran out 3-0 winners recently, and something that has been a running problem in Guardiola teams. Their defenders push up very high and the fullbacks do a great deal of attacking, leaving them exposed if their opponents are able to form a quick, incisive counter. This plays into the hands of Real Madrid who are the best counter-attacking team in Europe, with the triple threat of Ronaldo, Bale and Karim Benzema. Angel Di Maria’s resurrection in the midfield will always be critical to the match-up, the energy of the Argentine is a big reason for Real’s effectiveness on the counter and his energy is essential for hassling midfielders and retrieving possession –all while he is still able to create chances with his dribbling skills.

 

Bayern will most likely dominate possession and with arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, will be bailed out a few times when they are caught on the break. Real Madrid however, will look to break quickly when Bayern do concede possession and with their ferocious attack, they should be able to muster a few clear cut chances and test Manuel Neuer. His opposite number Iker Casillas, meanwhile, is having a record-breaking season as the cup keeper for Madrid and will be on hand to thwart the efforts of the Germans who are always a safe bet to manage a few shots on goal.

The game will likely come down to which defense breaks first, with both teams having topped 100 goals this season in all competitions. If both teams’ attacks behave as they have for the season, the game will be a goal-fest and the winner might come down to whoever has the last shot on goal.

 

Betting Instinct Tip – With two of the most formidable forward-lines in world football going head-to-head, we can expect goals. More than 3.5 goals can be backed at 2.60 with GR88.com.

 

BdykNApCQAEQ_-t ZITO MADU (zitov2) is a writer for SBnation, and has written for Surreal Football, LiveBreatheFutbol,  and numerous other sports sites. Follow him on Twitter.

Real Madrid to cruise into the Champions League Quarter Finals?

Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale bagged four of Real Madrid's six first leg goals in Germany

Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale bagged four of Real Madrid’s six first leg goals in Germany

As far as I am, and pretty much every football fan in the world is, concerned this Champions League last 16 stage tie between Real Madrid and Schalke is all but over following braces from Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale at the Veltins-Arena three weeks ago before Klaas Jan Huntelaar pulled a consolation goal back for the Germans. Six away goals for the Spaniards, who are looking like one of the favourites to win the Champions League this season, should be enough for them, right? But with the El Clásico at home to Barcelona coming up at the weekend will they believe that a five goal cushion will be enough and will they step off the gas tonight?

The bookmakers do not believe so and the GR88.com Real Madrid v Schalke betting odds reflect these thoughts.

Real Madrid v Schalke Betting Odds:

Real Madrid – 1.23

Draw – 6.40

Schalke – 12.00

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

Not only do Real have a five goal advantage over their German opponents this evening, but when they welcome Schalke to the Bernabeu this evening they have the confidence of a 16 match winning streak in front of their own fans to back them up. On top of this they have recorded nine clean sheets in their last ten home matches, with only Villarreal managing to find the net in this corner of the Spanish capital since Galatasaray managed to score in a 4-1 defeat almost four months ago. With the likes of CR7 and Gareth Bale running rings around the German backline in the first leg, even if they ease up will they prove to be far too good for Schalke tonight?

After their heavy home defeat at the Veltins-Arena to Carlo Ancelotti’s men three weeks ago things did not improve after the match as they had to face German champions Bayern Munich in the next match and they were promptly beaten 5-1. Since then though Schalke have won their last two matches scoring six goals against Hoffenheim and Augsburg, but these two sides sit mid-table in the Bundesliga and Schalke have shown that they are hopelessly outclassed against the best sides in Europe already.

As well as their poor form against the top sides Schalke have scored just one goal in their three away matches in the Champions League this season, while they face a Cristiano Ronaldo that has scored 32 goals in 25 matches in this competition, including having 11 this season alone. Real have not lost in 15 home Champions League ties in almost three years and I cannot see anything but a comprehensive victory for the hosts tonight, even if they rest players, against their German visitors.

Back Real Madrid to beat Schalke by at least three goals (Real -2) @ 2.08 with GR88.com.

AntonyANTONY JORDAN (antonygr88) is an avid football and cricket fan who loves to play his favourite sports as much as write about them and bet on them.  Read his daily sports betting blog at GR88.com.