UEFA’s “Week of Football”, or weak of football if you want to be mean, is finally upon us after being rolled out by European football’s governing body at the time of the draw for the Euro 2016 qualifying groups.
The opening set of fixtures in the qualifying campaign offered fans a taste of what to expect but with the majority of teams set to play twice in the next week, Michel Platini’s grand plan for football spread across six nights, to ensure maximum television revenue for the biggest nations, may take some getting used to.
It might prove harder for the casual fan to say no to Belgium versus Andorra on a wintry Friday night or it may simply pass a lot of people by when their own nation isn’t in qualifying action. However, it does allow those that want to the chance to catch anyone and everyone in action across the weekend.
Sadly, the make-up of the groups doesn’t exactly make for mouth-watering clashes. With guaranteed spots at Euro 2016 available to everyone that finishes in the top two places of their group, the continent’s biggest sides are set to stroll towards booking their place in France. The only thing that might keep them honest through their 10 groups will be the need to retain a high coefficient score and maintain their easy life of Pot 1 seedings and favourable group draws.
There are some interesting clashes lined up for this weekend; but there are others that perhaps need a little spicing up.
Take the Netherlands; a team that rarely fails to qualify in spectacular fashion for a major competition. Usually that is followed by an implosion at said major tournament but given that they have reached the last four of the last two World Cups, we’re happy to allow that tag to drop away, especially as they started their campaign with defeat to the Czech Republic.
On their way to the World Cup in Brazil, the Netherlands scored 21 times in their five home group games. That included an 8-1 thumping of Hungary at Amsterdam Arena. We assume the nature of the victory was punishment for Balázs Dzsudzsák daring to be the only player to score against them on their own turf.
Kazakhstan are unlikely to offer much resistance to the Dutch and it should be a case of how many Guus Hiddink’s players can rack up as they look to bounce back from their troubles on Matchday One. Five or six isn’t asking too much, especially if one of the Kazakh players dares to threaten Jasper Cillessen’s goal.
Betting Instinct tip – The Netherlands to win by two or more, with more than 3.5 total goals in the game, is available at 1.88 with Intertops.eu
Elsewhere in Group A, there is the potentially mouth-watering clash between Turkey and the Czech Republic. Having claimed victory over the Dutch, the Czech side will want to cement their strong start in a difficult group. With an exciting Icelandic side littered with players from across Europe’s biggest leagues also battling for a qualification spot, the places will be decided by who does a better job of taking points away from their rivals.
The Turkish side actually had a better time away from home during their unsuccessful campaign to reach the World Cup. They have just one of their last four competitive games at home, losing two and drawing the other.
Buoyed by victory over the runaway group favourites and free of too much expectation for now, Petr Cech, Tomas Rosicky and their cohorts may just be able to pull off another relative surprise.
In Group H, Friday night should be an easy one for Italy. The Azzurri are unbeaten in 41 qualifying matches for both the World Cup and European Championship, winning 31 of those. Azerbaijan won’t be the team to break that streak.
Betting Instinct tip – Italy and the Czech Republic both to win is 64/25 with AllYouBet.ag
This weekend will see our first clash of group leaders with Albania, surprise 1-0 winners over Portugal on matchday one, hosting Denmark, 2-1 victory over Armenia. Whereas we’ve complimented both Italy and the Netherlands on the professional manner of their qualifying campaigns, the Portuguese are a shambles.
They ended up in the play-offs of entirely winnable groups during both the Euro 2012 and World Cup 2014 qualifying campaigns and have started in predictably inauspicious circumstances once again.
Therein lies the temptation for Denmark and even Albania. With Lasse Schone sparking for Ajax, Christian Eriksen looking more and more a top-level player for Tottenham and Nicklas Bendtner being a willing target man in Germany, the Danish will pose plenty of threats to the Albanian defence and they won’t look entirely confused without Cristiano Ronaldo around to save the day as the Portuguese did on the opening matchday.
Morten Olsen helped Denmark to finish above Portugal less than four years ago, and we suspect he’ll have the wherewithal to do it again. He might even help Bendtner find his scoring boots along the way.
Betting Instinct tip – Nicklas Bendtner to score first is 11/2 with Coral
Across the other option is to back the favourites. Germany are going to beat Poland, the Republic of Ireland will thump Gibraltar, Belgium will beat Andorra, Spain will dominate Slovakia, England will hammer San Marino and you can add the Dutch and Italians to that party too.
It may not return much; but a winning feeling is always nice.
RYAN KEANEY (ryankeaney) is a huge sports fan who spends most of his week toying around with sports data. He is the editor of www.thefootballproject.net and a co-editor for In Bed with Maradona. Follow Ryan on Twitter.