The Netherlands will get back on track in Euro 2016 qualifying

Kazakhstan's defence will struggle to deal with Arjen Robben

Kazakhstan’s defence will struggle to deal with Arjen Robben

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 avatar 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.

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Italy v Ireland – Can the Irish repeat the historic 1-0 win of 20 years ago?

Ray Houghton scores the winner for Ireland against Italy at the 1994 World Cup, can Ireland beat the Italians 20 years later too?

Ray Houghton scores the winner for Ireland against Italy at the 1994 World Cup, can Ireland beat the Italians 20 years later too?

We are less than three weeks away from the 20th anniversary of the stunning Ray Houghton strike at the 1994 World Cup that saw Ireland secure their first ever win over the Italians as they managed to qualify for the last 16 stage of the tournament. Italy later went on to lose the final to Brazil as Italian hero Roberto Baggio blazed over during the shootout, but with them coming into tonight’s match looking for their first win since last September Italy will be desperate to return to winning ways before jetting out to Brazil for the World Cup.

Italy v Ireland Betting Odds:

Italy to win – 1.67

Draw – 3.20

Ireland to win – 5.10

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

Italy had a reasonably comfortable time to qualify for the World Cup this summer as they topped Group B of the UEFA qualification section with 22 points from six wins and four draws from their ten matches as they finished six points ahead of Denmark. However, two of those draws came in their final two matches as they limped over the line and their poor form has seen them fail to win since that time. They are without a win in any match since September 2013 and following those two competitive draws the Italians drew 1-1 with Germany and 2-2 with Nigeria to close out their matches for 2013. They had to come from a goal down in each of those matches to secure a point, but they were unable to do this against world champions Spain in Madrid as the game ended 1-0 with a thoroughly dominant performance from the hosts.

Italy will want to boost their confidence in tonight’s match, which is being held at the neutral venue of Fulham’s Craven Cottage in West London, by ending their eight month winless streak before they face Luxembourg in Verona next week and then begin their World Cup campaign against England on June 14th. They should have a good chance against the Irish this evening to end this streak as well.

Ireland are under new management of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane following a disappointing end to their World Cup qualification campaign under Giovanni Trapattoni and things have not been easy for them so far. They have won just one of four matches since the appointment, when they defeated Latvia 3-0 in Dublin, before drawing 0-0 with Poland at the end of November 2013 and both matches this year have seen them defeated. They played Serbia in March and Turkey a week ago, and they lost 2-1 in both matches and are still adjusting to life under their new coaches but they do tend to life their game against Italy so this should be an interesting match.

Ireland have drawn two and won one of their last four meetings with Italy since 2009 and they will be hopeful of ending their 100% losing record in 2014 this evening in London, but with Italy having just two days to trim their provisional squad for the World Cup from 30 to 23 players there will be many players fighting for a place on the plane to Brazil this evening so, in my eyes, they will be the side that wants it more. Ireland are sure to be up for the match though and I can see this being a close game that will see both sides find the net in search of ending their winless runs.

Back both teams to score in this evening’s Italy v Ireland World Cup warm up game at Craven Cottage @ 2.06 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.

Juventus or Napoli to win their Serie A top three clash this weekend?

Fernando Llorente celebrates opening the scoring in Juventus' 3-0 home win over Napoli earlier this season

Fernando Llorente celebrates opening the scoring in Juventus’ 3-0 home win over Napoli earlier this season

The biggest game happening in Italy this weekend is the clash of the sides sitting in first and third places in Serie A as Juventus look to continue their march towards their third successive top division title and Napoli wish to close the gap on Roma in second place, and the final automatic Champions League spot.

Napoli have lost just twice at the Stadio San Paolo all season in domestic football, while Juventus have been defeated just once on the road so I’m expecting this to be a close match between two good sides. GR88.com agree with this assessment of the game and they too are backing a tight game between the teams this Sunday evening.

Napoli v Juventus Odds:

Napoli – 2.74

Draw – 3.10

Juventus – 2.46

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

It will be a stretch for Napoli to catch Roma in second place in the league as they are six points behind them at this time having played an extra match. They had actually recently looked like catching them after an 81st minute Callejón winner at the Stadio San Paolo at the start of March but, after following that up with a 1-0 win at Torino, they threw away all their good work by losing 1-0 at home to Fiorentina. That loss was their second home defeat of the season in the league and while they have not lost too many at home in Serie A they have been massively inconsistent since November in front of their own fans. This has cost them as they have tried to move up to second place as they have lost two and drawn three of their last nine at home, while never recording the same result two games in a row.

Juventus will be confident about breaking that pattern for Napoli as they eased past them in November on home soil as they scored in the second, 74th and 80th minutes before seeing Angelo Ogbonna red carded seven minutes from time as they cruised to a 3-0 win. They also bring into this match a two month and 14 match unbeaten run that has seen them win each of their last four matches, including winning all of their last five games on the road without conceding a single goal. Confidence will be sky high for the league leaders, now can they all but assure a third straight title by ensuring their lead at the top of the table stays at least 14 points?

Juventus do not have the best of records away at Napoli following an eight match and 14 year winless streak that has seen Napoli win half of those games, drawing the other four. The last two meetings at the Stadio San Paolo have seen draws, but with Napoli being massively inconsistent at home over the last few months and having scored just two goals in their last three on home soil I cannot see them managing to get anything against the best side in the league this weekend. The fact that Juventus are available at better than evens odds makes them even more tempting too.

Back Juventus to beat Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo @ 2.46 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.

Napoli to provide Clarence Seedorf’s first proper test as Milan coach

Marek Hamšík could return to the starting line-up for Napoli

Marek Hamšík could return to the starting line-up for Napoli

A resurgent AC Milan side travel to face Napoli in the 23rd round of Serie A.

Milan, with a 3-1-1 record in their last five Serie A games and unbeaten in the league since the appointment of Clarence Seedorf, will look to continue their good form as they face a powerful Napoli. Rafa Benitez’s side occupy the coveted 3rd position on the league table but are coming off back to back losses to AS Roma and Atalanta, the 3-0 defeat to Atalanta being particularly deflating.

 

SSC Napoli v AC Milan Betting Odds

Napoli to win – 1.95

Draw – 3.40

Milan to win – 3.60

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

 

Napoli are fifteen points above their challengers, but just three points ahead of Fiorentina who will be closely watching this match as they continue their push for Champions League football. Manager Benitez will surely be looking to get his team back on track as soon as possible, most likely uncaging the recently benched Marek Hamšík, whose exclusion from matches are as puzzling as Napoli’s recent defeats.

Milan on the other hand are coming to terms with the views of Clarence Seedorf and have been playing better football than under Allegri. The attack, while not potent enough considering the weapons at their disposal, have started to play better generally and have managed to pull out some last minute wins. Mario Balotelli looks motivated, Pazzini is returning to form after an eternity on the injury table and January signing Keisuke Honda builds chemistry with his teammates every match.

 

Before the Seedorf appointment, Napoli would have been clear favourites for this match. However after recent developments, while Benitez’s men remain favoured by bookmakers, Milan’s chances of victory have increased.

Napoli’s defenders must be cautious to not make any individual errors against a side that has numerous talents capable of taking opponents one on one and creating scoring chances. Milan, meanwhile, will have to be on guard against a team that’s excellent on the counter, especially with slow defenders and a midfield that doesn’t always track back. Gonzalo Higuain, Napoli’s top scorer with 10 league goals, will be looking to feast on a pair of centre-backs who lack concentration.

 

With both teams stronger in attack than defence (with 32 conceded, Milan have a worse defensive record than 16th-place Chievo), a low-scoring game is unlikely. Napoli should have enough to win on home turf, but with Seedorf at the helm, Milan ought to run them close.

 

Betting Instinct Tip – Napoli to win 2-1 is 8.20 with GR88.com

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BdykNApCQAEQ_-tZITO MADU (zitov2) is a writer for SBnation, and has written for Surreal Football, LiveBreatheFutbol, and numerous other sports sites