INTERNATIONAL football is back and Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) is brimming with excitement. So who’s he backing in Friday night’s Euro 2016 qualifiers?
Portugal v Armenia | Friday 19.45 | Sky Sports Interactive
The first fixture to leap off the card was Portugal’s meeting with Armenia in Lisbon. Despite being in the midst of an eight-game touchline ban, new boss Fernando Santos got Portugal’s campaign back on track with a win in Denmark last time out.
Santos was brought in after Paulo Bento was axed following the Selecção’s embarrassing home defeat to Albania. It was their first meaningful loss at home for six years but even so, I’m surprised to see Armenia chalked up as big as 18/1 (BetVictor) for Friday night’s showdown.
Whilst a repeat of the humbling loss to Albania is unlikely for Portugal, there is value to be had when siding with the underdogs. Armenia +2 in the Asian Handicap can be backed at 9/10 with BetVictor and looks a real solid play. If Portugal win by two goals, we get our cash back whilst a draw or one-goal defeat for Armenia leaves us with profit.
Only twice in their last 22 competitive matches have Portugal ran out winners by a three-goal margin or more and those victories came against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Armenia have suffered just one defeat in 26 meaningful matches by a margin of three or more and can call upon an almost fully fit squad for this encounter.
What’s more, of the 77 Euro 2016 qualifiers that have taken place over the three Matchdays so far, only 14/77 (18%) saw a side win by a margin of three goals or more with Gibraltar, San Marino, Andorra, Luxembourg, Lichtenstein, Malta, Azerbaijan and Latvia responsible for 12 of those defeats. Armenia are in a much higher class than that company.
Serbia v Denmark | Friday 19.45 | Sky Sports Interactive
Serbia will aim to get their qualifying campaign back on track after the furore surrounding their grudge match with Albania in their last outing. William Hill have made the hosts 13/10 to take maximum points from the visit of Denmark and that looks a touch generous, to me.
The White Eagles were given a bye on the first Matchday before tackling Armenia away. Despite dominating possession and the shot-count, Dick Adovcaat’s men required a sumptuous late Zoran Tosic goal to earn their first point of the campaign. And back in Belgrade, I expect the home side to up the ante.
The Serbs can boast an outstanding array of talent from front to back and arrive at this fixture with just one defeat in 12 (and that came against Brazil). It’s eight wins from 13 fixtures on home soil with Belgium the only side to beat the White Eagles in a competitive match in Belgrade in the past four years.
Denmark have flattered to deceive in their opening three games. A 1-0 home defeat to Portugal last time out was deflating after being held to a hard-earned 1-1 draw in Albania. The only win Morten Olsen’s men have to their name was a scrappy 2-1 in Copenhagen against an injury-hit Armenian side back in September.
The Danes did record three away World Cup qualifying wins in their previous qualification campaign but with golden boy Christian Eriksen struggling for form, it’s hard to find enough reasons to not think they could be outclassed in the Serbian capital.
Hungary v Finland | Friday 19.45 | Sky Sports Interactive
I can’t imagine many will be choosing to watch Hungary’s meeting with Finland on Friday night but I’m expecting a decent display from both sides with goals a feature. Whilst some firm are odds-on, I’ve been attracted by Betfair’s 6/5 offering on Both Teams To Score in Budapest.
The hosts have failed to net just twice in their last 22 games with only two teams shutting Hungary out on home soil in the past five years of competitive football. It’s a similar strong trend when looking at their clean sheet record – excluding matches against San Marino and Andorra, they’ve managed just one shutout in seven years of meaningful matches at the Stadium Puskás Ferenc. That’s led to six of their last eight qualifiers in front of their home supporters banking for Both Teams To Score backers.
Finland’s stats also point towards a bet involving goals at both ends. Suffering just two defeats on the road in their last 15 internationals, Mixu Paatelainen’s side have scored in four of their last five away qualifiers. Finland managed to net on their trip to Spain with only France shutting Suomi out in that spell.
With neither side inspiring confidence in the defensive stakes and valuable qualifying points up for grabs in arguably the most open groups of Euro 2016 qualification, it may pay to take a chance on Both Teams To Score at a very respectable 6/5.
Portugal v Armenia – Armenia +2 Asian Handicap (9/10 BetVictor)
Serbia v Denmark – Serbia to win (13/10 William Hill)
Hungary v Finland – Both Teams To Score (6/5 Betfair)