MARK O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his betting views on the first Euro 2016 qualification play-off between Norway and Hungary on Thursday night.
Norway v Hungary | Thursday 19.45 | Sky Sports 3
Two goals in the final 17 minutes of Euro 2016 qualifying from Italy consigned Norway to third in Group H and now Per-Mathias Hogmo’s men must overcome the arduous task of the play-offs if they’re to end a 15-year wait for a major tournament appearance.
Croatia pipped the Reds to the final automatic qualification spot by a solitary point but the Landslaget fought valiantly with a decent W6-D1-L3 showing. Across those 10 fixtures we saw the best and worst of Norway, outlined in their two encounters with the Croats – Hogmo’s charges were admonished 5-1 in March but pocked a 2-0 win over the same opponents in September.
Indeed, the Landslaget went into their final game in Rome unbeaten in five (W3-D2-L0) and without a goal conceded. Thursday night’s hosts kept clean sheets in three of their five qualifiers in Oslo and going back to 2008, Norway have returned W10-D3-L3 when welcoming continental counterparts for meaningful matches.
Hogmo has named an attack-minded squad for the play-offs and declared his confidence in his team in public, saying “We have made a point of selecting players that are in very good form at the moment.” Rosenborg’s Alexander Soderlund should lead the attack – he’s netted 22 in 29 to top the Tippeligaen goalscoring charts – but all eyes will be on 16-year-old wonderkid Martin Odegaard.
Odegaard has already accumulated seven international caps but he’s surrounded by experienced campaigners from across Europe’s top leagues. Elsewhere, Haitam Aleesami is likely to fill in at left-back with Tom Hogli the only major absentee from the squad
So the hosts are in decent shape and Hogmo’s already begun the mind games when claiming, “We feel we know Hungary well.” The Norwegians are unbeaten against Hungary since 1981 – a nine-match run of results and the bookies tend to share his confidence too, quoting the Landslaget as 20/21 pokes to take a first leg with Betfred.
Visiting Hungary finished behind Northern Ireland and Romania with a run of one victory from their last four (W1-D2-L1) qualifiers proving to be their downfall. The Magyars managed just 11 goals in their W4-D4-L2 campaign but just a point from a possible six against rock bottom Greece ultimately proved Bernd Storck’s side undoing.
Hungary haven’t featured in a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup and haven’t been involved in the European Championships for 43 years. And whilst reaching the play-offs could be seen as an achievement, in a group shorn on major quality or headline name, the Magyars will have been disappointed to finish outside the top-two.
The travellers lack pace throughout the squad and their big-name starts are ageing. Storck’s called-up four players with one or zero caps. Goalkeeper Gábor Kiraly’s should earn his 100th cap but centre-half Roland Juhhsz is suspended whilst midfielder Roland Varga, Puskas Akademia and David Markvart are all injured.
Balazs Dzsudzsak is undoubtedly Hungary’s main threat but the burden of creativity weighs heavily on their captain and the Bursaspor man will need assistance from elsewhere if the Magyars are to upset the odds in Oslo.
The visitors have W2-D3-L3 in their last eight away qualifiers with their wins coming in Finland and the Faroe Islands. But Hungary have scored in 18 of their last 19 outings away from Budapest. Throw in Norway’s return of just seven home clean sheets in 21 and backing the Magyars to score at 3/4 (Coral) holds a bit of value.
When looking at the play-offs for Euro 2004 and Euro 2012 (there were no play-offs for Euro 2008), it’s intriguing to see only six home wins in 18 whilst all bar three of the nine first legs featured fewer than three goals. Only two first legs saw both teams score.
Throw in the World Cup qualification play-offs from the past 10 years (2006, 2010, 2014) and the trends return the following – 10/40 (25%) home wins, 11/20 (55%) first leg home wins, 6/20 (30%) Over 2.5 Goals winners across first legs and 5/20 (25%) successful BTTS bets in the same sample.
Clearly the trends oppose goals but they also make investing in Norway a little uncomfortable at odds-on. So I’m going to bolster the price to 5/2 (SkyBet) by backing the hosts to win by exactly one goal. It should be nick and tuck and reasonably tight but I do fancy the Landslaget to pinch it.
Norway v Hungary – Norway to win by exactly one goal (5/2 SkyBet)
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