MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) shares his thoughts on Tuesday night’s friendly internationals from across the continent.
Sweden v Czech Republic | Tuesday 19.30
Few teams go into Euro 2016 as reliant on one player as Sweden is Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The mercurial marksman returns to the Blue-Yellow fold on Tuesday night to lead Erik Hamren’s men at the Friends Arena in Stockholm having been rested against Turkey on Thursday.
Hamren enjoys a healthy relationship with the forward and openly admits that national icon is the team’s only world-class player. The PSG striker scored 11 goals during qualifying, including three in their victorious 4-3 aggregate play-off win over old rivals Denmark and provides the class Sweden require.
The hosts are an experienced group that lacks the spark or industry to see off top teams in Zlatan’s absence. As a Danish tabloid cattily put it, Ibrahimovic aside, Sweden’s team is “about as interesting as an early morning trip to Ikea“.
The Blue-Yellows friendly form reads W4-D2-L6, with triumphs coming against Estonia, Iran, Ivory Coast and Finland over the past two years, but with Zlatan back in tow, I’m more than happy counting on the Swedes scoring in a match with strong potential for Both Teams To Score at 11/10 (Coral).
Czech Republic are looking ahead to their sixth successive appearance in the European Championships and Pavel Vyrba’s men continue their preparations here having fallen to a surprise 1-0 reverse to Scotland on Thursday.
The Lions were magnificent during qualifying and a 3-2 victory away to the Netherlands on the final matchday secured top spot in Group A (W7-D1-L2) despite being drawn in arguably the toughest pool.
But the Lions’ strength is in their attacking threats and incredibly, you have to go back to November 2013 – an 18-match streak – for the Czechs’ last clean sheet. And that came against Canada. Fourteen of those 18 fixtures have featured winning BTTS bets, as well as 10 of their most recent 12 road trips.
Captain Thomas Sivok and Michal Kadlec form an unsteady central defensive partnership whilst Pavel Kaderabek and David Limbersky are most accustomed to attacking from full-back positions, so there should be plenty of space for Sweden to exploit in, what’s the potential to be, an enjoyable encounter.
Germany v Italy | Tuesday 19.45 | BT Sport Europe
I won’t take anything away from England’s come-from-behind victory in Berlin on Saturday night but international football fans won’t have been too surprised by the final outcome.
Germany have a habit of peaking when it matters most and the Euro 2016 favourites have now suffered four loses in six friendly internationals, returning just four triumphs in 14 non-competitive matches since winning the World Cup.
The hosts have shipped at least two goals in each of their last four meaningless matches and in five of their past six on home soil. But don’t allow that poor return to provoke a bet on Italy.
The Azzurri recorded a very creditable 1-1 draw with Spain in Udine – David De Gea with a Man of the Match performance – but it extended Italy’s horrible friendly form to W3-D10-L9 – one of those victories came against San Marino!
So what’s the bet? Well Germany have struggled to defensively adapt to the retirement of Phillip Lahm and Per Mertsacker since the World Cup and with Jerome Boateng and Manuel Neuer both absent on Tuesday night, Die Mannschaft’s inexperienced defence doesn’t appear strong enough to record only a third shutout in 11.
Joachim Low’s men have captain Bastian Schweinsteiger injured – admittedly, not a problem position – and look likely to field the likes of Mario Gotze, Shkodran Mustafi, Julian Draxler and Karim Bellarabi in a much changed XI at the Allianz Arena.
Still, you’d expect the Germans to score – they’ve been silenced once on home soil since 2010.
Italy haven’t lost to Germany in seven recent head-to-heads (W3-D4-L0) – including meetings in the European Championship and World Cup – and the Azzurri put in arguably their best performance during Antonio Conte’s reign against Spain.
The visitors are expected to persist with their 3-4-3 formation with Jorginho, Lorenzo Insigne, Simone Zaza, Stephan El Shaarawy and Federico Bernardeschi being tipped to start.
With two days extra rest, the far from convincing German defence and on the back of an encouraging performance, I’d fancy Italy to also get on the scoresheet, as they’ve done so in 16 of their last 17 games.
So Both Teams To Score stands out at 5/6 (Ladbrokes) in Munich. It’s proven a profitable formula in eight of Die Mannschaft’s nine matches as hosts since the World Cup with only Gibraltar failing to notch on German soil in that timeframe.
France v Russia | Tuesday 20.00
Euro 2016 hosts France continue their preparations for this summer’s showpiece tournament when they take on Russia in Paris on Tuesday night and I’m keen to get Les Blues onside.
Didier Deschamps’ men have been playing non-competitive matches since their quarter-final exit at the World Cup in 2014 and, on the whole, France have fared very well (W11-D2-L4). More recently that record reads W6-D0-L1 – the only blemish was a 2-0 loss at Wembley in the days after the terrorist attacks in Paris.
Les Blues are now challenging Germany for outright favouritism at Euro 2016 and can once again hit the headlines with a confident performance against the Russians. So much so, I’m backing the hosts with a -1 Asian Handicap start at 41/40 (Bet365) – we’ll get our cash back should France only manage a solitary-goal success.
Deschamps’ men raced into a two-goal lead against Holland on Friday, eventually claiming a 3-2 triumph in Amsterdam, and since the World Cup, Les Blues have suffered just two losses as hosts – against Brazil and Belgium – and returned an impressive W7-D1-L2.
France’s last five at Stade de France have seen the home side plundered 13 goals and you have to go back 17 games – March 2013 – in a World Cup qualifier against Spain for the last time they failed to net in front of their own supporters.
Spain, Germany, Portugal, Sweden, Serbia and Denmark have all been beaten in the past 18 months and although Anthony Martial, Andre-Pierre Gignac and Yohan Cabaye, N’Golo Kante, Lucas Digne, Bacary Sagna and Mamadou Sakho are all pushing for starts, I still like the look of Les Blues.
CSKA Moscow head coach Leonid Slutsky saved Russia’s ailing qualification campaign following the sacking of Fabio Capello. Since arriving, Slutsky’s guided the nation to W6-D0-L1 and it’s true too they arrive on the back of four successive road wins.
But those four triumphs came against mediocre opposition and although their W13-D11-L1 record in friendly fixtures since February 2011 is noteworthy, I’m inclined to overlook those trends as their ageing and one-paced backline is likely to come a cropper against the impressive French.
Russia breezed past Lithuania at the weekend, yet were outdone 3-1 by Croatia in November in their previous clash with a fellow Euro 2016 participant.
Artem Dzybua should return in a 4-4-1-1 formation and Russia may opt to try and frustrate Les Blues here but with the Asian Handicap angle, we’ve the one-goal victory giving us a push and protection should France fail to fire.
Sweden v Czech Republic – Both Teams To Score (11/10 Coral)
Germany v Italy – Both Teams To Score (5/6 Ladbrokes)
France v Russia – France -1 Asian Handicap (41/40 Bet365)
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