MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) analyses the odds for the first Euro 2016 quarter-final contest between Poland and Portugal on Thursday night.
Poland v Portugal | Thursday 20.00 | ITV
Marseille is the setting for the first Euro 2016 quarter-final on Thursday night as Poland prepare to lock horns with Portugal at the Stade Velodrome.
Portugal have been chalked up as 13/10 favourites to clinch a victory in 90 minutes but the Selecao are winless thus far, drawing each of their four fixtures this summer. On that basis, their pre-match price looks a touch skinny.
However, the Iberians are making their sixth successive appearances at this stage of the European Championships and are looking to book their place in the semi-finals for the fifth occasion in seven participations. That’s pedigree.
Fernando Santos’ men are unbeaten in 11 competitive fixtures (W8-D3-L0) but all eight successes have arrived by a one-goal margin and the Portuguese haven’t completely convinced against Iceland, Austria, Hungary and Croatia.
The Selecao were involved in a goalless 90 minutes against Croatia in the last-16 but went through courtesy of a Ricardo Quaresma’s tap-in just three minutes from the conclusion of extra-time in a turgid affair.
There were no efforts on-target until the killer blow scored on the back of a swift counter-attack; creativity was lacking, passes misplaced and the game was blighted by niggly fouls.
Cristiano Ronaldo – scorer of just two goals in 12 knockout matches at major tournaments – again appeared frustrated, dropping deep and pulling out wide in a bid to get involved, but the ball to him was cut out more often than not.
If Portugal are accomplished continental knockout specialists, Poland are novices. It’s the White Eagles’ first ever quarter-final European Championship clash and Adam Nawalka’s side had to do it the hard way, requiring penalties to see off Switzerland in their last-16 encounter.
Poland dominated the firs-half of that contest without managing to kill off the Swiss and soon tired, especially in extra-time. Despite firing in 20 attempts on goal, only five were on-target and there remain doubts about their frontline.
Much was made of the White Eagles’ perceived firepower coming into this competition; the Poles were the top scorers in qualification but 15 (45%) of their 33 goals en-route to France came against no-hopers Gibraltar and Nawalka’s charges have struggled to find the back of the net at Euro 2016.
Poland re the lowest scoring side to reach the quarter-finals – scoring just three goals in four games – with Robert Lewandowski yet to notch and Arkadiusz Milik’s finishing eluding the Ajax forward when often well placed.
Coming into the competition, the White Eagles’ attack was lauded and their defensive system questionable but this tournament has seen the White Eagles’ backline defend resolutely with Nawalka’s men yet to trail in the tournament.
Xherdan Shaqiri’s stunner in the last-16 is the only goal in which Poland have shipped, and they’ve now churned out an impressive six clean sheets in eight outings. Despite the edginess in seeing off Ukraine and Northern Ireland each 1-0, the Poles can still boast two more wins than their opposition.
The 3/1 underdogs have no new suspension and injury concerns, other than Wojciech Szczesny, who is out. Lukasz Fabianski will continue in goal and from the outset the positives appear to outweigh the negatives for punters who want to support the White Eagles at a tasty price.
But I’m a little concerned by the condition of Poland. They did look physically vulnerable in the latter stages against Switzerland and with the major tournament matches rarely adventurous or clear-cut, I’m keen to explore options around the stalemate (2/1 NetBet).
Between 1980 and 2012, 42% of knockout ties went into extra-time and 30% were decided by penalty shootouts. Indeed, two-thirds of the ties that were level after 90 minutes were still level after 120 minutes so selecting the tie to be decided in extra time (6/1 SkyBet) or penalties (7/2 SkyBet) makes most appeal.
I’m also keen to enter the correct score market and back the 0-0 (11/2 NetBet) and 1-1 (11/2 NetBet). Eight (40%) of Euros quarter-finals since Euro ’96 have finished with either of these two correct scores collecting and these sides have failed to score more than one goal collectively in seven of their eight matches at Euro 2016.
All four of Poland’s fixtures have featured Under 2.5 Goals winners with three games paying out for Under 1.5 Goals backers. And looking through the history books, it’s intriguing to note that all 10 of Poland’s previous European Championship matches since 2008 have seen Under 2.5 Goals punters collect.
Portugal’s goalless game with Croatia means the Selecao have been involved in 8/11 (73%) Under 1.5 Goals winners in knockout football since Euro 2004, with only three featuring both sides scoring. Santos’ side scored just 11 goals in qualifying so the prospects of another low-scoring draw standout.