WILL DYER (@w2Dyer) doesn’t hate the international weekends as much as most. Here he browses the coupon for some gems involving the minnows of European football.
Bulgaria v Belarus | Sunday 17:00 | Sky Sports Red Button
The hosts of this Group A tie look a little underrated to me. Bulgaria have conceded a whopping 10 goals in just three games so far but they have already faced the current top two, Sweden and France in that stint.
Their guests Belarus have yet to win and results have been somewhat mixed. A draw at home to France was a brilliant result but they were lucky to say the least. They followed that up with a heavy loss to the Netherlands and then failed to beat Luxembourg at home.
Goals have been very hard to come by over the years for the White Wings.
Bulgaria on the other hand have looked good going forward for the first time in a while. Ivelin Popov has always been relied upon but recently Aleksandar Tonev, who plies his trade in the Serie A for Crotone, has started to chip in.
The Lions put four past Luxembourg in an albeit topsy-turvy affair winning 4-3 back in September. They have won all three previous meetings with Belarus at home, a 4-1 win in 2000 and 2-1 in 2014, of which both were friendlies, but also a 2-1 win in Euro 2008 qualification.
Since 2012 Bulgaria have lost just four of their 15 home matches posting a W6-D5-L4 record. I feel they should be odds-on for the three points here but instead 5/4 is available at William Hill.
Luxembourg v Netherlands | Sunday 17:00 | Sky Sports 4
With a population of half a million, Luxembourg remains a small country but just like a few of their European counterparts they are experiencing progress with their national football team.
Iceland, San Marino, Liechtenstein and Faroe Islands can all point towards goals and wins over the last few years that have put them on the footballing map.
The Red Lions have risen 65 places in the FIFA rankings to 130th in the world over the last decade and although we know these are not to be trusted it is still a good indication of morale and ability in the camp.
Luxembourg have even scored four goals in three games in Group A and have notched against Latvia, Nigeria, Belarus, Bulgaria, Greece, Slovakia, Macedonia and Turkey in their last 16 matches in all competitions. Scoring against the Netherlands then is perhaps not as unlikely as first thought.
Danny Blind’s side have suffered a lot since finishing third in the 2014 World Cup under Louis van Gaal. The Oranje failed to qualify for Euro 2016 and since then have kept a clean sheet in just one of their 11 games.
In Euro 2016 qualification they conceded 14 goals in just 10 matches and lost home and away to both the Czech Republic and Iceland. Defence has never been the Dutch strong point but now more than ever them seem to be floundering.
There’s been a shift from a back five to a back four under Blind and you would expect with Virgil van Dijk’s club form that and Daley Blind getting used to life in a meaner defence at Manchester United that improvements would have occurred but that’s not been the case.
Against Belgium in a friendly earlier this week, Netherlands had just 39% possession and the draw flattered them. The problem with the defence is that Jeffrey Bruma, Joel Veltman and van Dijk are all technically centre backs. There must be some confusion of responsibilities going on somewhere.
Consequently I think that Both Teams To Score with Luxembourg playing at home looks a big price at 8/5 with Betfair.
Luxembourg haven’t scored in the last eight games against Holland but prior to that they scored in four consecutive matches against them between 1957 and 1963 in European and World Cup qualification, once even beating them 2-1 in Amsterdam.
To me there are signs that a bit of a scare could be about to raise its ugly head for the Dutch and I certainly wouldn’t have Luxembourg as 22/1 shots at home.
Portugal v Latvia | Sunday 19:45
Whilst many of the minnows have seen an improvement in both performances and results the same cannot be said about Latvia.
The Red White Red have lost comfortably at home to both Hungary and the Faroes Islands 2-0 so far and only narrowly beat Andorra 1-0 in a game in which they were actually out-played.
Portugal on the other hand have smashed 12 goals past their last two opponents in back-to-back 6-0 wins over Andorra and the Faroe Islands. On that basis you’d expect a similar hammering for Latvia, especially in Lisbon.
Latvia’s star midfielder Aleksandars Cauna, who plays for CSKA Moscow, is out injured too to make matters worse. Scoring a goal looks beyond them.
The Selecao have a player on their hands in Andre Silva. The Porto striker has four goals in as many caps and Cristiano Ronaldo already has five in this World Cup qualification campaign.
All in all the European champions are a cut above their visitors and so Portugal -3 on the Asian Handicap at 22/23 with 888 looks a bet.
Win by four goals or more and we have a winner, three and it’s void. Anything less than a 3-0 win and we have a losing bet but I’m pretty confident that Portugal will be rampant on Sunday.
Bulgaria v Belarus – Bulgaria to win (5/4 William Hill)
Luxembourg v Netherlands – Both Teams To Score (8/5 Betfair)
Portugal v Latvia – Portugal -3.0 Asian Handicap (22/23 888Sport)