WILL Wales pick up the point they require to ensure Euro 2016 qualification on Saturday? Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) takes a look at the odds in Bosnia.
Bosnia v Wales | Saturday 19.45 | Sky Sports 2
It’s been an unforgettable qualifying campaign for Wales and the Dragons are now on the verge of sealing their place at a major tournament for the first time in 57 years.
The 1958 World Cup remains Wales’ one and only major tournament experience but should Chris Coleman’s team take a point from their final two fixtures (Andorra at home still to come) they’ll be assured of a place at Euro 2016.
Drawn in one of the toughest possible pools, the Welsh have continued to defy the odds and come into this clash as unbeaten Group B leaders (W5-D3-L0). That run of results has led to the Dragons moving into an all-time high of eight in the FIFA rankings. Include their non-competitive matches and Coleman’s charges have W7-D5-L1 in their past 13 fixtures.
There’s been no major masterplan but Wales have simply excelled defensively and allowed the world’s most expensive player Gareth Bale to strut his stuff. The Real Madrid superstar has been passed fit and he’s been involved in eight of Wales' nine goals in qualifying, scoring six including four in his last three appearances. He’ll once again shoulder the attacking burden.
But at the back, Coleman’s squad have proven almost immovable. Their tally of conceding just two goals (one a penalty) is the best in the Euro 2016 qualifying business as they’ve stopped Belgium (twice), Israel (twice) and Bosnia all from scoring. Wales had previously kept just two shutouts in 20 previous matches; they’ve now kept their opposition scoreless in six of their most recent seven.
Those defensive statistics should at least lend their hand to Wales getting a result in Zenica on Saturday. The Dragons already boast an outstanding W3-D1-L0 return in their four previous qualifying road trips with that penalty in Andorra the only goal Wayne Hennessey’s leaked. Boylesports have chalked up the visitors as 20/21 shots in the Double Chance market and that appeals.
But for all Wales’ outstanding backline performances, this is all-or-nothing for Bosnia. A rotten start (W0-D2-L2) put the Golden Lilies on the back foot and that terrible opening sequence has ensured Mehmed Bazdarevic’s men will miss out on a top-two finish. But siting just two points adrift of third-placed Israel, the play-offs are still well within range.
With Israel expected to beat Cyprus on home soil, Bosnia simply have to go all out for the win to keep their qualification hopes alive. The Golden Lilies have been boosted by the fitness of Edin Dzeko – scorer of seven goals in seven Euro 2016 qualification games – but Muhamed Besic is suspended.
It’s perhaps surprising to see the home side rated odds-on and those cramped odds just have to be avoided. However, it’s worth noting that the 2014 World Cup finalists have W6-D1-L2 at home in their past two qualifying campaigns and do offer significant threats across the park.
As well as Dzeko, Bazdarevic can call upon top-class Serie A talent in Miralem Pjanic and Senad Lulic to conjure up moments of magic from midfield. Knowing they must go all out for the three points, I’d expect Bosnia to throw everything at this match and I can see them grabbing a goal – they’ve netted in each of their last five.
But despite their arsenal of attacking weapons, the Golden Lilies don’t have the most eye-catching of defensive records. Those aforementioned nine qualifiers returned just two clean sheets and a Bale-led Wales can extend that record. Six of those meaningful matches on home soil returned winning Both Teams To Score bets and seven broke the Over 2.5 Goals mark.
With Bosnia unable to keep the goals out but an expectancy to strike themselves, BTTS looks a real runner at even-money with William Hill. But can the home side breach the Dragons defence twice? Perhaps. I’m just unwilling to count on it.
So whilst the 1-1 correct score (13/2 888) holds plenty of appeal, I'll keep things simple by backing Wales in the Double Chance market as well as BTTS – an outcome that should sent Cardiff into party mode no matter the result of the rugby this weekend.
Bosnia v Wales – Wales double chance (20/21 Boylesports)
Bosnia v Wales – Both Teams To Score (1/1 William Hill)
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