MARK O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) has browed Friday’s Euro 2016 qualifying card to pick out the best bets on a busy night of international football.
Slovenia v Lithuania | Friday 19.45 | Sky Sports Interactive
Slovenia know victories over Lithuania and San Marino in their final two qualifiers would put them in pole position for a top-two finish should Switzerland falter in Estonia. The Lads hold head-to-head advantage over the Swiss and should at least have guaranteed a play-off place come Friday night.
Srecko Katanec’s men have gone 29 games without recording a draw (W12-D0-L17) but their recent form suggest they should have no trouble brushing aside Lithuania in the delightful Slovenian capital of Ljubljana. Since 2012, the Lads have W8-D1-L5 when hosting opposition sides.
That return looks all the more imposing when taking into account Slovenia’s home results in their last eight outings –W6-D0-L2. Only England (2-3) and Colombia (0-1) have left the country with a win with Katanec’s troops earning victories over Albania, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, San Marino and Estonia.
Of course, that’s not the most fearsome list of guests to visit but most impressively, all six wins came alongside a clean sheet. Taking only home qualifying matches into account, Slovenia have won five of their last six – all ‘to nil’ – with that England fixture the anomaly. A repeat is rated an eve-money chance by Boylesports and well worth an interest against the shot-shy visitors.
Slovenia beat Lithuania 2-0 away in the reverse fixture – the start of a W1-D1-L7 run for Igoris Pankratjevas’ visitors. In their last outing, the National Team conceded a goal to San Marino (their only win in that nine-match sequence) – it was the minnows’ first goal away since 2001 – and goes to show just how poor Lithuania are.
The travellers have failed to net in their last six away games, five of which were defeats. Going back to 2011, Lithuania have W2-D1-L7 of their qualifiers on the road with each defeat also coming ‘to nil’. No player in the squad has managed more than five international goals and no player plies their trade in Europe’s top leagues.
Slovakia v Belarus | Friday 19.45 | Sky Sports Interactive
Two games ago Slovakia were sure-fire automatic qualifiers for Euro 2016 but a solitary point from crucial clashes against Spain and Ukraine have delayed what seems to be the inevitable. Should the National Team beat Belarus on Friday night, they’ll book their place at Euro 2016.
Surprise Last 16 qualifiers at the 2010 World Cup, Slovakia went on to win just seven of 20 meaningful matches in failed attempts to reach Euro 2012 and the 2014 World Cup. That was until Jan Kozak’s appointment in August 2013 with the new boss sparking the side’s reinvention and realising the potential of a talented and experienced squad.
Under Kozak, the National Team won six successive qualifiers, beating Spain along the way, to top Group C and put Slovakia on the cusp of qualification. Recalled goalkeeper Matus Kozacik has excelled whilst the likes of captain Marek Hamsik, Martin Skrtel, Jan Durica and Juraj Kucka have matured and led the group with solid displays to match their club exploits.
Nine different goalscorers have contributed to Slovakia’s campaign and they should have enough nous and guile to unlock a stubborn Belarus side on Friday night. The National Team have W12-D1-L2 in their last 15 matches including friendlies with eight clean sheets kept and six of those victories by a margin of two goals or more.
Bet365 are allowing us back the hosts at 21/20 off a -1 Asian Handicap start and that holds plenty of appeal. Should Slovakia win by a solitary goal, we’ll get our cash back. But should they win by two or more goals, we’ll have ourselves a winner.
Belarus have been beaten in six of their last 10 fixtures as well as seven of their last 11 on the road. In qualifying matches Belarus have W1-D1-L6 away from Minsk and whilst only three of those defeats were by two or more goals, Aleksandr Khatskevich’s visitors have plenty of injury concerns.
The head coach said, “Sergei Kornilenko can't help the team and there are concerns over the fitness of Aleksandr Hleb. Timofei Kalachev also has problems, while Igor Shitov was limited to just light training on Monday. There is a shortage of players but we won't call people up just to make up the numbers.”
Slovakia should win here and we’ll profit with a comfortable success.
Lichtenstein v Sweden | Friday 19.45 | Sky Sports Interactive
This might need a bit of persuading but stay with me, I’m suggesting Lichtenstein are value off a +2.5 start on the Asian Handicap line at 7/8 with 888. Should Sweden win by three goals or more in Vaduz, the bet is a loser. But should the minnows stay within two goals, draw or bag a highly unlikely victory, we win.
I’ve watched Sweden many a time over the past few years and more often than not I’ve been a tad disappointed by their progress. For yonks they were superb Both Teams To Score material but too often than not, they’ve failed to deliver when it’s really mattered and their September qualifiers have really hit Erik Hamren’s side for six.
The Swedish boss and star Zlatan Ibrahimovic both described their back-to-back losses to Russia (0-1 away) and Austria (1-4 at home) as ‘disastrous’ and they're not wrong. The Blue-Yellow were appalling in Moscow and cut to ribbons when Group G leaders Austria came to Stockholm. It means the Swedes must now try and salve third-place, realistically.
Games against Lichtenstein and Moldova give the Blue-Yellow a great opportunity to seal a play-off place but I don’t see the visitors blowing either away. Of course, Sweden will dominate the ball on Friday night and the focus in training this week has been on speed in attack with full-backs looking to get crosses into the box early.
But Lichtenstein are well versed in defending deep and frustrating bigger, more powerful and well renowned nations. The hosts have already held Montenegro to a 0-0 draw in Vaduz and although they were spanked 7-0 by a revitalised Russia, the home side have only lost by three or more goals in five of their past 18 qualifying matches in the capital.
Sweden claimed top honours in the summer’s European U21 Championship and have Zlatan primed and ready but they’ve run out winners by three or more goals just twice on their travels since 2007, a run of 50 fixtures. One of those victories came at San Marino whilst Moldova (x2), Kazakhstan, Faroe Islands and Malta have all stayed with two goals of the Blue Yellow during that sample.
Switzerland v San Marino | Friday 19.45 | Sky Sports Interactive
If my previous selection requires a wee bit of faith, my final pick might make you laugh. But hey, hold on in there…
San Marino +5.5 on the Asian Handicap is offered at the downright stupid price of 860/1000 with Ladbrokes – in decimals that’s 1.86 – and believe it or not, it’s a bet that I fancy on Friday night.
In their last away day, the no-hopers scored their first goal on the road in 14 years (losing 1-2 in Estonia) sparking jubilant scenes of celebration. They’ll not stop Switzerland getting the three points that’ll seal Euro 2016 qualification but recent form suggests they can give the final score a bit of respectability.
For our bet to win we need San Marino to lose by five or fewer goals. A Swiss victory by six or more goals will see the selection sunk. And the minnows have stayed within five goals of their opponents in nine of their last 12 matches.
And since an 11-0 annihilation in the Netherlands back in 2011, San Marino have lost by five goals or fewer in eight of their 10 away qualifiers. Throw in the fact that Switzerland have scored six goals or more in a match just once since 1992 and I reckon we’ve a nice little handicap bet to cheer on.
Slovenia v Lithuania – Slovenia to win ‘to nil’ (1/1 Boylesports)
Slovakia v Belarus – Slovakia -1 Asian Handicap (21/20 Bet365)
Lichtenstein v Sweden – Lichtenstein +2.5 Asian Handicap (7/8 888)
San Marino v Switzerland – San Marino +5.5 Asian Handicap (1.86 Ladbrokes)
Paddy Power are 1/8 that England beat Estonia on Friday night. But if you're a new customer you'll get 3/1!
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