WE tasked Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) with finding the best value bets from Thursday’s friendly international coupon.
Italy v Spain | Thursday 19.45
Italy’s contest with Spain in Udine is without doubt the standout friendly fixture on Thursday night with both nations looking to fine-tune their squads ahead of this summer’s European Championship.
The Stadio Friuli meeting represents a repeat of the Euro 2012 final, which Spain won at a canter in Kiev, scoring four without reply. And although I’m not expecting anything as clear-cut this midweek, I’m still favouring La Roja.
Doubt remains over who the European champions will select to lead the line – Paco Alcacer was Spain’s striker towards the end of qualification but is without a La Liga goal in two months – and so the onus could fall upon Alvaro Morata, fresh from two very impressive Champions League showings against Bayern Munich.
Alternatively, veteran Aritz Aduriz has finally been rewarded for a stunning return of 31 goals in 48 matches this term. However, the Athletic Bilbao hitman looks likely to start the match from the bench.
Nevertheless, Vicente del Bosque’s group have quality and experience across the board and with a glittery array of attacking midfielders to choose from, I’m not overly concerned about who’ll play in the number nine role.
It’s fair to say that during qualification, La Roja rarely shone, often squeezing past teams by the odd goal and with a jitter or two at the back. And during non-competitive games, Del Bosque has experimented to some extent, and largely to disappointing results.
But the 2010 world champions remain a force, in my eyes at least. It’s worth reminding ourselves the visitors churned out seven successive victories after losing in Slovakia, with five of their most recent six arriving by the 1-0 or 2-0 correct scores. Would a repeat be that surprising here?
If Spain’s friendly form has been below-par, take a look at Italy. The Azzurri are notoriously soft in these parts, bagging a pathetic three wins from a possible 21 non-competitive clashes (W3-D9-L9) – one of which came against minnows San Marino!
Even meaningful matches have been anything but convincing – Bulgaria and Malta were seen off by one-goal margins and you have to go back to 2012 for Italy’s last competitive success on home soil by two or more goals.
Marco Verratti, Andrea Barzagli and Ciro Immobile have withdrawn from Antonio Conte’s initial squad and there’s also doubts over the former Juventus boss here – never before have the Azzurri gone into a major tournament knowing their head coach will be leaving for pastures new.
Understandably, there’s plenty of scrutiny on Conte and the squad. It’s an inexperienced squad; uncapped duo Jorginho and Federico Bernardeschi have been included and they do look a little light up top. Southampton’s Graziano Pelle is the team’s leading scorer with just four international strikes.
These two have met eight times over the past eight years and it’s normally a tight affair, so I’ll back Spain to win 1-0 at 6/1 with BetVictor as well as Spain to win by exactly one goal at 14/5 with BetBright.
Turkey v Sweden | Thursday 18.45
The big news from camp Sweden is that captain and star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic won’t be involved on Thursday night.
Coach Erik Hamren opted to give the PSG forward a rest and Zlatan happily accepted the offer, clearing the way for John Guidetti to take over at the forefront for the Blue-Yellow’s offence.
Few teams will go into the Euros as reliant on one player as Sweden are Ibrahimovic. Hamren enjoys a healthy relationship with the forward and openly admits that national icon is the team’s only world-class player.
The Swedes are an experienced squad but lack the spark to really put teams to the sword. They’re industrious and without the leading light to pull them through, you do have to worry about their potential to mix it on the continent. As a Danish tabloid cattily put it, Ibrahimovic aside, Sweden's team is “about as interesting as an early morning trip to Ikea“.
Zlatan scored 11 goals during qualifying, including three in their victorious 4-3 aggregate play-off win over old rivals Denmark, but it’s worth noting, 23 nations averaged more shots per-game than the Blue-Yellow’s 12.42 during qualifying, including Greece, Israel and Northern Ireland.
The visitors’ friendly form reads W4-D2-L5 with triumphs coming against Estonia, Iran, Ivory Coast and Finland and over the past two years Sweden have returned W3-D4-L4 when playing away – beating Finland, Liechtenstein and Moldova.
With Zlatan absent, a rather meek attacking output and rather unimpressive stats, I’m happy to oppose the Swedes here. But again, I’m not expecting a one-sided contest and so entering the Winning Margin makes most appeal with Turkey to win by exactly one goal available at 5/2 (SkyBet).
Few people gave Turkey hope of reaching Euro 2016 after the side made their worst start to a qualifying campaign since preliminaries for Italia '90.
However, Fatih Terim’s team shipped just three goals in their last seven matches, beating the Netherlands 3-0 and Czech Republic 2-0 before a late winner against Iceland in their final qualifier saw them through as the best third-placed team.
The Crescent-Stars are now at their highest FIFA world ranking (21) since 2009 and have a talented and youthful squad filled with home-based players. Technically gifted Arda Turan and set-piece specialist Hakan Calhanoglu provide the star quality in a promising crop.
Turkey’s recent home record reads W8-D2-L3 and although the bulk of their friendlies have come against poor opposition, they can still boast a strong W10-D1-L2 record from their last 13 non-competitive matches.
But only three of those 10 successes arrived by more than a one-goal margin (against Kosovo, Bulgaria and Honduras) and I reckon the Swedes can keep the scoreline respectable in Antalya, having suffered just one loss by two goals or more in six years on the road.
Italy v Spain – Spain to win 1-0 (6/1 BetVictor)
Italy v Spain – Spain to win by exactly one goal (14/5 BetBright)
Turkey v Sweden – Turkey to win by exactly one goal (5/2 SkyBet)
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