WORLD football obsessive James O'Rourke (@JamesOR1) shares his thoughts on Saturday's Nations League best bets.
Serbia v Montenegro | Saturday 17th November 2018, 14:00 | Sky Sports
These two have been sole footballing nations for a while now, after Montenegro declared their independence in 2006. This will be the second ever meeting between the pair, the first being when the sides met earlier in this Nations League group phase. Serbia ran out 2-0 winners in Podgorica to give them control of Group 4 in League C heading into the final two matches.
The only thing currently certain in this group is that Lithuania will be finish, and have been relegated to Group D. Another win for Serbia here would see qualification confirmed only if Romania would lose to Lithuania. Back-to-back wins regardless will 100% seal promotion into Group 3.
Montenegro winning this and also their final clash with Romania would mean promotion for the Brave Falcons.
Despite not qualifying out of their group, it still wasn't necessarily a bad World Cup for Serbia. They would have expected to defeat Costa Rica, which they did. They would suffer a narrow 2-1 defeat to Switzerland, a match they deserved a draw from at least. They would give Brazil a good game for long spells as well before going down 2-0 to mean their summer in Russia didn’t end with love.
What Serbia have done since is fully embrace the Nations League, and they currently hold an unbeaten record. It began with actually quite a comfortable 1-0 win in Lithuania, followed up quickly by a home draw with Romania, where they twice gave away the lead.
Then came the victory in Montenegro, a clash they always had control of after taking the lead inside 20 minutes. A recent draw in Romania was a solid outcome in one aspect, but they did face 10 men for practically half the match, but couldn’t force a winner. Overall, it was a bore 0-0 draw.
Serbia shall be targeting maximum points in Belgrade, at a venue which they have turned into a fortress in recent times. The Rajko Mitić Stadium, otherwise known as Red Star Stadium, is the home of Red Star Belgrade and held their recent 2-0 Champions League win over Liverpool. It has been a great place for the national team to play their football as well.
Their last competitive defeat here came back in October 2015, when a late Joao Moutinho effort took home the spoils for Portugal. In qualifying for the last World Cup, only home nations duo Wales and Ireland took home any points.
We’re looking at odds of around 1/3, 2/5 and 4/9 for a Serbia win here. That is no surprise at all given they won away from home against this opposition, and they are probably the best side in this group as well. On paper, they have by far the best set of players as well, certainly in comparison to Montenegro.
We all know about the likes of Aleksandar Kolorov, Dusan Tadic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Aleksandar Mitrovic, who are very much the spine and basis of this side, and have been for a while.
Montenegro no longer have the likes of a Stevan Jovetic within their ranks. They do have defender Adam Marusic, who plays his football in Italy for Lazio. However, they are tinkered with players from the likes of Incheon United of South Korea and Maccabi Netanya of Israel. They don’t hold any players that will make the average football supporter stand up and take notice and only five ply their football outside of the country.
Matches involving these two sides don’t tend to contain too many goals in recent times. Take Serbia to start with, their four matches in this group so far have only had seven goals within them. For Montenegro, it is nine, but five of those came within the latest away win in Lithuania.
This appears to have been a common trend for Serbia over time. Since the start of the last World Cup qualification campaign, and including friendlies, only five matches have ended over 3.5. One was the 2-2 draw with Romania earlier in this group, two of those were in clashes with Austria and another in a friendly.
Looking at Montenegro, since the beginning of the last World Cup qualification period, again including friendlies, only six have ended over 3.5. One being the recent win in Lithuania, two being routine home wins to Kazakhstan and Armenia, one more was a friendly, too. Clearly they don’t associate themselves with goals either. They don’t possess too many goals within their side, so try to focus on being hard to beat.
Serbia should be the team to side with here – they are the better team after all. Montenegro really need to try and win this though so iIt might start out a little cagey but should open up later on. It could be that only one goal is enough to win this.
Whoever takes the lead would likely sit back afterwards. Therefore, Serbia to win and Under 3.5 Goals being available at 20/21 (BoyleSports) is too good to ignore on this occasion. It would completely go against the grain for this to contain too many goals.
Romania v Lithuania | Saturday 17th November 2018, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Romania host already-relegated Lithuania looking to keep what appear to be rather slim hopes of winning promotion into Group 3 alive in League C.
As mentioned, no matter what Lithuania do here and in their final group match against current leaders Serbia, they are down and out. They will therefore be looking to play the role of party spoilers this weekend to a degree.
Having said that, Romania need to win here first and foremost, and then when travelling to Montenegro in their final match. Even that may not be enough, as they would then be relying on Serbia losing both matches. Still, Cosmin Contra have only been in the job for around a year and he’ll be eager to try continue their unbeaten run.
Speaking of that unbeaten run, Romania are indeed without defeat in their last eight matches overall. In fact, if we ignore losing to Netherlands and Montenegro in a friendly and World Cup qualifying respectively, they are unbeaten since June 2017. They’ve faced some decent opponents in that period.
The Tricolorii have beaten Chile twice, albeit in friendlies, Sweden and Turkey has also been beaten. They do tend to fall short against sides at the level above, such as the likes of Netherlands, Poland and Russia.
Lithuania however are certainly not in that bracket and it is no shock at all that they have indeed been relegated. Lithuania have played four and lost four in this group. Their motivation now is purely to ensure it is not six defeats from six. They are on an alarming run of poor results, so there is every chance that will continue to slide down the Nations League pyramid.
Lithuania have not tasted a competitive victory since October 2016, which was a home encounter with Malta. They wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t mention friendly wins over Armenia and Sri Lanka earlier this year.
One thing that is for certain is they don’t travel well. Their last competitive away victory was in San Marino in September 2014. Since then, they have managed draws to the likes of Poland, Scotland, Slovenia and Malta, but again, these type of scores are few and far between. They have tended to be involved in tough qualification groups, and again here in the Nations League, but even if we go a little further back in time, they’ve also lost away to teams such as Georgia, Estonia, Malta and Iran.
Just like we touched upon in the game above, we can also apply here to the ‘on paper’ approach. Of course, no match is ever won on paper, but perhaps on the international scene is the best situation for that to possibly apply.
In the Romania squad, we have players from the likes of Nantes, Sparta Prague, PAOK, FCSB, Nottingham Forest, Leicester City, Mainz, Standard Liege, Ludogorets and Palermo; all solid outfits.
With respect to those in the Lithuania team, we’ll probably be needing help from Wikipedia to determine where some are from. We of course know the likes of Hibernian and Falkirk from Scotland. However, the rest are made up from teams in Lithuania itself, Israel, Azerbaijan, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to name but a few.
As expected, odds on a Romania win are very short. You’re looking at around 1/4 and 2/7 mark. They are likely to be popular in the accumulator market this weekend. We feel as though we can bump those up however and discover some additional value. It may appear like Déjà vu, and we are again going along the 3.5 goal route.
A Romania win and Under 3.5 Goals is available at 4/5 (BoyleSports). We view this as an excellent price, and here is why. Once again, the numbers point towards this being a routine and rather unspectacular home victory.
Over the last 15 games for Romania in all competitions, it reads nine wins, four draws and two losses. Only four of those have ended over 3.5, two of those were versus Chile in friendlies. Another was the 2-2 draw in Serbia earlier within the current Nations League campaign. Even in qualification for the last World Cup, where they finished fourth in a group containing Poland and Denmark, there was only an average of 2.2 goals within their matches. Just 3/10 ended over 3.5.
Lithuania, as mentioned, are in poor form, so they are going to be on the end of some heavy beatings, certainly against some of the stronger teams they face. However, it is probably not as many as they might think. The 3.5 goal line is a good barometer of this.
Since the start of the 2016 World Cup qualification campaign, and including friendlies, only six of Lithuania's matches ended over 3.5. They’ve lost 4-0 to the likes of Slovakia, Georgia and Poland, whilst it was 4-1 to Montenegro earlier within the current Nations League group. They only lost 2-0 at Wembley to England last year, whilst earlier in the group they lost 2-1 in Lithuania to Romania. They scored a last-minute goal to make it seem tighter than it actually was.
We do not envisage goals here, but we very much see Romania coming out on top. They have greater motivation on their side, whilst also probably looking to save a little energy for the tough trip to Montenegro next week.
Also, for what it is worth, historically this fixture doesn’t contain many goals. They’ve met nine times since 1996. The scores read as follows: 3-0, 0-1, 1-0, 1-2, 0-1, 0-3, 0-1, 1-0 and 1-2.
Serbia v Montenegro – Serbia to win and Under 3.5 Goals (20/21 BoyleSports)
Romania v Lithuania – Romania to win and Under 3.5 Goals (4/5 BoyleSports)