Austria vs North Macedonia | Sunday 13th June 2020, 17:00 | ITV
Plenty of people have been quick to state that major tournament debutants North Macedonia will fail to win a single point – or even score a goal – at Euro 2020 and at first glance it’s easy to see why. But if you peer a little deeper, the average punter is wrong, in my opinion.
The Risovi will play their first-ever European Championship match against Austria in the Group C opener in Bucharest on Sunday. They finished third in their qualifying group behind Poland and Austria with a negative goal difference, yet it was the Nations League that offered them a route to the final.
One qualifying place was set aside to a team from the bottom League D of that competition, and North Macedonia topped a group with Armenia, Gibraltar and Liechtenstein before beating neighbours Kosovo and then Georgia. Their form leading into the finals suggests they should not be underestimated.
The Balkan nation have only lost two of their last 14 matches, a run that dates back to November 2019, during that time they have claimed some impressive results, most notably winning 2-1 away in Germany during a World Cup qualifier earlier this year.
North Macedonia have also found the net in 20 of their last 23 games going back to the start of 2019. Over the last calendar year, they have managed an Expected Goals (xG) average of 1.32 with of 1.50 goals scored per-game, conceding a xGA of 1.28 with 1.13 goals against. I think they will be fun to watch.
The Risovi's last warm up games was a 4-0 victory over Kazakhstan, which suggests that North Macedonia should be full of confidence, and they will be facing an Austria side that limped into the tournament after a run of just one win in six games, failing to beat Slovakia, Scotland or Norway and currently finding themselves 300+ minutes without a goal.
Austria won home and away against North Macedonia during that qualifying campaign, but the difference in form and confidence couldn’t be different. Over the last 12 months the pre-match favourites have given up an average of 1.44 goals per-game with a xGA of 0.94. They have shipped goals against Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Faroe Islands in the last year.
All the pressure of this game is on Austria with everyone expecting them to roll over the debutants, whereas the Risovi have nothing to lose, and I feel they will enjoy the underdog tag.
I am happy to take North Macedonia to score at 10/11 with Betfred. They scored in both of the qualifying games against Austria and will be up for the game in Bucharest.
The second bet I want to take is free kicks. Austria have been very aggressive in their two friendlies committing 15 fouls versus Slovakia and 19 against England. In the qualifiers they committed the second-most fouls with an average of 15 per-match, including 20 and 14 against North Macedonia. Interestingly, no sides suffered more fouls in qualifying that North Macedonia with an average of 16.92.
I am expecting the Risovi to set up with two holding midfielders and look to frustrate Austria – we know that they are struggling for goals. Austria picked up an average of 1.9 cards per qualifying match, and although they didn’t collect a card in either match when facing Sunday’s opponents, I feel that will change given Austria will see this a must win. Therefore, I am happy to take then to collect at least one card while North Macedonia have Over 15.5 Free-Kicks in the match at 43/50 with Bet365.
Austria had the fourth-highest number of offsides in qualifying with an average of 2.70 per-match, including six over two games against North Macedonia. If the game pans out as I expect, with the Lions keeping the game tight, then Austria will try to force the issue and offsides could easily rack up for them.
Bet365 are offering Over 1.5 Austria Offsides at 4/6 which is a little low, but I am happy to jump on Over 2.5 Austria Offsides at 7/5 with Unibet. This should give us plenty of opportunity at a slightly larger price than the other two bets that I have put forward for the game.