ALEX JONES (@AlexJ0nes9) analyses the odds as Northern Ireland travel to Bosnia for a vital Euro 2021 qualifying play-off.
Bosnia vs Northern Ireland | Thursday 8th October 2020, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Northern Ireland are looking to cause an upset in Sarajevo as they face Bosnia & Herzegovina for a chance to play Republic of Ireland or Slovakia in the Euro 2021 qualifying play-off final.
The Bosnians may have finished fourth in their group and subsequently sacked manager Robert Prosinecki – the Croatian great – but their home record in Sarajevo remains incredibly strong. Over the last four years, they have only lost twice in 13 games – albeit to European heavyweights Italy and Belgium.
Bosnia possess high calibre players, including Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic, whom are both expected to start after training well, according to reports.
The Bosnians have brought in highly regarded and experienced football manager Dusan Bajevic, previously of AEK Athens, Olympiakos and Red Star Belgrade. Despite a seven-year break from the sport, Bajevic has brought a much more measured style to their play, in contrast to Prosinecki.
The 71-year-old drew to Italy in his first match in charge, before losing from behind against Poland. The Bosnians had 38% and 45% possession respectively, committing a shocking 28 free-kicks against Poland – 25 of which were fouls – perhaps suggesting their more aggressive approach to the game under new management.
Bosnia have fallen at this stage of the competition on the last two occasions, but both were two-legged ties, and didn’t lose either of their home legs. It is fair to say they have the advantage of being at home here, in a one-off tie.
Ian Baraclough’s start to life as Northern Ireland boss could have been better, despite a resolute and defensively-sound performance in a draw with Romania, his side were torn apart by Norway and Erling Haland in the Nations League one month ago. That bruising defeat came in Belfast, and Baraclough’s men face a lengthy trip to the Balkan region here which is arguably his toughest test yet.
The betting angles
Both sides have found it difficult to keep clean sheets in recent times, with Northern Ireland shipping 12 goals in their last four away trips, whilst Bosnia have only kept two clean sheets in their 10 European qualification matches.
The last two head-to-heads, both in the Nations League just two years ago, saw Bosnia triumph 2-1 and 2-0, leading 1-0 at the break both times. I fancy Northern Ireland to get on the scoresheet here though.
Both Teams To Score (11/10 Bet365) looks good to me. To be getting odds against on neither team keeping a clean sheet seems generous considering defensive frailties for both sides of late, with both teams adapting to new ideas and philosophies with their respective new mangers.
Bosnia are the favourites here with 10/11 quotes on the hosts, but despite the bookies expecting a tight play-off fixture, which is understandable, Bosnia should have the quality to score at least twice.
Shades of 4/1 with Bet6365 on the hosts winning despite conceding is a good way in. The Bosnians do have quality on the pitch, and when looking at the Northern Ireland frontline, with Conor Washington likely to lead the line, I do wonder if the support of Paddy McNair in the no.10 position will be enough to see them qualify.
This game would ordinarily be played in front of a hostile Bosnian crowd in the country’s capital but with current circumstances the home side will have to motivate themselves with just 2,000 home fans inside the stadium after UEFA agreement.
The bookmakers have the 1-0 and 1-1 scorelines as most probable outcomes but the 8/1 available on the 2-1 to the hosts is tempting. It landed in the Nations League in 2018. Perhaps I will have a small dabble on that, but I will definitely be playing the bets outlined above.