EURO 2016 has reached the knockout stages. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over Saturday’s last-16 tie between Wales and Northern Ireland in Paris.
Wales v Northern Ireland | Saturday 17.00 | BBC1
Wales’ reward for pipping England to top spot in Group B at Euro 2016 is a last-16 meeting with Northern Ireland in Paris on Saturday evening.
The Dragons produced a sensational performance to see off Russia in their last outing – and the 3-0 victory against Leonid Slutsky’s side proved to be enough for Chris Coleman’s men to top their section after Roy Hodgson’s side stumbled to a goalless draw against Slovakia in Saint-Etienne.
Goals from Aaron Ramsey and Neil Taylor put Wales firmly in the driving seat against Russia before talisman Gareth Bale sealed victory with a sweet second-half strike – his third goal of the tournament thus far – and the Real Madrid man will be determined to maintain his scoring streak in this “Battle of Britain” last-16 clash.
Bale became the first player to score in all three group games at the Euros since Milan Baros and Ruud van Nistelrooy did it in 2004 and since start of Euro 2016 qualifying, the world’s most expensive player has scored or assisted 12 of Wales' 17 goals in competitive games (71%),
Northern Ireland, though, could prove to be a tough nut to crack, for the boys from Belfast have conceded more than once in just one of their last 20 matches and they will hope that their impressive defensive record stands them in good stead against the Dragons this weekend.
Michael O’Neill’s men have confounded their critics on a number of occasions and, as underdogs for Saturday’s showdown, the Green & White Army will be determined to do it again in the French capital.
Northern Ireland made history in becoming the first nation to qualify for a major tournament as group winners after being drawn from pot five, while O’Neill’s outfit embarked on a remarkable 12-match unbeaten run – a national record – prior to making their debut in the competition against Poland.
O’Neill’s outfit failed to produce the kind of performance of which they are capable against Adam Nawalka’s side, but the disappointment of a 1-0 defeat in that match was banished by a historic 2-0 triumph over Ukraine – a victory that guaranteed a top three finish in Group C for the boys from Belfast.
Northern Ireland were outclassed in their final group game against Germany, but a slender 1-0 defeat meant the nation progressed to the knockout stage as one of the best third-placed teams at the tournament.
The Irish landed just four shots in two games against Germany and Poland and also recorded the lowest average possession figure of 28.5% in the competition. With seven of their past 10 competitive goals arriving from set-pieces, there’s concern over how or where the goals will come from.
Wales’ defensive discipline was pivotal to their success in qualifying for this competition, for Chris Coleman’s charges conceded just four goals in their 10 matches on the path to Paris, chalking up an impressive seven clean sheets – including both at home and away against Belgium.
The Dragons have only conceded eight goals in their last 15 competitive matches but Northern Ireland have shipped just 18 goals in their last 25 fixtures, meaning a tight tussle, is forecast.
O’Neill’s men have seen 21 of their last 26 games featuring fewer than three goals but with the odds compilers offering just 2/5 on Under 2.5 Goals, we’ll have to look elsewhere to extract value.
Since 2002 there have been 81 knockout matches at World Cups and European Championships and they’ve averaged just 1.84 goals-per-game with 19 finishing goalless and 47% producing fewer than two strikes.
Furthermore, 59% have been level at half-time and in the 44 opening knockout round games 32 (73%) have had fewer than three goals. Again, 37% of the 78 opening knockout matches at World and Euro Championships since 1990 have finished all-square.
Northern Ireland have conceded only two first-half goals in their last 23 matches and with all those overwhelming trends in our favour, it may pay to back the 0-0 half-time correct score (6/5 Netbet) as well as the draw and Under 2.5 Goals (11/5 Netbet).
Wales v Northern Ireland – Half-Time Correct Score 0-0 (6/5 Netbet)
Wales v Northern Ireland – Draw and Under 2.5 Goals (11/5 Netbet)