Bosnia v Armenia | Saturday 23rd March 2019, 19:45 | Sky Sports
In 2012 and 2016, Bosnia were denied the chance to play in the European Championship in the play-offs, so they’re aiming to make it third time lucky on this occasion. They’ve never actually played at the Euros, and head coach Robert Prosinecki will be adamant to change that.
Realistically, it looks as though Bosnia will battle with Italy and probably Greece for the top two positions. It is therefore important that they claim three points against Armenia in Zenica on Saturday night.
Armenia have never qualified for a major tournament full stop. In qualifying for Euro 2016, they finished bottom of their group, which albeit was quite strong, with zero victories. Arsenal playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan is their captain and very much their star man, but he is surrounded by names that most would have to look on Google to become aware of. Of course, they could surprise us all this time around, but that is perhaps wishful thinking.
Bosnia, on the flip side, are littered with quality players that play for the likes of Juventus, Roma, Arsenal, Salzburg, Hoffenheim and Athletic Bilbao. No game is played on paper but this is likely to be a quality mismatch. Bosnia will look to kick off their Group J campaign with a win, but they’ll be under pressure to do so.
The hosts generally switch their base venues between the Stadion Grbavica and the Bilino Polje Stadium, but that hasn’t appeared to be any real concern for them in relation to make home soil a place where opponents generally struggle to get a result from. Since a shock setback to Cyprus in September 2014, only Belgium has come out of Bosnia with three points, and even that was a 4-3 thriller.
On the flip side,, since a surprise victory away in Czech Republic all the way back in 2013, Armenia have only won one competitive away match. That was to Gibraltar last year, and they still conceded twice in a 6-2 win. It would be fair to say that they tend to be positioned in tough-looking group. Fourth is probably the best they can hope for in Group J, but they’ll very much set up looking to be hard to beat.
Something that has been noticeable in recent Bosnia matches is that there are a lot of 0’s in the score lines. Ten of their last 12 matches has seen BTTS ‘No’ pay out. Only Spain, Northern Ireland and South Korea have managed to score against them in that period.
Also, Bosnia have managed to keep a clean sheet in nine of their last 11 on home turf. Considering they Armenia conceded twice in all three of their UEFA Nations League away contests in Macedonia, Gibraltar and Lichtenstein, we can only see them struggling this weekend. Therefore, Bosnia to win ‘To Nil’ is a confident 21/20 (BoyleSports) selection.
Italy v Finland | Saturday 23rd March 2019, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Roberto Mancini is probably still looking to really stamp his authority on this Italian squad. He was appointed to the role in May 2018, taking over from the mess that Gian Piero Ventura left them in after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup for the first time since 1958.
Mancini is having to bring through the next generation of players. The likes of Buffon, De Rossi etc no longer on the squad list. There is still something of an experienced look to the current squad however, although not necessarily in relation to international caps. Mancini has only won three of his nine in charge, although two of those came in the last three.
Finland have never qualified for a major tournament but they are anything but whipping boys. They are within the top 60 (just) in the current FIFA rankings. That is ahead of the likes of Ivory Coast, but below nations such as Jamaica, who have only ever appeared at one World Cup.
The rankings system is not always a fair indicator however, so best ignore that. Italy will be tested this weekend and should not necessarily expect a routine victory in Udine.
Italian football has always had a reputation of defensive football going back many, many years now. Those who watch Serie A on a regular basis however would no longer subscribe to that opinion, but the record of the national team in recent times is anything but spectacular considering the pool of players that they can select from. Only two of their last 16 overall has ended Over 2.5 Goals. Just one of Finland’s last 12 has done so as well.
The pressure is very much on Italy to make a bit of a statement in this tournament. Mancini oversaw the Nations League campaign last time, finishing second to Portugal, but this is ultimately where he’ll be judged. They’re expected to win this group, but given the lack of goals in their games they’re going to have to work hard for every point, and goal.
On paper, Finland over a while have quite a strong run of form. Although they have lost their last two, there are still a number of W’s on their record in relatively recent times. They finished top of their Nations League group ahead of Greece, who also reappear in this group. Finland therefore will probably fancy their chances of battling for third spot. They’re not expected to get anything from Italy, but they can make life tough for the Italians.
Having said that, we very much expect the Italians to get the job done on Saturday night. Finland have failed to score in three of their last four away, and they don’t tend to travel too well. They lost in Greece and Hungary in the UNL, and only just edged past Estonia.
Home advantage is very much where their points are set to come from more often than not in this campaign. We’ve touched upon the lack of goals these two seem to be involved in as well. We’ve found some nice value using the Bet Builder: Italy to win, Under 3 Goals and Both Teams To Score ‘No’ at 8/5 (Bet365).
Bosnia v Armenia – Bosnia to win ‘to nil’ (21/20 BoyleSports)
Italy v Finland – Italy to win, Under 3 Goals and Both Teams To Score ‘No’ (8/5 Bet365)