Nations League – Slow burner in store from Helsinki


WORLD football obsessive James O'Rourke (@JamesOR1) shares his best bets from Monday's Nations League action.

Finland v Greece | Monday 15th October 2018. 19:45 | Sky Sports

Finland sit at number 58 in the latest FIFA World Rankings, but there is every chance that will increase the next time they are published.

Going into this home assignment versus Greece, Finland have won their previous four, keeping clean sheets in them all in the process. In fact, the last time they tasted competitive defeat was a narrow home loss to Ukraine in World Cup qualifying back in June 2017.

Markku Kanerva certainly has his charges playing an effective brand of football. They are without defeat in their last eight at the Helsinki Olympic Stadium, keeping clean sheets in seven of those. This includes a solid 1-0 success over Iceland, who of course made it to the last World Cup.

Prior to that, they had only tasted victory at home once in over three years; so they are certainly on the turnaround.

Greece, however, enter this clash in good spirits following a home win versus Hungary a few days ago. Michael Skibbe’s side had to be patient, waiting until the 65th minute to score the only goal thanks to Marseille striker Kostas Mitroglou.

This was a tight encounter, which is a common theme for many of Greece's games of late. The same can also be said for Finland, meaning a close encounter is anticipated on Monday night.

Greece have already tasted victory on the road in the UEFA Nations League when edging out Estonia, again 1-0. Again, unspectacular, against an outfit who have a 100% 1-0 losing record in this maiden tournament so far. Greece dominated in the away match-up with Hungary last month, but went down to a 2-1 defeat.

When Hungary visited Finland in September, they too controlled just shy of 60% possession but went away losing. Tactically, a similar sort of blueprint is quite likely, with Finland again looking towards their strong defence, which contains Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky in behind, to keep the visitors at bay.

One thing Greece are at the minute is being consistently inconsistent. Their last two victories have been followed up with defeats, so Skibbe will look for his outfit not to concede a sloppy early goal to give them a bit of a mountain to climb.

Finland are the definition of organised, and Greece need to prove that they have the creative spark to break them apart.

This pair met in 2014/15 during Euro 2016 qualification, with Finland leaving with four points combined. It is very much advantage Finland in the group, as they sit top with a 100% record. Therefore, a draw would certainly suit them more than Greece, who will be going for victory.

They aren’t necessarily a side that fall into the prolific goalscorers category, as only twice, one being against Gibraltar, have they netted more than one goal in a game since 2016.

There is quite a bit riding on this game, and therefore I believe the best angle to approach this is focusing on the first half. This should be a very tight and cagey period of the game. Greece will be wary of conceding first against a side on a great run of clean sheets.

Greece should control the possession, but it remains to be seen if Kostas Fortounis is the man to break the Finnish rearguard down early on. Therefore, the 0-0 half time score pays 7/5 (Bet Stars) and it should provide a good run for your money.

Rather than going on the goal line market, as the game could easily open up later on, this appears the best way to go. Six of Finland’s last seven have contained two goals or less, whilst the same can be said in six of Greece’s previous seven, so goals aren’t expected.

Luxembourg v San Marino | Monday 15th October 2018, 19:45 | Sky Sports

Luxembourg saw their four-game unbeaten run ended in Belarus on Friday; losing 1-0. It was only a goalkeeping error that led to the goal itself, and Luc Holtz’s side had a good go in the second half, but perhaps fairly came off second best.

However, they will be relishing the chance to return to their Stade Josy Barthel ground, where they have overseen an excellent run of results of late.

Barring a heavy loss to Austria, which was to be expected, Luxembourg are unbeaten here since early 2017. This includes victories over Albania, Belarus, Hungary, Georgia and Moldova, whilst holding Senegal to a creditable draw as well.

Whilst they have had mainly poor fortunes on the road, they still managed to overcome San Marino 3-0 a month ago. Luxembourg are very much in contention to possible win this group, sitting just a point behind Belarus.

San Marino may be participating in a group which on paper should be a lot easier than they are usually thrown into for World Cup and European Championship qualification, but it is still the same old story for the minnows.

The fact it is rare for them to even score a goal suggests that their ambitions and expectations are not great. This is of course to be expected given the pool of players available to France Varrella, who has been in the job since January.

A 2-0 defeat in Moldova was actually quite respectable by their very low standards, but they still only saw less than 30% of the ball and mustered only three shots on goal compared to the 32 from their rather low quality opposition.

Luxembourg netted three in the away tie in this particular duel last month, something they’ve only managed to do twice as long as recent records can go back to. That highlights how poor Luxembourg are normally on their travels, but even more so how San Marino are again going to in all likelihood have another tough night on Monday.

Luxembourg managed to smash Moldova 4-0 in their last home game, which came earlier in this UEFA Nations League tournament. They’ve even managed to score at home to the likes of France and Netherlands in recent years.

Clearly, barring a huge shock, Luxembourg will make it three wins from four in UEFA Nations League action and San Marino continuing their 100% losing record. Finding an angle is tough, and given the fact that the best price on a Luxembourg win is 1/16 says it all.

Luxembourg scored three in the away leg and could have easily scored more. Luxembourg won’t be so used to dominating the ball as they are likely to do here, so expecting a cricket score is perhaps not extremely likely.

Luxembourg to win 3-0 pays 81/20 (Marathon) and the hosts to be victorious 4-0 at 51/10 (Unibet) could be the best way to go if we back both angles.

Best Bets

Finland v Greece – 0-0 half-time correct score (7/5 Bet Stars)

Luxembourg v San Marino – Luxembourg to win 3-0 (81/20 Marathon)

Luxembourg v San Marino – Luxembourg to win 4-0 (51/10 Unibet)

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