ALEX JONES (@AlexJ0nes9) analyses the odds as Northern Ireland travel to Slovakia for a vital Euro 2021 qualifying play-off.
Northern Ireland vs Slovakia | Thursday 12th November 2020, 19:45 | Sky Sports
So, Ian Barraclough’s men are one win away from next summer’s European Championships. Northern Ireland must first defeat Slovakia on Thursday evening, which will no doubt be an incredibly tough test for the hosts.
The Belfast boys have the home advantage here – with the it being held at Windsor Park – meaning 1,060 fans will be allowed in to hopefully get them past the line. They will fancy their chances though, after fellow UK counterparts Scotland defeated the Slovaks in the Nations League last month.
One of Barraclough’s main men – Stuart Dallas – has this week spoken of the achievement it would be if they were to reach the finals, stating it would top 2016’s successes, when they qualified for Euro 2016.
Dallas has been in fantastic form for Leeds on their return to the Premier League this campaign, with his first ever Premier League goal against Leicester last week meaning he has now bagged a goal scored in all of English football’s four divisions.
- Northern Ireland haven’t won any of their last nine competitive fixtures in 90 minutes.
- They have only scored twice in their last five European Qualification games (90 minutes).
- 16 of the last 17 teams to play Northern Ireland have picked up at least one yellow card.
- Have only two clean sheets in their last 14 matches in all competitions.
- Average only 8.3 shots per game in the current Nations League campaign.
- Are fouled on average 16 times per game in the Nations League (Four games).
Northern Ireland won the last round on penalties when they defeated Bosnia. The confidence and belief that must have instilled into the squad must be huge and must have given them a huge boost heading into the final showdown on Thursday.
Norn Iron will have to alter their form in the Nations League, though, as they are still yet to win in the Nations League since its introduction after the 2018 World Cup. They have played eight and lost seven, scoring in only four games just the once. However, it must be said that they had Germany and Netherlands in their group, against whom they lost three games.
Northern Ireland have actually won 14 of their last 18 on home turf if you were to exclude top nations such as Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland and World Cup finalists Croatia, dating back to October 2015. Nine of these 14 finished either 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1 in Belfast.
I’ll play it safer and back the half-time score of 0-0 which I really fancy at 5/4, given it has landed in 50% of their last 26 games, so the odds are slightly on our side.
The away side beat Republic of Ireland on penalties in the last knockout round as well. That was another drab affair with a 0-0 being played out before it eventually got to penalties where Tottenham’s Matt Doherty missed a crucial penalty.
Yet Slovakia really are uninspiring. The visitors have only beaten Azerbaijan in normal time in the last 13 months, winless in eight of nine matches. Slovakia are much improved on home turf and their away form makes for pretty dire reading.
The bookies are expecting a tight encounter with Under 2.5 Goals being an incredibly low 4/9 shot. Very rarely do you see football matches close to 2/1 for three or more goals but given the occasion and the nature of these two sides it does look unlikely that goals will occur.
With high stakes and nerves aplenty, and considering both sides qualified off the back of penalty shootout wins, the 4/1 available on Bet365 for the match to be won after penalties did take my eye. The draw is as short as 9/5 in places so to eke out extra value and interest in this one I’ll have stab on the 4/1 shot instead.