Mark O’Haire’s Euro Tips – Wales v Slovakia
Two European Championship debutants lock horns in Bordeaux on Saturday evening with Wales and Slovakia knowing victory could prove decisive in their quest to qualify for the knockout stages of Euro 2016.
Wales v Slovakia, Saturday 11th June 17.00, BBC1
The two nations have met twice before during Euro 2008 qualification with the previous encounters producing 13 goals. However, a repeat scenario looks unthinkable with the Euros virgins so similar in style and set-up.
Wales – making their first appearance at a major tournament since the 1958 World Cup – are a team engineered to allow Gareth Bale maximum influence in the offensive third. The world’s most expensive player scored or assisted nine of the Dragons’ 11 qualifying goals (82%) and fired in 52 (39%) of Wales’ attempts on-goal.
But it would be rude to discount the impressive job carried out by the Reds’ defence. Home and away clean sheets against Europe’s top-ranked side Belgium deserves plenty of plaudits and the fluid 5-3-1-1 formation employed by Chris Coleman features regular Premier League performers Ashley Williams, Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey, to name just three.
Slovakia handed Spain their first qualifying defeat in 37 games en-route to France and the Repre returned 12 wins from 13 games during a wonderful 18-month purple patch up until June 2015. Jan Kozak’s men relish the underdog role and boast an organised and workmanlike squad that aims to give star playmaker Marek Hamsik creative license in forward areas.
Like Wales, Slovakia prefer to play on the counter-attack and can look a little bereft of ideas when asked to take the initiative in matches so it will be interesting to see how the contest plays out in the opening 45 minutes.
Unlike the Dragons, the Repre did enjoy a more free-scoring path to France and it’s worth noting 14 of their 17 goals arrived from open play, highlighting the attacking menace at Kozak’s disposal.
Billed as the weakest team in the pool, Slovakia’s eight game unbeaten streak (W5-D3-L0) coming into the competition includes a victory over world champions Germany.
It serves notice to Wales and Group B rivals that this side can most definitely play.
Wales were swept aside by Sweden in their final pre-tournament outing but with plenty of the Dragons’ regulars absent (including Bale) little should be read into it. However, Coleman’s charges have now W1-D2-L4 in their past seven, only beating Andorra in that sample.
It’s an obvious concern for Welsh backers but the Reds have proven themselves to be canny operators on the international scene and they look well capable of picking up a point in the tournament opener.
I suspect neither side will approach this contest in gung-ho fashion with a preference to protect. With that in mind, plus the fact Wales have seen nine of their past 12 competitive outings feature Under 2.5 Goals, a low-scoring draw looks the best avenue to profit.
The 0-0 correct score has banked on just eight occasions in the group-stage of European Championships since 1996 but at 5/1 it’s worth a poke here with the 1-1 draw also an attractive option at 9/2.
0-0 correct score @ 5/1
1-1 correct score @ 9/2
*Prices correct at time of publication.