Mark O’Haire’s Euro 2016 Qualifier Tips – Sunday’s Matches
When the draw was made for the Euro 2016 qualifying pools nobody gave Wales a chance at winning the group.
Wales v Israel, Sunday 6 September 2015 (17.00), Sky Sports 1
The Dragons were rated 50/1 shots to finish top of the tree but seven games into their Group B excursions and Chris Coleman’s side are unbeaten (W5-D2-L0) and on the verge of qualifying for their first major tournament in 58 years.
It’s been a remarkable journey for the Reds who, only four years ago were scrabbling around as the 117th ranked nation in the world. Victory over Israel at the Cardiff City Stadium will secure their place in France next summer with plenty of Dragons fans even suggesting, it’s the biggest game in Wales’ footballing history.
That’s perhaps a little extreme and Coleman’s men do have breathing space should things go wrong on Sunday. But it’s hard to imagine Wales will flop now having come through two games against a highly-rated Belgium outfit as well as a dangerous Bosnia unscathed.
The hosts have now won six of their past nine competitive fixtures without tasting defeat thanks to Gareth Bale’s 82nd minute header in Cyprus on Thursday. And the Reds appear to relish their role as match favourites too having justified their pre-match position in 10 of their most recent 12 competitive games in front of their home supporters.
James Chester is likely to return to the centre of defence on Sunday and it’s a backline that’s functioned superbly thus far. Wales have now gone 414 minutes without conceding in qualifying and no side in any group has produced as many clean sheets as Coleman’s troops (five).
So it would be harsh to suggest the Dragons are a one-man band but the significance of Bale’s contribution can’t be overlooked.
The Real Madrid man netted a brace in Haifa during the 3-0 victory over Israel in the reverse fixture whilst only Robert Lewandowski has plundered more goals during qualification than Bale’s six.
In fact, the world’s most expensive player has scored 60% of the Reds’ goals, including the last four, netting a superb 15 goals in his last 20 appearances in the national team’s shirt since 2011. Wales are already a very attractive 20/23 to seal qualification with a win but Bale scoring in a Welsh victory at 13/10 is once again the standout value selection.
Israel ended a three-game losing streak with a comprehensive 4-0 thrashing of Andorra on Thursday. But the visitors typically struggle on the road, losing four of their most recent seven away days with all four losses by two clear goals. Eli Guttman’s team notched just seven wins in 18 on their travels but those victories came against minnows such as Malta, Luxembourg, Northern Ireland, Honduras (twice), Cyprus and Andorra.
Israel have outlined the encounter as a ‘must not lose’ game but having failed to net in two of their previous four and unable to cope with Wales’ organisation or world class match winners back in March, it’s hard to find faith in them spoiling the Dragons party in Cardiff on Sunday night.
Best Of The Rest
Italy can consolidate their place at the top of Group H when Bulgaria arrive on Sunday night. Antonio Conte’s men came in for fierce criticism after their lacklustre 1-0 victory over Malta on Thursday but with Croatia failing to beat Azerbaijan, the Azzurri leapt to the top of the pile.
However, the Italians have been far from free-flowing during qualification, as that Malta victory displayed. The hosts have returned W4-D3-L0 but were forced to come from behind to earn a 2-2 against the Bulgarians in Sofia with three of their four wins arriving by a one-goal margin.
So whilst the Azzurri’s sensational W31-D6-L0 record at home in qualification matches since 1999 deserves maximum respect, it’s worth noting that Sunday’s home side have only managed to win by a margin of two goals twice in their past 31 internationals.
And I don’t see Conte’s charges blowing away a stubborn Bulgaria side.
The visitors suffered a damaging 1-0 defeat to Norway last time out, leaving Ivaylo Petev’s side five points behind the Norwegians. But only two of their past 25 outings have seen them outclassed by two goals or more and I reckon they can play their part in an ugly Italy win – the hosts to come out on top by exactly one goal is a nice 12/5 play.
Wales v Israel – Wales to win (20/23)
Wales v Israel – Wales to win + Gareth Bale to score (13/10)
Italy v Bulgaria – Italy to win by exactly one goal (12/5)
*Prices correct at time of publication.