Mark O’Haire’s Euro Tips – Russia v Slovakia
Russia v Slovakia
Neither Russia nor Slovakia managed to claim maximum points in their opening Group B skirmishes at Euro 2016, putting the pressure on both nations to produce a winning performance when they lock horns in Lille on Wednesday.
Russia v Slovakia, Wednesday 15th June 2016, 14.00, BBC1
Russia snatched a point against England in Marseille thanks to Vasili Berezutski’s stoppage-time header but the draw was barely deserved as England dominated the encounter and were made to pay for poor finishing.
Leonid Slutsky’s side were pressed into submission, made to look pedestrian and appeared off the pace in the face of England’s exuberance. Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev was forced into a stunning save from Wayne Rooney as England attempted nine first-half shots.
In fact, Russia’s winner – when Berezutski soared to send Georgi Schennikov’s header looping over keeper Joe Hart –was only their first attempt on-target since the 17th minute of the game, highlighting how timid the Sbornaya had been in the offensive third.
For Slovakia, a late Wales goal left the Repre with a 2-1 loss. Ondrej Duda punished passive Welsh defending to equalise after Gareth Bale’s dipping free-kick gave the Dragons the lead, before substitute Hal Robson-Kanu’s scuffed finish won it for the Welsh in Bordeaux.
Slovakia, making their first appearance in the finals stage of a European Championship and, having beaten Spain in qualifying and knocked Italy out of the 2010 World Cup, have already proved they have a taste for the big occasion.
And led by Napoli superstar and top-scorer in qualifying, Marek Hamsik, the Repre started strongly. Hamsik slalomed his way through Wales’ defence after three minutes and appeared certain to score, only to be denied by a brilliant goal line clearance from Ben Davies.
But Slovakia’s defence – with an average age of 31 – looked uncertain when under the cosh and it took time for Jan Kozak’s side to eventual settle and control possession. When they did, the Repre probed Wales for large swathes of the match and appeared capable of unlocking a stubborn Welsh backline.
However, apart from substitute Adam Nemec heading against the post late on, Slovakia failed to carve out enough clear-cut goalscoring opportunities to pinch at least a point. The loss was the first for Kozak’s men in nine outings (W5-D3-L1).
Still, Slovakia relish the underdog role and prefer to cede possession to the opposition and play on the counter-attack. Rarely do the Repre impress when matched in style and substance by their opposition – the Welsh game proving a perfect example of such Slovakian toils.
So against an uninspiring Russian outfit, the stage could well be set for Kozak’s troops.
Oppose The Russians
Russia have kept just two clean sheets in their past 16 games at the European Championships finals and were far from convincing en-route to France – exclude games against Moldova and the Sbornaya scored just 10 goals in eight qualifiers despite facing no major nation in their qualification pool, as well as the likes of Liechtenstein and Montenegro.
Injuries have robbed Slutsky of two key components in central midfield with defensive shield Igor Denisov and playmaker Alan Dzagoev crocked in the past few weeks. And Russia’s only triumph in six came against Lithuania.
There’s a distinct lack of game-changers in the Sbornaya squad and that could prove costly against the usually fast-starting Slovakians.
Since Euro 2012, Slovakia have scored 20 (71%) of their 28 competitive goals before half-time whilst Russia have taken just two points from a possible 21 when leaking the opening goal.
I’ve been keen to oppose Russia from the outset and so keeping Slovakia onside here is a given. The odds on offer make the 6/5 on Slovakia in the Draw No Bet market look too good to ignore whilst the aforementioned stats make Slovakia-Slovakia in the Half-Time/Full-Time market well worth a punt at 9/2.
Slovakia Draw No Bet (6/5)
Slovakia-Slovakia Half-Time/Full-Time (9/2)
*Prices correct at time of publication