Mark O’Haire’s International Tips – Friday
There was a major groan when Ireland picked out Bosnia in the Euro 2016 qualification play-off draw last month. The non-seeds were desperately hoping to avoid arduous away journeys to either Bosnia or Ukraine but after being handed Estonia at the equivalent stage four years ago, perhaps luck was evening itself out.
Bosnia v Republic of Ireland, Friday 13th November 2015, 19.45 Sky Sports 1
So two games against the Balkan boys will decide who’ll be booking their place in next summer’s European Championships in France and who’ll be heading elsewhere for their off-season holiday. And perhaps understandably, it’s Bosnia who have been favoured by the bookies.
Friday’s hosts are even-money shots with BoyleSports to pocket the first leg victory and having gotten off to an awful start, the Dragons soon roared into action to clinch third-spot with a W5-D2-L3 record. All five victories arrived in their final six fixtures following Mehmed Bazdarevic’s appointment.
Bosnia’s attack is rightly lauded. In Roma duo Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic, they possess two of Europe’s hottest forward-minded players. Dzeko notched seven goals during qualifying and has netted in each of his last three on home soil whilst Pjanic is the fulcrum of Bazdarevic’s side. Should Ireland nullify his influence, they’ll stand a chance, because the Dragons just aren’t as fearsome in defensive areas.
Their lack of stability at the back is displayed in their goals against tally – the hosts leaked 12 in qualifying, making them the leakiest defence competing in the play-offs. They may have beaten Wales 2-0 in Zenica in October but Chris Coleman’s travellers carved out plenty of opportunities – the gritty Irish will be hopeful of following suit.
Bosnia have W6-D1-L1 at their compact ground but they’re coming up against a Republic side with one loss in eight. That came in their final encounter with Poland but having taken four points off world champions Germany, head coach Martin O’Neill remains confident in the Boys In Green’s prospects.
However, Ireland arrive with injury and suspension problems that are threatening to derail O’Neill’s best-laid plans. Jonathan Walters and John O’Shea are ruled out by suspension and Shane Long is struggling to be fit. With Walters and Long unavailable, the visitor’s frontline would be significantly weakened.
The Republic have failed to score in six of their last 11 matches away (W2-D5-L4) and so a leading role will hopefully be given to Wes Hoolahan. In a functional side, the Norwich man is capable of unlocking the meanest defences and could be key with in-form Everton duo Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy.
O’Neill’s target is an away goal and I’d like to believe it’s a runner, so 23/20 quotes on both teams scoring can’t be ignored.
With a BTTS bet already in the equation, it’s worth noting Ireland have conceded two or more goals in competitive away games just twice in 2007 and so having a small poke on the 1-1 draw at 5/1 is well worth an interest too.
Both Teams To Score @ 23/20
1-1 draw @ 5/1
Spain v England, Friday 13th November, 19.45, ITV1
England cantered through Euro 2016 qualification with an unblemished record but doubts remain over their ability to mix it with the big boys. A friendly international in Alicante should test the Three Lions’ resolve, seeing as England haven’t won in Spain since 1987.
La Roja have won three of their last four with England and are defending a strong home record (W10-D0-L1). Only world champions Germany have left with a victory and the hosts look handy 8/11 shots on Friday night.
England have W4-D4-L0 in their last eight friendlies but Roy Hodgson is hoping to go where Graham Taylor, Sven Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello all failed and score a goal in Spain.
The visitors haven’t conceded in their last four but with three of Spain’s last four friendlies featuring two goals or fewer, a narrow home win looks the most likely.
Spain should dominate possession and starve a weakened England frontline. Backing the home side to win and Under 2.5 Goals is 9/4 and is worth an interest.
Spain To Win and Under 2.5 Goals @ 9/4
Wales v Netherlands, Friday 13th November, 19.45 BBC Wales
Wales have lost all seven internationals against the Dutch to an aggregate 3-21 scoreline but a Gareth Bale led Dragons squad look destined to end that unwanted record this week.
Chris Coleman’s side have conceded just twice in their last seven international matches, with both goals coming against Bosnia last month. And across their successful qualification campaign, the Dragons leaked just four, finding the correct balance between solidity and style.
Netherlands have dipped dramatically since the World Cup and following an abysmal two years, are rightly staying at home next summer. The Oranje have W2-D0-L4 in their last six and since the start of 2014, the Dutch have W5-D0-L5 on the road whilst conceding 14 goals during qualifying.
Even in a non-competitive fixture, Wales look too big at 29/20.
Wales To Win @ 29/20
*Prices correct at time of publication.