My good friend Liam has returned to these pages to cast his eye over some football tournament from France, that apparently starts on Friday.
What follows is a light-hearted look at Euro 2016 with a smattering of betting pointers. Liam isn’t a professional/sports bettor and this is very much written with the aim of providing something different/informative to get stuck into. Albeit clearly there is some logic/knowledge behind his recommended wagers…
With that said, enjoy the read…
Over to Liam…
Walking down the street recently, I encountered a big white van parked outside of a building site. The scene, as you may well expect, was textbook.
The dashboard was decorated with one of that day’s popular red-top newspapers, cups from a High Street coffee chain, crisp wrappers, a measuring tape and a packet of cigarettes.
But then, as I looked up, something grabbed my attention. Outside of the two doors flapped mini St George’s flags. Ah, there must be a major international football tournament on the horizon!
Of course there is. For the next four weeks, the television, radio, social networking sites et al will be dominated by news and results from Euro 2016, hosted just across The Channel in France.
There will be those, probably more sensible than ourselves, that will just be looking forward to a month-long football feast. Three matches in one day, what more could you want? Then there is us, those that like to place the odd wager. So, let’s do that, shall we?!
Fifty years. Fifty bloody years! Not since the great Kenneth Wolstenholme uttered the famous ‘some people are on the pitch’ line as Sir Geoff Hurst wellied his left footed shot into the top corner of the West German net have England finished top of the pile.
There has been the odd flirtation – Italia 90, Euro 96 and Euro 2004 (where I’m still adamant that the bullish and fearless Wayne Rooney would have won the tournament on his own had he not been struck down by the then fashionable broken metatarsal).
So, can the current crop of Three Lions end a wait that dates back half a century?
In short, no! Roy Hodgson’s men may have waltzed through qualifying with 10 straight wins, but has there really been much progression since the disaster that was the 2014 World Cup?
Yes, there is some new attacking zest in the form of Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Dele Alli and Jamie Vardy, yet Hodgson seems reluctant to play these players in their natural positions. And the defence, well quite frankly, it fills me with nearly as much dread as the prospect of Donald Trump in the White House.
There are reasons for doubt, obviously, many of which centre around the seemingly undroppable captain Rooney, but Josh has given me a word limit and while it is a generous one, I could write a dissertation on the subject. (Editors Note: I am sure that is a dissertation only the most ardent United fan- that’s Liam – would read! 🙂 )
It has not stopped the bookies pricing Hodgson’s men as fourth favourites, with most offering a best price of 9/1. That has limited appeal to me.
Even so, there are a couple of avenues still worth exploring. Management, players, fans and pundits alike do their very best to build up the opening game, but more often than not, it is hugely underwhelming. Indeed, just once since the World Cup way back in 1982 have England won their first match at a tournament.
These matches are commonly tight, tetchy and cagey affairs, which is why the draw in this weekend’s clash with Russia has caught my eye. A 0-0 draw at 12/5 (Betfair) or a 1-1 draw at 6/1 (Bet365) are worth considering, although on this one occasion I would not mind being proved wrong given that I will be inside the Stade Velodrome in Marseille on Saturday night.
A pessimist by nature, I am not completely downbeat on England’s chances. Do not rule out the quarter-finals (12/5) or semi-finals (9/2) (both William Hill) as realistic stages of elimination.
England have not always made light work of the group phase, but surely even they will get through a pool that contains Wales, Russia and Slovakia, especially with three teams from most groups advancing through to the last 16.
For what it’s worth, I’m backing England to qualify as group winners with either seven (13/5) or six (9/2) (again both WH) points. I can foresee wins over the Eastern European countries, but believe that the Welsh will be a tough nut to crack. With the greatest of respect to the Dragons, this is their biggest match in years and you would expect to see a performance that reflects this.
If England do win the group, the first knockout round stage will pit them against a side that finishes third in either Group A/C/D. Then, in the quarters, it is likely to be one of Portugal or Italy – countries with a decent pedigree, but hardly powerhouses at this present moment in time. The semis become tricky with the prospect of either France or Spain, but it can still be a relatively successful tournament.
Swerve the big guns
Spain and Germany may have shared the last four major tournaments, but at 5/1 and 4/1 to respectively, I would give both a wide berth.
Having covered both teams extensively for my day job during qualification, I would urge caution where both of these giants are concerned. Of course, if either were to go all the way and make me look foolish it would be no great shock, but stay with me for a minute.
Periods of domination in football tend to go in cycles and usually come to an end when players move on or retire. Where Spain and Germany are concerned, both are suffering from the latter.
Among other players, La Roja have recently lost their leadership skills of Carles Puyol, the craft of Xavi and the goalscoring prowess of all-time net-finder David Villa. As for Germany, both Philipp Lahm and Miroslav Klose called it quits after lifting the World Cup two years ago.
Now, the replacements are very good players and that should not be overlooked, but understandably they are not of the same ilk of those that have hung up their international boots, taking with them a whole host of tournament experience that is invaluable and precious.
Germany looked particularly suspect during qualification. Although they eventually won their group, it was by no means a straightforward assignment. Defeats were suffered in Poland and the Republic of Ireland, who also claimed a draw in Germany. The Scots also ran them close in both matches and much tougher assignments lay ahead.
Nine wins and one draw from 10 matches shows that the Spanish pretty much breezed through qualification, but their performances were a worry. While winning is all that matters ultimately, they will need to move through the gears if they are to win the Euros for a third year in a row.
France, barring a slightly suspect rearguard, are a different proposition and are rightly the favourites, but obviously offer little value.
Now, we all love a long shot, don’t we? Well, how about Austria? Once you’ve stopped laughing, hear me out.
The Austrians eased through a group that contained decent nations like Russia and Sweden, winning nine and drawing one of their 10 encounters. During that time they scored 22 goals and shipped just five.
In Marc Janko they have an experienced striker that scored seven goals during qualification – only five players found the net more times. Then, where Bayern Munich’s David Alaba is concerned, they also possess arguably the competition’s best left-back/midfielder, who is worth a goal or two himself.
You would expect them to advance as one of three teams from a group that contains Portugal, Iceland and Hungary. Strangely, they may be best served finishing as runners-up because they will then face whichever nation finishes second in England’s group.
With that in mind, 11/4 to reach the quarters is worth thinking about and if you’re feeling particularly lucky, the semis is 9/1 (all WH). Betvictor, meanwhile, have them at 40/1 to win the whole tournament. It’s a tall order of course, but if Greece of 2004 can go all the way and Leicester City can win the Premier League, you cannot rule out anything!
I am also a big admirer of the Croatians. They have some genuine quality. The midfield pairing of Luka Modric (Real Madrid) and Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona) is technically as good as any at the tournament. Throw in the clinical instincts of Mario Mandzukic and Nikola Kalinic and they could well spring a surprise. The defence is also solid enough, with just five goals shipped in qualifying.
Denmark, the Czech Republic and Greece have all reached finals since the early 1990s. The group draw could have been kinder (Croatia face Spain, the Czechs and Turkey), but they should get through as one of three teams.
To win the tournament they are 26/1 (888sport) and are 14/1 (bwin) to reach the final. With such a classy midfield that should dominate possession, stranger things have happened.
Goals, Goals, Goals
Now that is the likely winners assessed, who will win the Golden Boot? As you would expect, Thomas Muller and Cristiano Ronaldo feature prominently as the frontrunners, but it is Robert Lewandowski that captures my attention.
Betvictor price him at 16/1, which is rather generous when you consider that he was the leading goalscorer in qualification with 13. The Pole will come up against the Germans – a team that he scored against in the qualifiers, as well as Ukraine and Northern Ireland.
Poland may not be a household name themselves, but with the Munich star up front, goals are a real possibility. His return of 34 from 76 caps is not to be sniffed at and it leaves him 14 short of the national record.
With that in mind, Paddy Power are offering a cool 75/1 that France and Lewandowski pull off the double.
The Brits (and Ireland)
Wales: Not since the days of the great John Charles at the 1958 World Cup have Wales played at a major tournament. Chris Coleman’s men may not exactly get bums off seats with free flowing football, but they play to their strengths. With skipper Ashley Williams, they are built on solid foundations, while Gareth Bale gives them that sprinkling of stardust.
Recommended bet: Wales to be the tournament debutants that progress furthest (17/10 with Paddy Power)
Northern Ireland: When you consider the players that are available to him, the fact that Michael O’Neill inspired the Irish to win their qualification group is nothing short of outstanding. You have to fear for them now, though, in what is a tough group. They don’t tend to score many goals, although they are a threat from set pieces, which could bring their defenders into play.
Recommended bet: Gareth McAuley to be Norn Iron’s leading goalscorer (14/1, widely available)
Republic of Ireland: It seems that the Irish and the Euros do not mix. The two previous times they’ve qualified, their reward was tough groups and it is the same story this time around. With Robbie Keane now almost 36, it is really tough to see where the goals are going to come from against such decent opposition. It’s just a shame there isn’t a market for when Roy Keane will completely combust – he was certainly close after the recent friendly loss to Belarus.
Recommended bet: ROI to be the tournament’s lowest goalscorers (14/1 with Bet Victor)
I hope you have enjoyed the read and most importantly, make sure you enjoy the tournament. Au Revoir for now.
It’s Josh again now…
Is there anything that has caught your eye? Any fun wagers that you have already placed? Do leave a comment…