Whether it’s the agony of waiting two weeks for the next installment of my Russian Premier League betting tips, or the mind numbing boredom of international week to get through, I thought I’d liven it up with a round of international tips to help you through till next weekend. I’m nice like that, you see. Both reasons would be perfect understandable – Estonia 0-0 Norway doesn’t exactly set the pulses racing – although there have been some other stories worth telling. Last night the Netherlands paid tribute to the passing of the greatest entertainer Europe has known, Johan Cruyff, as his nation fell to a dramatic 88-minute Blaise Matuidi winner. In Recife, Luis Suárez made his return from his 636-day international ban for biting – once a rat, always a rat – and celebrated his enforced absence with a crucial equaliser to keep Uruguay ahead of their eternal rivals.
Now friendly warm ups are notoriously tricky to navigate, but I have scoured the odds to find the best value for the weekend. Even straight up results can be tough to call in many matches, especially when the approach different nations take to the matches, but dig a little deeper and you can still find value. The plan is to continue this mini series in the run up to the European Championships, maybe even combine it with the finals themselves. Here goes…
Bet 1 Saturday 26 March, Russia v Lithuania
Russia to beat Lithuania, over 2.5 total goals, £10 @ 20/21
Potential Return: £19.52
On paper, a straight match up between these two should be a prime candidate for over 4.5 goals as a minimum, but this is not paper. Russia were in dire straits a year ago under Fabio Capello, and while they recovered remarkably to qualify for the Euros from a seemingly impossible situation, they haven’t blown away any of their opponents (unless you count thrashing Liechtenstein 7-0, which was surely a routine result anyway). Leonid Slutskiy is a notoriously cautious manager, and there is very little to be gained by fielding a full strength side at home against Europe’s 46th best nation not to mention the urgent motivation of the players, so it is unlikely that there will be fireworks.
Lithuania themselves are not quite the whipping boys their ranking suggests though, at least not in terms of goals. Their only two wins away from home in the last five and a half years have come against San Marino and Liechtenstein – only Andorra are ranked lower in Europe – but they have only conceded more than four in a fixture on the road once in 16 years. Given that they have registered a single goal in their last eight games on their travels, the odds are that they won’t be troubling the score on Saturday, which makes over 2.5 goals a safer bet.
Bet 2 Saturday 26 March, Germany v England
Half Time/Full Time Draw/England win, £10 @ 10/1
Potential Return: £110
Ok, I admit this one is ever so slightly influenced by a wish to get one over on the World champions in their back yard. Those memories of Emile Heskey (!!!) and co sticking five past them in Munich are still very fresh in the mind of any England follower, but let’s ground ourselves in reality for a moment; a full repeat is about as likely as Leicester winning the… hang on, I mean as likely as Steve McLaren being bought a pint on Tyneside. Eric Dier will be crucial to England’s hopes of keeping out one of the world’s most impressive attacks, but with his club teammates around him he should have enough familiarity to settle.
If we are being brutally honest, Joachim Löw would look at England as second-rate opponents right now, and few could argue with him. He will not feel under a great deal of pressure faced with a lineup that boasts only 161 international caps between them, and will be certain to try out a few fringe players, especially as he is without a handful of the most experienced members of his squad who brought home the World Cup two years ago. The selection of Dele Alli as the focal point of England’s attacking trident behind the Premier League’s top goalscorer Harry Kane will be a fascinating test of the 19-year-old’s temperament and creativity under pressure. With Jamie Vary on the bench and the industry of Danny Wellbeck from the start, a stalemate at the break is a reasonable call, and after that any outcome is possible.
Bet 3 Tuesday 29 March, Republic of Ireland v Slovakia & France v Russia
Double on Republic of Ireland and France, £10 @ 7/5
Potential Return: £24
My last tip is a relatively low-risk chance to double your stake back, especially given the form of the team‘s involved. The Republic of Ireland claimed a safe 1-0 win over Switzerland, ranked 12th in the world by FIFA, on Friday, and in Slovakia they face a side who have overachieved in recent years but deserve some healthy respect for qualifying quite comfortably ahead of Ukraine. The Irish lack stellar names in their lineup, and are uncertain to be able to call on all-time record goalscorer and LA Galaxy ‘legend’ Robbie Keane, but have won five of their last seven, including over World Champions Germany. At home they are unbeaten in ten matches stretching back 18 months.
Russia are, and probably forever will be, an enigma. Their squad includes some serious creative talent in Alan Dzagoev, Roman Shirokov and Alexander Kokorin, not to mention the European Championship Qualifiers’ third top goalscorer in Artyom Dzyuba, in front of one of Europe’s most experienced and consistent defences. On the other hand, there are some clear issues on a mental level with their attitude and determination. In the last hree years they have only won five away from home, and those were against Moldova, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, Hungary and Luxembourg – hardly the most testing opposition. France come off the back of a spirited win in Amsterdam and have one of the most promising squads that will feature at their home tournament this summer.