International Betting Tips – Round 1

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RIP Johan Cruyff 

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

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Leonid Slutskiy doesn’t always display outward confidence, but gets results – usually…

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

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Emile Heskey destroys Germany – a once in a lifetime moment

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 w 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

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Robbie Keane is Ireland’s all-time top goalscorer with 67 in 143 appearances

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.

 

Russian Premier League Betting Tips – Gameweek 21

Last Week: 2/3 winning bets = +£112.10

Overall Success Rate: 2 out of 6 bets won

OVERALL TOTAL: +£72.10

Get in! That’s much more like it; after a rocky start I’m already £82.10 in profit overall after two of last week’s bets came in. If I was being really cheeky, I could claim a bonus point for calling the next goalscorer on twitter in Ural v Anzhi (Bernard Berisha for the record – never heard of him? You mean you DON’T know every Kosovan winger around??). It would have been three out of three if Igor Denisov’s injury time dipping rocket had dipped an inch or so lower instead of smacking off the bar, so I could almost claim a moral clean sweep.

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“The Good Doctor”, as Jeff Stelling clalled him – Kenny Deuchar, the nearest thing to a sure thing bettors ever had

For the time being however I will be satisfied with just the two bets netting me over £100 between them. In the entirely predictable world of the Russian Premier League, those rare nuggets of reliable odds are like gold dust, so I will do my best to unearth those unseen gems of betting consistency. We won’t be talking of “Gretna to win, Kenny Deuchar to score first” proportions – ah, those glorious days of a Scottish nailed-on treble of Celtic, Rangers and Gretna… However, keep your chin up, follow me, and I’m sure we‘ll find the elusive pot of gold. Guaranteed.*

*not in any way, shape or form guaranteed.

P.s. This week I am on betting advice duty at Russian Football News, so head over there for a look at more tips for this week.

Bet 1    Saturday 19 March

Treble on Ufa to Draw with Dinamo, Terek to beat Ural, CSKA to beat Kuban, £10 @ 4.92/1

Potential Return £59.20

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Emmanuel Frimpong has had a rocky start to his career in Russia – so logically he grabbed some balls to help himself settle in. Erm…

I’ll hold my hands up, I’ve caught the treble bug. After last week’s success, I have decided to go for a Saturday special covering all three games, with Ufa first up to draw with Dinamo. Outside the community of Russian Premier League aficionados, Ufa will be a name that conjures up precisely nothing to the casual observer, other than being the home of former Arsenal midfielder and testicle grabber Emmanuel Frimpong. They are in fact a very capable outfit, despite limping along on paper in the relegation playoff places. In Oleksandr Zinchenko they have an electric winger who creates chances out of nothing, and they’ve only conceded 12 at home this season, fewer than third placed Spartak. Dinamo meanwhile are incapable of finishing off matches, having won once since August and only once away all season.

Terek are my tip for European qualification this season. They have a ludicrously well drilled defence under Rashid Rakhimov which has only let in seven at home where they are unbeaten, whereas entertaining as they are, Ural have conceded the second highest number of goals in the league. My heart says Ural after their stirring 4-2 win last week, but my head says Terek. CSKA to beat Kuban is not quite as foregone a conclusion as it would have been a few months ago, but they still have too much to offer going forward, while Kuban are still battling to get out of the relegation places.

Bet 2    Sunday 20 March, Krylia v Zenit

Over 4.5 total goals £10 @ 6/1

Potential Returns: £70

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Hulk – would you mess with this man?

After the spring season’s first weekend which saw the season’s lowest league-wide tally of eleven goals, everybody seems to have shaken off the winter rust, in particular Zenit. Last week’s match against Rubin showed that they are far from infallible, but the sheer volume of chances they create from all angles means they are nailed on to win this one. Six goals were in the Rubin match, and while home advantage accounted for some of their confidence, Rubin are a much stronger proposition than Krylia. The hosts haven‘t scored in their last five at home, a run stretching back to the middle of September, but they can now boast the lively Gianni Bruno as well as the fully fit Yoann Mollo, so will aways be potentially ready to threaten.

It was tempting to go for over 5.5 goals at the huge price of 16/1, but 6/1 for over 4.5 still offers an excellent return. The worrying statistic is Zenit’s winless run away from home now standing at six matches, or since August, but they have a whole new momentum and a much improved squad – already the strongest in the league – which is also free of the distraction of European competition. The assumption is that Zenit will win comfortably, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Krylia contributed to the scoreline.

Bet 3    Sunday 20 March, Rubin v Mordovia

Rubin to win & Over 2.5 goals, £10 @ 9/4

Potential Return: £32.50

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The brand spanking new Kazan Arena hosts Rubin v Mordovia, and hopefully over 2.5 goals…

This one is like stealing candy from a baby. Ok, I might look very stupid if it remains a low scoring affair, but I have to have at least one safe bet as a back up and this one is fantastic value. Mordovia are a terrible side in deep, deep trouble; bottom of the table, no wins away from home, the only club not make any winter signings while two key players left. The only ray of light is that they have a respectable defensive record (12 conceded in nine away games) for a side in their position, but statistics won’t count for much on a different surface at the Kazan Arena.

Rubin were enterprising against the champions Zenit last week despite falling to a 4-2 defeat, especially as Marko Devic returned and instantly sparked the attack into life. They’ve won four of their last six at home, where six out of this season’s nine games have produced three or more goals. My gut tells me there will be more than three, but for the sake of building a profit I have decided to keep it to only over 2.5. The value is fantastic though, and this is my nap of the week.

Motorway Musings Special: Solitude, Darkness and Football

I‘m one of those people who occasionally enjoys his own company. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great evening with friends, or even betteplay time with my two girls, but for me sometimes theres real value to be had out of utter uninterrupted solace. Whether it is to plan a project or just to switch off and think of nothing at all – if you consider that thought for a moment, how many minutes a day do you think you have with absolutely zero noise of any kind? – those moments can be therapeutic for my mind.

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Recognise this old man? I almost didn’t a decade ago, but thanks to a fat Italian, I knew I’d seen Paolo Di Canio. For the record, he was rubbish on the day…

For example, attending a football match. You can often meet like-minded people in the terraces, but you can just as easily be stuck next to an utter bore who thinks for some strange reason you would be fascinated to listen to whatever drivel he spews forth for two hours. From time to time I find it easier to go it alone and take in all the sights and sounds by myself.

I’ll give you the perfect example: when I arrived in Italy for a year of *cough* hard study, my first weekend was looking very empty as the induction week at the university was on Monday and I had all day on Sunday to kill. Naturally I had researched the delightful town of Ferrara before I came, and knew the address of the stadium where the local side Società Polisportivo Ars et Labor, or SPAL for short, played.

Now I could have waited till the next home game, by when I would surely have met someone else with a passing interest in the game, but for the first impression I wanted complete concentration and freedom to explore what my senses could offer. As it turned out, there on the pitch was none other than Paolo Di Canio playing for a now-defunct fourth tier club from Rome, but had I not been on my own I would almost certainly not have leaned to the obese chain smoker to my right and asked if it was really him. Like most neutrals, I loved Di Canio when he was in England, and here was confirmation that I was watching him live for the first and almost certainly last time.

At the end of the match as I was making my way down the stands the entire crowd of 3,000 began turning towards me and cheering. A nice touch perhaps, but a little odd considering not one of them knew me. The large chap explained it was in fact for the flash git behind me – who also happened to be the club’s striker who had been injured but had chosen to watch the match with the hardcore fans and not in an corporate box. Again, I’d never have known that if I’d gone to the game with someone else.

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I travelled 340km to watch Ural v Dinamo, but these guys came from Novouralsk – a tiny bit closer…

A few months later I got separated from my travelling companion on a mammoth away trip to Torino and Tuscany in Milan train station, but as a result ended up dining al fresco with the agent who discovered Cristiano Ronaldo for Fiorentina long before Manchester United, his friend and a gorgeous 18-year-old Italian girl in a Tuscan village before being offered VIP seats to watch SPAL. That’s a whole other story though that I will tell you another time, but another perfect justification of going solo.

Russian Road Trip

What’s all this about watching football got to do with with motorways I hear you ask? Well, other than the most dedicated fans of clubs based at far ends of England, not many people would have done what I did last week, twice, which directly involved both. My home is in Tyumen where there is a second tier club side who I follow regularly, but the nearest Premier League side, Ural Sverdlovskaya Oblast, is based in Ekaterinburg which is, if you believe local people, ‘just next door’. Ahem. By next door they mean 340 kilometres and about five hours drive away.

I cover Russian football for two brilliant websites – Russian Football News and Futbolgrad and have managed to wangle a press pass for Ural, so last Monday I decided to travel by car. Back in August, I had gone for the first time by train, but the only affordable cabin was the horrendously cramped ‘platzkart’ in which my feet came over the end of the bunk by about a foot. The timetable was not exactly convenient, and it cost me about 4,000 rubles (only about £40 in today’s money) for the return journey. A mite over a full tank of petrol however, which sets me back about 1,400 rubles, would get me there and back conveniently with plenty of leg space, my own choice of music volume and, crucially, private time to myself.

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The delightful confines of platzkart – irony intended

With kickoff at a comfortable 4.30pm, I decided to set off after breakfast to give plenty of time to negotiate the city of Ekaterinburg itself. Home to around two million people, this city will be the easternmost venue for the 2018 World Cup lying on the border between Europe and Asia, and had a starring role in 20th century history as the place where the last Romanovs were executed in 1917. It is also, however, famous for having some of the worst roads within a city known to man.

There is a saying here that goes something like this: “There are two main problems in Russia; idiots, and roads. One caused the other.” The classic chicken and egg. Tyumen actually has the best roads in Russia, according to Tyumen residents. My father-in-law works as a senior road engineer and assures me this is true, and he’s not a man prone to spinning large tales, but for six years I had thought this must be a slightly exaggerated claim. The thing is, in all my time here I had never ventured on roads beyond 30 kilometres from my city, so I couldn’t offer much of an informed opinion on this matter.

In a previous post I likened drivers here to Playstation gamers, always trying to ‘beat’ the next car; whether they all play Gran Turismo or Crazy Taxi in their heads is anyone’s guess, suffice to say most are clinically mad. Out in the countryside, however, there is a strange camaraderie that exists between drivers that is conspicuous by its absence in the city. To help each other avoid being caught out for edging over the speed limit, cars will flash their headlights twice to warn oncoming traffic of an imminent police car on duty that they have just passed. It was oddly heartwarming that utter strangers, and let’s be honest, probably idiotic drivers, would be so thoughtful, and I gladly returned the favour to others later on.

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Clear blue skies and billions of trees make for a pleasant drive

The road to Ekaterinburg was, I had been assured, much improved and was free of the road rage that develops naturally on city roads. The route was simple; one motorway, no turnings, all the way. In the early morning once the initial stage of the journey has been cleared, it is quite quite a pleasant experience. The sun is behind you as you drive west, bathing the wide fields of snow with a light sparkle, and there is precious little traffic to disrupt you. There are a handful of villages to negotiate in the first 60-70 km, mostly relatively calm and drab, but for the majority of the way it is simple and you can delve into your mind to relax. That personal headspace that is so rare today.

The speed limit for these roads is officially 90 kph, which is not especially fast when you think about it, but there is is a good reason for this: nobody seems to know, or at least respect, this fact. As is so often the case in my experience when asking Russian people questions, multiple answers arose when I enquired to confirm the legal limit. “I think about 115,” said Sergey, my friendly attendant at the petrol station. “Or maybe 105… no wait, it’s between 90 and 110!” Great, that really helps I thought. If there’s one thing of don’t want to do, it’s get on the wrong side of the transport police with limited language skills and an even more limited wallet. Before you ask, yes I have bribed a policeman before…

I knew there would be plenty of policemen stationed along the motorway as it was a public holiday and lots of people would be expected to drive the same route as me. In total I passed 11 policemen over the entire 700 km round trip, and got stopped once – 2 km from home. I hadn’t done anything wrong at all – it was just a routine document check – but it didn’t instill me with confidence.

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Russia – it’s quite big. I travelled about 2% of its length, and it took 5 hours 

Once I got settled in though, the road was simple enough, and as I trailed an HGV to help keep my speed in check, I drank in the beauty of the snow-capped fir and birch trees lining my way. Some idiots aside who flew past at 130 kph, it gave me time to contemplate the sheer vastness of Russia. Here I was barely crossing a fingernail’s width on the map, and yet it was about to be the longest road journey I’d ever taken. People often ask me why on earth I came to Russia, and why I stayed once I got here, and I realised that moments like this were one of the reasons. Nobody else for miles around, with scenery to adorn Christmas cards – lovely.

Ekaterinburg

Then Ekaterinburg happened. My word, those are the biggest potholes I’ve ever seen – and I’ve been on a truck journey into the Amazon on mud tracks that were barely passable. Small children could have hidden comfortably in them. And worst of all, despite the snow having either completely melted or been cleared away (I think the former is much more likely), there were almost no road markings at all, which locals took to be an invitation to make up their own lanes and rules.

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That tall, white structure in the distance, visible from the stadium, is abandoned and covered in graffiti

I don’t want people to get the wrong impression about the city; I have only seen the route from the motorway to the northwest of the cenre where the SKB Bank Arena is, but the buildings and general environment were decidedly dog-eared. On a future trip I will endeavour to discover more about the history and architecture of Ekaterinburg, but this was not the time: Dinamo Moscow awaited. Google Maps guided me to the stadium, and after a much needed stretch of the legs I enjoyed a tense match that finished 1-1, even getting an exclusive interview with goalscorer Gerson Acevedo.

After filing my feature on the match, the journey back began at about 9pm in the pitch black; the sunshine and adventure of the morning was one thing, but the dead of Siberian night is another entirely. I repeated my tactic of tailing a truck, which was vital to avoid being caught out by the tricky changes in direction that the motorway took. A complete lack of markings to indicate the edge of the road would have been a bit hairy were it not for those two wonderful red tail lights guiding the way. Unfortunately, they began to swerve a bit too far over to the hard shoulder after a while, lurching back onto the road just in time – the driver was clearly falling asleep. Deciding that it was far safer to get past than wait behind him, I carefully waited for a rare patch of street lighting to overtake before painstakingly edging my way home.

At 2am, with the help of an opened window to keep me alert, I finally arrived back home 20 hours after waking up. To say it had taken the energy out of me is an understatement; rarely had my bed felt so welcoming. My journey had been far from spectacular – one writing colleague undertook a 15 hour, 1,400 km overnight slog from Moscow to Krasnodar in the south two day before – but in my own way I felt like I’d achieved something. So what was the first thing I thought of when I woke up? Let’s do it all again of course…

Russian Premier League Betting Tips – Gameweek 20

Well that went well…

In my first betting tips post last week, all three of my suggestions went south, leaving me with the princely sum of -£30. In my defence, it was the lowest scoring gameweek of the season, with only 11 goals across the eight fixtures, despite many of the most potent attacks strengthened and some of the most pourous defences weakened. Take Spartak, for example: losing Serdar Tasci to Bayern Munich on loan meant Vladimir Granat had to step in, and although he is still a decent centre back, he has barely played his season after joining from Dinamo. Add Lorenzo Melgarejo to the league’s top scorer in Quincy Promes and the potential for goals at both ends was there, but a tight 1-0 defeat to CSKA was the result.

As for my specific tips themselves, Roman Shirokov failed to score in that game despite playing as the attacking central midfielder. Picking goalscorers is always a tough prediction, so failing to hit that one is hardly a disgrace. Zenit to win away at Krasnodar was influenced by the champions’ strong transfer market dealings, but in hindsight could have been adjusted to a draw as Krasnodar, despite their poor show in in the Europa League knockout stages against Sparta Prague, could at least point to not having had competitive practice all winter as a reason for their inglorious exit from continental competition. Ural v Dinamo was one of only three matches to produce two goals, but my tip was for over 1.5 goals in the first half only; both were after the break.

Without further ado, here are this week’s sure fire winners. Ahem…

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Bet 1 Friday 11 March & Saturday 12 March

Treble on Kuban to beat Krylia, Ural to beat Anzhi, Spartak to beat Amkar, £10 @ 6.46/1

Potential Return: £64.60

A good old fashioned treble is a good way for me to make some ground back on last week’s losses, and I think there is some amazing value in the odds that bet365.com are offering. This is the best part of Russian football betting – there is value if you look hard enough,  because the statistics alone seem to dictate the odds, much in the same way that the fellow who made millions from betting on Scottish football lower league’s used a touch of nous and bookies’ overly analytical approach to pricing teams years ago.

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Will play for crisps – Arshavin’s career has been in decline for a while, now he is no longer a burden to Kuban

Kuban are low down he league table, in the automatic relegation places to be precise, but they no longer have the Gary Lineker (bear with me on this one…) of Russian football hanging over them for one thing. Andrey Arshavin has decided to develop his dwindling career in Kazakhstan after only 6 months in the green and yellow of Kuban, and instead a raft of interesting buys like former Dortmund defender Felipe Santana and Apodi  (lightning quick Brazilian fullback) have boosted them somewhat. Ural have likewise reinforced, perhaps not quite as strongly as they would have liked, but still in Alexander Ryzyantsev they have experience and In Dmitry Korobov they have potentially unearthed a lower league diamond. Anzhi are inconsistent away from home with only two sides conceding more on their travels, so it should be a steal at 23/20 for that individual result. Spartak now have the top two goalscorers in the league in Lorenzo Melgarejo and Quincy Promes, facing a team that have scored the second lowest tally in the league, and only Rubin have lost more on the road. Win this one, and I’m back in the black…

Bet 2 Sunday 13 March, Zenit v Rubin

Over 3.5 total goals £10 @ 11/4

Potential Return: £37.50

Simply put, Zenit = goals. They are the top scorers at home with 19, and in total with 34, not to mention the fact that they’ll be hurting from their cruel Champions league exit to Benfica. Alexander Kokorin has a good chance of starting his first match for his new club, and with Hulk fit anything could happen. Rubin have a terrible away record on paper, and while this is mostly down to their early season catastrophe, they played two new signings in defence last week in Andriy Pylyavsky and Emil Bergstrom so could be susceptible again. Granted, they kept a clean sheet against Kuban, but that was at home; Zenit away is a whole different ball game.

Bet 3 Monday 14 March, Dinamo v Terek

Score draw £10 @ 9/2

Potential Return: £55

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Me with the Novouralsk Supporters Club – very knowledgeable chaps on English football

When I watched Dinamo against Ural on Monday in Ekaterinburg, they played an extremely attacking formation with two out and out strikers in Pavel Pogrebnyak and impressive new boy Fatos Beqiraj, with Alexander Tashaev and Alexey Ionov pushing right up to make a virtual 4-2-4. If they show similar intent at home against a notoriously defensive travelling outfit in Terek – who have drawn 6 of ten away matches, and have a dead level goals ratio of 11 for and 11 against – they stand a good chance of breaching their backline. While the visitors are serious European contenders, Dinamo have the very real incentive of an impending relegation battle to spur them on, but they have failed to score more than two at home in over a year.

Russian Premier League Betting Tips – Matchday 19

Remember Dennis Bergkamp’s sensational spinning goal against Newcastle about 15 years ago? The one where he made Nikos Dabizas look a little bit silly and himself a little bit special? I do, but not fondly. Much as he was a sublime player, the Dutchman cost me £345 by defying the laws of physics that day and screwing up my first ever bet, a 10-way accumulator. I couldn’t believe it was so easy to (almost) win money, and I was instantly hooked to a life violently swinging between drama and disappointment – personal highlights include winning £720 on a double of Manchester United to beat Inter Milan and Barcelona to beat Lyon.

Since moving out to Russia I have closed my online accounts in the name of being a sensible family man, but the bug is still there, so I have decided to start a weekly set of tips where I will give myself a ghost sum each week and keep track of my running total as a substitute. This week there are some cracking fixtures in the Russian Premier League, and I will post my tips for how to make some money from this vast land.

I will give myself £30 each week and see how much of a profit I can turn.

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Bet 1 Saturday 5 March , Krasnodar v Zenit St Petersburg

Zenit to win, Over 2.5 goals £10 @ 10/3

Potential Return: £43.33

Krasnodar are the hipster’s choice: they are owned by Sergey Galitskiy, the boss of Russia’s largest supermarket chain Magnit, who is the Daniel Levy of the RPL. They have moved smartly in the transfer market to snap up Vyacheslav Podberezkin – one of the brightest attacking talents in the country – and Stanislav Kritsyuk on loan as back up in goal. They boast the meanest defence at home, but they are up against the most formidable strike force in Russia.

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England will have to look out for this man, Artyom Dzyuba, in Marseille on 11 June

In Hulk they have russianfootballnews.com’s player of 2015, and in the summer they have added the ‘Russian Harry Kane/Andy Carroll/Peter Crouch’ (depending on your viewpoint) in Artyom Dzyuba. Add Oleg Shatov, a lightning quick former futsal inside forward, Alexander Kokorin and Danny, and it isn’t hard to see why they are the league’s top goalscorers this season. They have only failed to score away from home once since the summer, and while they haven’t won on the road since August they have the momentum of a successful transfer window, a Russian Cup win and impressive European form.

Bet 2 Sunday 6 March, CSKA Moscow v Spartak Moscow

Roman Shirokov to score anytime £10 @ 7/2

Potential Return: £45

The controversial captain of Russia is a character than cannot be ignored. He grew up in CSKA’s youth setup but had trouble with gambling, drinking and authority – he even fabricated a story about a broken arm to party with his friends as as teenager – and developed a reputation as troublemaker. A late developer, he only completed a full top-flight season at the age of 26, but after arriving at Zenit he finally began delivering on his early promise.

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The reformed bad boy of Russian football, Roman Shirokov [photo: pfc-cska.com]

A couple of seasons spent mostly on loan have threatened to tarnish his career legacy, but now he is reunited with his national team boss Leonid Slutskiy (the podgy chap who sways back and forwards on the bench in Champions League games) with the motivation of leading his country against England and Wales at Euro 2016, he is in a perfect place to sign off his career with a bang. A stunning goal and equally impressive pass to help create another in their Russian Cup win over Ufa this week show he is already comfortable in his attacking role ahead of Pontus Wernbloom and Alan Dzagoev.

Bet 3 Monday 7 March, Ural Sverdlovskaya Oblast v Dinamo Moscow

Over 1.5 first half goals £10 @ 12/5

Potential Return: £34

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Ivan Drago. Ok, Pavel Pogrebnyak…

Ural are an odd team to watch. They have been involved in more goals than any other side in the league at home (32 in just 8 matches), and yet their only senior striker is the 35-year-old Spartak Gogniev; their manager at the start of the season, Viktor Goncharenko, is Eastern Europe’s most promising young manager, but was sacked after a betting scandal and only one win in the first seven matches. His assistant then won five of the next seven matches to take them to the brink of the European places.

 

They have conceded in the first half in four of their last five home games, and with Dinamo having reinforced reasonably well given the FFP restrictions that have hit them hard this season, I expect the visitors to start strongly. They finished the autumn in dreadful disarray with only three goals on their travels since the beginning of August, but with the promising but relatively unknown Fatos Beqiraj up front they no longer rely on Reading reject Pavel Pogrebnyak for goals.

 

*All odds are taken from bet365.com

Tyumen Musings Part 14: Prison, Tea and Studying

Monday mornings are never fun, but when you go back to school every week at the age of 30 it’s even worse. I should play fair; I am actually supposed to do this – I am a teacher after all. But there is something about classrooms that will remind us all of being trapped in a space where we must obey a direct figure of authority. How good did the bell at the end of the school day feel? And what was the overriding emotion? For most of us it was surely of relief, of escape.

Which is ironic, given the history of my current school. Some of you may have seen that video of a Russian road “eating itself” that was featured on the Top Gear website two years ago – that happenned a few hundred metres from our company’s front door – or heard about a block of flats that partially exploded after a faulty gas leak. Yep, that was our road again. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that on Kharkovskaya Street in Tyumen there is an intriguing history; our building is only about 20 years old, but previously it was actually a prison.

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Just a simple teabag, you might think: but in the Soviet Union, it became a valuable form of currency…

Now there stands a slightly incongruous collection of older blocks of flats, newer developments and children’s playgrounds, but in the 1970s it housed some minor offenders. Viktor* (I’m doing the whole not-his-real-name thing for a few reasons) is a successful businessman in his late 50s who used to live directly across the road as a child, and he revealed the real history of our establishment to me one day. “My older brother and I used to live on the third floor, and we could just about see over the wall from our bedroom window,” he told me. “All the inmates were put to work in a small factory producing red bricks and roof tiles, but in their free time they used to get high from concentrated tea leaves. What we used to do was throw tea bags over the wall, and they would tell us stories about their life inside and how they would ‘use’ the tea in large quantities – it was too risky to smuggle cigarettes, although some risked it.”

Be honest – at this point,you’re probably reading this thinking ‘Siberia during the Soviet Union + prison = gulag’; this is a sensitive issue, and can be quite offensive to lump all forms of forced manual labour into that bracket. The horrific camps that Josef Stalin set up across the vast abyss of tundra and forest that make up large swathes of this part of modern day Russia were a different beast entirely – this particular type of prison was built in cities (in this case, it was near the outskirts back then, but is now considered to be almost in the centre) and housed thieves and vandals, not murderers, rapists and political enemies.

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Siberian gulags were horrific camps where millions were sent during the Soviet Union’s earlier years, and they remain a taboo topic today

Young Viktor and his brother would throw their stash of teabags over the wall, and would sometimes receive gifts handcrafted by the inmates in return. The workshops inside the prison had equipment for all kinds of construction, and with access to certain materials, the prisoners could fashion the most remarkable objects. “This pen probably weighs about half a kilo,” he said as he handed me what looked like a tiny rocket. “My brother had to send cigarettes over the wall for this one, something he could have got in more trouble for than for teabags!” It was beautiful. It was a normal biro except for the casing, which was thick brass that had been smoothly rounded, and had clearly not been damaged in almost half a century.

When I see my teenage students trudge into the classroom with their Dr Dr Beats headphones clamped to their ears and the eyes glued to their iPhone 6S, their complaints of slave labour at school make me chuckle and think of Viktor and his ‘friends’ across the road. What I will say is that they do seem to have a huge workload compared to what I remember having; the attitude seems to be to force them to do the maximum possible so that they are trained to accept long hours. At University, I had 11 weekly contact hours, some of which I lazily failed to attend, whereas here students regularly work virtually full time jobs before studying in the evening up to 30 hours a week.

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This young boy might as well be one of my students with the amount of homework they have. Well that’s what they tell me…

In the city of Tyumen, which is the capital of the most oil – rich region in Russia, there is a burgeoning demand for English language learning, and we have by far the largest collection of native speaking teachers. It is the major advantage, as people will lap up the social cache of saying they have a native teacher. I might just be lucky, but I find about 95% of my students to be engaging characters and dedicated language learners. There are some who have been pushed to attend by their company, or children whose parents are obsessed with injecting their them with knowledge, but it is an enjoyable environment in which to teach.

I admit when I first arrived, there was a difference in the attitude towards what constituted a decent level of English between then and now. One night out with a lot of friends, I found myself sitting next to a University professor of English Language, but the problem was that Regina was utterly incomprehensible – my two year old daughter could have made herself better understood.

Of course a fair quantity of beer was partly to blame for her broken speech, but I was shocked that she was teaching higher education students my native tongue. Even in six years, however, I have sensed a real shift towards higher standards in English learning. Now my students are actively looking for international exams for better job opportunities or even visas to live abroad, and it is heartening to see when this comes fruition.

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My future Russian teachers Dasha & Sophia…

One day my girls will start school, and they will walk through the gates nervously as they face a fairly driven, intimidating atmosphere. I will be more nervous than them without question, but at least I can be safe in the knowledge that for all the drawbacks of being a foreign parent, I have given them one sizeable leg up: English. They can pay me back by letting me try their Russian homework, although I’m not sure much I’ll be able to do. Russians study their own language for 10 years and still debate how to use it as grown adults, so what hope do I have??