The second international tournament out of 3 this summer will begin in France, which is EURO 2016. This tournament generally is considered one of the best tournaments around the world, on par with the World Cup in the eyes of many, as it has most of the top teams in the world.
Defending Champions Spain enter this tournament looking to re-stamp their mark on world football aiming to avenge themselves for the debacle at World Cup 2014. Since that time, little has changed in the Spanish team other than addition of some more youth to give the team some pace and building for the future. The back four of Spain are one of the best out there with Juanfran, Pique, Ramos and Alba; but the problem lies in who will be the shot stopper in goal as Casillas has had a horrible season while de Gea is under investigation. Up front a lot relies on the creativity of Silva, Ineista and Fabregas to create the opportunities for Nolito and Morata to be able to finish the goals. Spain looked lethargic in their friendly against Georgia before they got to France, and that might still be on their mind. They will look to secure a narrow 1-0 or 2-0 victory, which is a scoreline they usually like.
Czech Republic come into the tournament with an extremely leaky defense, conceding a goal in every single qualifying game to get here. In their 7 friendlies since, they have also conceded in 6 games (barring a game against Malta). This shows you how leaky this Czech defense is conceding against poor teams like Kazakhstan, Latvia, Iceland among the few lower ranked nations. Their forwards Lafata, Necid, Skoda have had 15+ goal seasons but mainly in the Czech and Turkish league, where standards of defending are not very strong. Its difficult to see how they will be able to penetrate the back of Spain who beat them 2-0 in their last meeting as part of the Euro 2012 qualification campaign.
The Spanish should have plenty of strength to see of the opposition and keep a clean sheet, while also being able to secure victory in this game. But for safety incase their forwards are not at their best, I am backing Spain to keep a Clean Sheet in this game.
Rep of Ireland v Sweden – Both To Score @ 2.10 (Bet365) – 2.5 points
Rep of Ireland v Sweden – Over 9 Corners @ 1.83 (Bet365) – 2.5 points
Republic of Ireland are continue to be back at another major tournament and have bene thrown directly into the group of death along with Belgium, Italy and Sweden. This game against Sweden represents their best chance of getting a victory, and will be optimistic to go through. Republic of Ireland came through a tough qualification group with Germany, Poland and neighbours Scotland and managed to beat Bosnia in the playoffs to get here. Since then they have played 3 friendlies and scored and conceded in each of those games, drawing 2 of them and losing the other one. If you exclude Gibraltar and Georgia they have conceded a goal in 6 out of their 8 qualifying games, showcasing the struggles they have had defensively. The Irish haven’t won a match at the European Championships for 28 years; and if they are to do so, they will really need a special performance.
Sweden are a one man show, let’s not make any mistake about it. It’s the Zlatan Ibrahimovic show, and he is the biggest star on show in this fixture. He scored 3 out of the 4 goals netted by Sweden to qualify through the playoffs against Denmark and will need his other mates in Forsberg, Berg and Guidetti to chip in with the effort to find the back of the net. On the defensive end, Sweden have struggled to keep it clear at the back even against average sides. They conceded Turkey, Czech Republic, Estonia, Denmark, Austria, Russia, Montenegro, Iran and Finland even over the last 18 months. Granqvist and Johansson are not defenders playing at strong clubs, with a lot of tough action against them week in and week out and keeper Isaksson is not in great form conceding in 8 out of the last 10 games he played in at club level.
Both these teams last met in the World Cup Qualification 3 years ago, which saw them have both teams to score in that tight encounter, and tonight I am backing Both Teams to Score in the tie between Republic of Ireland & Sweden.
Belgium come into this tournament as one of the dark-horses of the tournament according to many, and will have to work hard dot justify all the hype behind them. While many of their players have struggled at club level to find their shooting boots in Hazard, Lukaku, Benteke, De Bruyne, Origi; as a team they have still managed to get the ball in the back of the net. Belgium have now scored goals in 11 out of their last 12 games in all competitions. Defensively is where Belgium have been hit with captain Kompany, Lombaerts which forces international full backs in Vertonghen and Alderweireld to get back in the middle. Their recent 3 fixtures in warming up for this tournament saw them poor defensively conceding against Finland, Norway and Switzerland; not leave it confident at the back against an Italian team who are extremely efficient up front.
Italy come into this contest as one of the few unbeaten teams in qualifying and will be relying a lot on the defensive ability of their Juventus back 4 (Buffon, Barzagli, Chiellieni, Bonucci) to keep them in check while the remaining 7 players go attacking. Italy however, have struggled against teams with good offensive firepowers namely Germany, Italy, England, Croatia, Portugal and even their opponents tonight in Belgium. The 2 played each other in a friendly that saw Belgium win 3-1. Italian’s bigger problem is their offensive end where they have netted in 19 out of 20 games, but are often struggling to find that reliable forward to deliver goals consistently. They can only rely on the forward runs of El Sharaawy, Pelle, Insigne and Immobile among their better players up front.
These 2 teams have met on 5 occasions in the last 20 years; with 4 out of them seeing both to score, including that most recent meeting in November 2015. Both teams will feel the pressure to play well and top the group, and I expect that along with some struggling defences to see Both Teams to score in this encounter between Belgium and Italy.
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