International Friendlies may not count for a huge amount in today’s game, but Thursday night sees some mouth-watering ties among Europe’s elite nations. Fixtures like Belgium v Spain and Italy v France are bound to be relatively competitive as pride is at stake, and they are both intriguing ties.
Both Belgium and Spain came out of Euro 2016 with indifferent results and fans within both countries will feel their talented squads underachieved over the summer. Belgium were famously knocked out by Wales in the quarter finals, while Spain suffered a second round defeat at the hands of Italy just days after losing their final group match to Croatia.
Italy and France on the other hand, both left with their reputations enhanced. The Italians were not expected to achieve much at the tournament, even by their own fans, but they showed a remarkable team spirit under now Chelsea manager Conte. A quarter final defeat on penalties to Germany was no embarrassment, especially after beating Spain in the second round. France got gradually better as the competition went on and looked destined to win on their own patch, only to succumb to a spirited Portugal display in the final.
Belgium v Spain
Starting with Belgium v Spain and both teams to score looks a good bet at +100 with William Hill.
After this friendly Belgium will face Cyprus away in a qualifying group that gives them an excellent chance of reaching Russia in 2018. Bosnia and Greece provide the main opposition in Group H, with Cyprus, Gibraltar and Estonia up against it. This ‘golden generation’ of Belgium players has failed to live up to it’s much-hyped reputation in the last two tournaments, but there’s no denying the depth of quality in the squad. The likes of Lukaku, Hazard, and De Bruyne have more than enough about them to trouble a Spanish defence which has failed to keep clean sheets in recent internationals against Italy, Croatia, Georgia, South Korea and Bosnia.
Spain certainly looked the part at Euro 2016 after the 1-0 win over Czech Republic and the 3-0 victory against Turkey, but the 2-1 reverse against Croatia knocked the stuffing out of them in their final group game. They were simply outfought by Italy in the second round and questions will continue to be asked about their toughness. They also possess an embarrassment of riches in the attacking departments and will test the Belgian back line. Belgium have failed to keep clean sheets against Finland, Norway, Switzerland, Italy and Portugal in recent friendlies, and Spain are more than good enough to find the net here.
Italy v France
The sensible bet on this game could well be the draw at +222 with Marathonbet.
Italy showed at the Euros that they are defensively very well organised and difficult to break down, with attacking play heavily dependent on swift counter-attacks. Germany and Ireland are the only teams to get the better of them in the last ten matches, and they’ve kept five clean sheets in that sequence. The 4-1 defeat to Germany came on the back of England’s surprise 3-2 win against the Germans, so the Italians were on the end of a reaction to that match. They certainly fared better in competitive action against Germany at the Euros where a 1-1 draw led to penalties. The 1-0 defeat to Ireland in the final group game came after Italy had already qualified for the knockouts, so it would be dangerous to read too much into that result. They’ve only lost once at home in their previous 13 international games – a 1-0 defeat to Portugal in June 2015.
France were touted as the favourites for their own tournament and they came agonisingly close, going down to an extra-time winner from Portugal. A feature of their play during the finals was plenty of possession but a sometimes laborious approach which saw them struggle to break down well-organised opposition. They had to rely on late goals to break down the likes of Albania and Romania, and were held to a 0-0 draw by Switzerland.
It should come as no surprise that three of the last four internationals between these two sides have ended all square, and a stalemate could well be on the cards again.
Netherlands v Greece
Euro 2016 qualifying form is clearly counting against the Netherlands and Betfred‘s odds of -189 about them beating Greece are worth taking.
After a 2014 World Cup third placed finish, Netherlands were expected to waltz to the Euros but it was a shocking campaign. Defeats to Czech Republic (twice), Iceland (twice) and Turkey saw them fail to reach the finals in France, and caused plenty of soul-searching within Dutch football. They will of course hope that this was just a blip on their international record, and will hope to put that right by qualifying for Russia 2018. A group which contains France, Sweden and Bulgaria will not be easy, but they will want to claim a confidence-boosting victory here ahead of their trip to Sweden on Tuesday next week. The signs are there that they are out of the doldrums, with wins over England, Poland and Austria in the last four internationals decent form.
Greece also failed to qualify for the Euros, and this is a side that has won just three of the last nineteen internationals. Those victories came against Australia, Montenegro and Hungary, and with due respect to those teams, Netherlands are a level above.
Belgium v Spain – Both Teams to Score
Thursday 1st September, 19:45 GMT
Italy v France – Draw
Thursday 1st September, 20:00 GMT
Netherlands to beat Greece
Thursday 1st September, 19:45 GMT