The Euro 2016 qualifiers return to our screens this week with a full set of fixtures spread over Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It’s still an early stage, but the groups are beginning to take shape after three games so far. One of our experts had already backed the Czech Republic to top Group A and Sweden to top Group G before a ball was kicked, and with both bets in a strong position, we’re looking at the other groups to see if there is any value with the benefit of the results so far.
One bet that stands out at this stage is Croatia to win Group H at +300 with Betvictor
The Croatian side showed during the World Cup in Brazil that they are a strong team, and in Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic they have two world-class players pulling the strings. They were unfortunate not to progress further in the South American football fest, and could easily have spoiled the opening party by taking a point from the hosts. A couple of generous refereeing decisions thwarted their good work, and Brazil ran out 3-1 winners. Croatia showed their quality in the next match when they brushed aside Cameroon, but were knocked out by Mexico in a ‘winner-takes-all’ final group game.
The Euro qualification draw saw them pitched against Italy, Norway, Bulgaria, Malta, and Azerbaijan, and they haven’t let the disappointment of the World Cup affect them; making an impressive start with three wins from three. With all due respect to the other nations, this group always looked like a routine passage for Italy and Croatia, and that’s the way it has panned out so far. Italy have also gathered 9 points from their opening three games, but look decidedly short at odds of -333 with Bet365
Croatia Versus Italy
Croatia have recorded a 2-0 win over Malta at home, a 1-0 victory away in Bulgaria, and a 6-0 thrashing of Azerbaijan back on home turf. That puts them clear top of the group at this stage with 9 points, 9 goals scored and none conceded. Italy have secured a 2-0 away win in Norway, a 2-1 home victory over Azerbaijan, and a 1-0 win away in Malta. They’re second in the group, also on 9 points, with 5 goals scored and 1 conceded.
It looks like a straight fight between the two, and the first of their fixtures will take place in Italy on Sunday evening. The two matches they play against each other will probably decide the group, and if Croatia can take anything away from Milan, they will be in a very strong position to qualify ahead of Italy. The two teams are quite closely matched, and there’s reason to believe the Croats can come away with at least a point.
Italy had a tepid World Cup by their standards, beating England 2-1 but going down by a 1-0 scoreline to Costa Rica and Uruguay, before departing at the same stage as Croatia. They look like a side in a period of transition as several of the old guard retire and new players come to the fore. Pirlo apart, they don’t have any names in the squad that strike fear into the opposition in the way that an Italian teamsheet used to, and while they will always be one of the top International teams, this is certainly not a vintage one. A look at Italy’s recent home form shows that they’ve only won two of their last seven at home, drawing the other five. Croatia are a decent side on their travels and should go to Italy with nothing to fear. They’ve only been beaten once in their last 14 on the road (not including World Cup games), and it’s worth remembering that the two sides drew 1-1 when they met in the group stages of Euro 2012.
If Italy fail to beat Croatia it will leave them in pole position to take the group with the home fixture against Italy to come. The new format for the Euro’s also means that the top two will qualify, and the way that this group is set up, Italy may not have the motivation to chase Croatia down for top spot, when they know they will qualify anyway.
That change in format also comes into consideration for an outsider that could be in with a chance at a big price:
Northern Ireland to finish in the top 2 in Group F at +138 with BetVictor
Northern Ireland have benefited from the expansion of the number of teams in the European Championships, and have publicly announced their target of third place in the group to qualify for the play-offs. However, after an inspired start, those behind the scenes at the Irish FA must secretly be hoping for much better. Michael O’Neill’s side have recorded two valuable away wins in Greece and Hungary, as well as a home victory over the Faroe Islands. They currently have 9 points, with Romania back in second with 7 points. Beyond them, Finland and Hungary both have 4 points, Greece have managed just 1, and the Faroe Islands are rock bottom after losing all three matches so far.
The Irish travel to Romania on Friday night, and win or lose, that’s three of their toughest away games in the group out of the way, with just visits to Finland and the Faroes to come. Romania look the obvious danger as far as winning the group goes, but with the other teams all capable of beating each other, Northern Ireland may have stolen a march on the second qualifying position. They are a best price of +550 with Skybet to win the group for the brave-hearted; and a top two position looks well within the compass of an Irish side attempting to qualify for their first major tournament since the 1986 World Cup.
Croatia to win Euro Qualifying Group H +300 with Betvictor
Northern Ireland to finish in the top two in Group F +138 Betvictor
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