Wednesday night brought us a clean sweep on the International scene with victories for Poland, Romania and Croatia resulting in three winners from three bets. We’ll aim to continue the good work on Thursday night in the next of our International Friendly previews, and it’s a big night of action for the likes of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Scotland face a tough trip to Prague to face a Czech Republic side that finished top of their qualifying group ahead of Iceland, Turkey and the Netherlands, and it will be difficult for Gordon Strachan’s men to get a result. Meanwhile Wales and Northern Ireland face off in Cardiff in a ‘local’ derby, although both are shorn of some regular starters. Ukraine qualified for Euro 2016 via the play-off route after finishing third in their qualification group and they welcome Cyprus in Thursday night for their first warm-up game before they play Wales next Monday.
Czech Republic v Scotland
The Czech’s will be without big name stars of recent years such as Petr Cech and Tomas Rosicky, but they have formed a good team over the last two years made up largely of young players plying their trade in the national league. Several of these players are competing in the quarter finals of the Europa League with Sparta Prague after beating Lazio in the previous round, so there is plenty of quality available to manager Pavel Vrba.
It’s something of a transitional period for Scotland and Strachan has called up ten uncapped players for the two friendlies this week, and could give as many as five players their debuts in this game. Steven Fletcher – on loan to Marseille from Sunderland – has pulled out of the squad due to illness, while Steven Naismith has a hamstring injury leaving the Scotland boss with just Tony Watt and Ross McCormack as his available striking options.
The qualifying campaign started reasonably well for Scotland, but they were in a tough group with Germany, Poland and Republic of Ireland, and it was the latter that pipped them to third place in the group to progress to the play-offs. A return of 15 points from their ten games is by no means poor though, and they will lament a 1-0 away defeat in Georgia and a last-gasp goal for Poland to claim a draw as the two results that went against them.
The Czech Republic were one of the beneficiaries of Holland’s surprisingly poor qualifying campaign and they headed Group A with Iceland and Turkey getting through to the finals in France behind them. The Czech’s won seven of ten games in the group and should prove too strong for an under-strength Scotland in Prague on Thursday night.
They’ve beaten the Scots on each of their last three visits, and have also won four of their last six home internationals. Scotland meanwhile have only won once in their last five away internationals, and that was a 6-0 triumph over minnows Gibraltar. They will be organised and hard to break down, but the Czech’s have the quality to get through at least once and it’s hard to see where Scotland’s goals will come from.
Wales v Northern Ireland
Wales and Northern Ireland is a mouth-watering tie and promises to be a fiery encounter, but the home side are worth backing at +138 with Betfred, Ladbrokes and Totesport despite the absence of big name players.
Gareth Bale is more than just a talisman for the Welsh, but the FA have agreed with Real Madrid to leave him out of the squad for these two friendlies as he continues his return after injury. Bale is not the only player missing, with the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Ben Davies, Hal Robson-Kanu, James Collins and Andy King also on the sidelines.
Northern Ireland also have their injury problems with defender Chris Baird and midfielder Chris Brunt missing through injury, with the latter rules out of the Euros altogether. Manager Michael O’Niell could hand debuts to two players having called up Peterborough defender Michael Smith, and QPR striker Conor Washington.
Wales qualified from a tough group involving Belgium and Serbia, but after winning seven of ten games, losing just once and conceding just four goals, they were comfortable in 2nd place only two points behind the Belgians. Northern Ireland went one better by topping their group ahead of Romania and Hungary, winning six of ten and also only suffering one defeat.
Wales have beaten Northern Ireland on their last two visits by a 2-0 scoreline, and have also won three of their last five at home including a 1-0 victory over Belgium. Northern Ireland have won just one of their last four away games – 3-1 against the Faroe Islands – having suffering defeats away at Romania and Scotland.
One suspects that Wales would be much shorter if Bale could play, but as the home side they are expected to dominate possession and should be strong enough to claim the bragging rights.
Ukraine v Cyprus
After finishing third behind Spain and Slovakia, Ukraine beat Slovenia in the play-offs to qualify for France. They are a strong side at home, having won three of the last four on home soil, with a 1-0 defeat to Spain easily excusable.
Cyprus meanwhile have won their last two away games, in Andorra and Israel, but overall they’ve been beaten in 12 of the last 15 away games and this should be fairly routine for Ukraine.
Czech Republic to beat Scotland
Thursday 24th March, 19:45 GMT
Wales to beat Northern Ireland
Thursday 24th March, 19:45 GMT
Ukraine to beat Cyprus
Thursday 24th March, 19:00 GMT