When the domestic season is all but over, football fans start to wonder what to do with themselves for the next two months! Thankfully, before a summer devoid of football we can turn our attention to the up-coming raft of World Cup qualifiers and international friendlies.
World Cup qualifying games in the European section begin on the 9th of June, but before that several countries will be engaged in international friendlies as they warm up. The friendly program begins on Wednesday night and runs through the next week. The Champions League final on Saturday evening will deprive some nations of their biggest stars, but there are plenty of intriguing matches to get stuck into.
The curious case of the Netherlands begins another chapter on Wednesday, as they face an away friendly in Morroco in what will be manager Dick Advocaat’s first game in charge in his third stint as national boss. Having finished 3rd in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the Netherlands have experienced a remarkable fall from grace. They failed to even qualify for the European Championship in France, and have lurched from one disappointing result to another. Guus Hiddink was unable to replicate the World Cup form and was replaced in June 2015 by Danny Blind. The father of Manchester United’s Daley Blind couldn’t salvage the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, and was sacked in March of this year after a damaging World Cup qualifying defeat to Bulgaria.
In other games over the next few days, two which also catch the eye are those fixtures involving France and Northern Ireland. The French play host to Paraguay on Friday night, while Northern Ireland will welcome New Zealand on the same day.
Morocco v Netherlands
The Netherlands are worth a speculative punt to claim victory at +142 with Marathonbet.
To temper enthusiasm the Dutch will be missing several key players, who will join up with the squad prior to next week’s World Cup qualifier against Luxembourg. Daley Blind, Davy Klaassen, Jeremain Lens, Arjen Robben, Kevin Strootman, Stefan de Vrij and Georginio Wijnaldum will all be absent for this match. Interim manager Fred Grim can still call on Wesley Sneijder – who could become the Netherlands most-capped player if he appears in the next three matches. Memphis and Janssen are available for selection, and Chelsea’s impressive defender Nathan Ake is tipped to make his debut.
Morocco could line up with three players who ply their trade in the Netherlands and are currently still eligible to play for the Oranje. Ayoub, Amrabat and Mahi are all named in the Moroccan squad and could all feature on Wednesday night. Ajax’s Ziyech is definitely out though, refusing his call up as a feud with manager Harve Renard continues.
Morocco have won four of their last five matches (Africa Cup of Nations and friendlies), conceding just two goals in the process. Their last defeat at home was a 1-0 reverse to Finland in an AFCON warm up game back in January of this year.
The Netherlands fall from grace has been especially peculiar, since most of their poor form has come at home. Away from home they’ve won six of the last ten matches, including victories over England and Wales.
Northern Ireland v New Zealand
Northern Ireland’s stock continues to rise, and they are a fair bet to beat the Kiwis on Friday at -159 with 188Bet.
For sides of this calibre in international football, friendlies take on an extra importance due to FIFA rankings. Friendly victories improve a teams’ rating, and thus their seeding when World Cup draws take place. This ought to be a relatively competitive match then, as two relatively ‘small’ footballing nations take each other on.
Qualifying for Euro 2016 was a huge boost for Northern Irish football, and their form over the last two to three years suggests it was fully deserved. They currently sit second in World Cup qualifying behind Germany in group C, after five matches in the campaign so far. Ireland have won seven of the last eight home internationals, only losing to Croatia.
New Zealand have won six of their last ten matches, but opponents such as Fiji and Solomon Islands are not powerhouses of international football. The Kiwis did manage a 1-1 draw against the USA in October last year, but were beaten 2-1 by Mexico three days prior.
On home soil, Northern Ireland should prove too good as they continue their ascent up the FIFA rankings.
France v Paraguay
Finally, France are worth putting in your weekend accumulators at -313 with Unibet, when they host Paraguay on Friday night.
The French may be missing some players due to Champions League commitments, but such is the depth of the France squad that one would expect them to win comfortably. They lost their last friendly 2-0 to Spain, but had won four of the previous five games and remain one of the best international sides in Europe.
Paraguay are third-bottom of the ten-team qualifying section in South America, and a World Cup place in Russia 2018 looks a distant prospect. They have had some notable results recently – such as a 1-0 win in Argentina last October, but overall have lost seven of the last ten games. They’ve also won just twice on the road in 23 games stretching back to June 2014.
Netherlands to beat Morocco
Wednesday 31st May, 18:30 GMT
Northern Ireland to beat New Zealand
Friday 2nd June, 19:45 GMT
France to beat Paraguay
Friday 2nd June, 20:00 GMT