The stakes are so high that, naturally, one would expect the UEFA European Championship play-offs first legs to be tense, with the home teams desperate not to concede what may prove to be a costly away goal and the visiting sides keen not to leave themselves with a mountain to climb. The situation in which these eight teams – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denmark, Hungary, Ireland, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden and Ukraine – find themselves is likely to lead to nervous football and the history books suggest that the probability of the first legs being low scoring and/or featuring at least one clean sheet are relatively high. UEFA has run two-legged ties for FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championship qualification since the race to make the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France and the numbers, particularly the recent ones, are compelling.
In the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying race, three out of the four UEFA play-offs first legs went under two and a half goals and, also, three of them featured at least one clean sheet. In the 2012 UEFA European Championship race, two of the four play-offs first legs went under two and a half goals and all four of them featured at least one clean sheet. Since the 1998 FIFA World Cup qualifying race there have been 32 play-offs first legs between UEFA teams – 23 of them have gone under two and a half goals and 20 of them have featured at least one clean sheet. So, purely by crunching those numbers, the odds of any such match having under two and a half goals are about 2/51.40-2500.40-2.500.40 and the odds of any such match featuring at least one clean sheet – the no option on the both-sides-to-score market – are about 3/51.60-1670.60-1.670.60.
One could make a case for betting blind on the UEFA European Championship play-offs first legs and backing either under two and a half goals or both teams to score (no) in each of the four games. One’s issue with that, given the available odds, one would need three out of four winners to turn a profit. History suggests that is a strong possibility of happening but one would like to be a bit more selective.
One’s idea of the best UEFA European Championship play-offs first-leg bet is under two and a half goals in Thursday’s game between Norway and Hungary in Oslo, a wager that is available at odds of 57/1001.57-1750.57-1.750.57 with PaddyPower.
According to the latest World Football Elo Rankings – they are more meaningful than those that FIFA publishes – there is very little to choose between 48th-ranked Norway and 50th-ranked Hungary so one is expecting a tight tie.
Six of Norway’s 10 UEFA European Championship Group H matches went under two and a half goals, including four of its five home games. Seven of Hungary’s UEFA European Championship Group F matches went under two and a half goals, including four of its five away games. Those are decent numbers when one considers that Norway was in the same UEFA European Championship pool as Azerbaijan and Malta, while Hungry’s section included the Faroe Islands.
Norway visited Hungary in a 2012 friendly match and the result was a 2-0 away victory for the Norwegians so, for fans of head-to-head data, that is another little tick.
One thinks that there is a good chance that Saturday’s UEFA European Championship play-offs first leg between Ukraine and Slovenia will feature at least one clean sheet but, at the odds, one would prefer to back the Ukrainians to win to nil at 3/22.50+1501.501.50-0.67 with SkyBet than take the odds-on option.
According to both the World Football Elo Rankings and its FIFA equivalent, Ukraine versus Slovenia is the most uneven UEFA European Championship play-offs tie and the Ukrainians have not conceded many home goals, irrespective of event or competition over the last four years. One would be surprised if Ukraine did not win Saturday’s UEFA European Championship play-offs first leg and Sky Bet’s odds about the Ukrainians shutting out Slovenia stand out as a value investment.
Coral are offering odds of 67/1001.67-1490.67-1.490.67 about any Ukraine victory over Slovenia in Saturday’s UEFA European Championship play-offs first leg and that is a legitimate way to play for punters who prefer to keep their betting to basic betting lines.
Norway v Hungary – Under 2.5 goals
12th November 19:45 GMT
Ukraine to beat Slovenia to nil
14th November 17:00 GMT
Eric has been a sports journalist for over 20 years and has travelled the world covering top sporting events for a number of publications. He also has a passion for betting and uses his in-depth knowledge of the sports world to pinpoint outstanding odds and value betting opportunities.
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