It’s International friendly week and we’ve got a full seven days of fixtures to look forward to as each country begins its final preparations for the upcoming European Championship in France. We’re going to be working our way through the matches day-by-day this week as we look to bolster our profits before the return of domestic and European football.
After the excitement of the Champions League and Europa League in recent weeks it often feels like a bit of an anti-climax when International breaks come around, but with a huge tournament just 80 days away, there is a little more at stake in these games than usual. National coaches will be fielding something close to their best eleven’s as they look to develop unity and continuity, and with matches like Germany v England, Italy v Spain and Holland v France to look forward to, there’s plenty of action to whet the appetite.
We’ll start with Wednesday’s fixtures and Poland stand out as a cracking bet to get us underway when they host Serbia. Meanwhile Croatia are also at home to an Israel side that finished fourth in qualifying group B behind Belgium and Wales, and Romania also have an eminently winnable home tie against the side that England beat twice in Qualifying – Lithuania.
Poland v Serbia
The towering forward man was top scorer in qualifying with 13 goals and he currently leads the Bundesliga goal charts with 25 goals to his name this season already. With Bayern in the quarter finals of the Champions League and the Euros to follow, it could be an incredible season for the ace marksman, and he can lead Poland to two victories over the next seven days.
The Poles were given no easy task in qualifying, landing in the same group as local rivals Germany, along with Scotland and the Republic of Ireland. They started with a bang with a 7-0 win over Gibraltar and a historical 2-0 win over Germany, and from that point rarely looked back. There were scares along the way, such as the 2-2 home draw with Scotland in which Lewandowski scored an injury-time equalizer, but in the end they qualified with three points to spare over 3rd placed Republic of Ireland.
The failure to qualify for the 2014 World Cup actually brought about a change in fortunes for Poland, and since then they are unbeaten except for a 3-1 away defeat in Germany. They’ve won four of the last five matches and seven of the last ten at home. You have to go as far back as March 2014 for their last defeat on home soil – a 1-0 friendly loss at the hands of Scotland.
Serbia failed to qualify for the European Championship, finishing a distant fourth in Group I behind Portugal, Albania and Denmark. They won just two games in qualifying and lost five, including the 0-3 result awarded to Albania after the home tie in Serbia was abandoned due to crowd trouble. Little has improved since then and they’ve lost three of the last four games, albeit against good sides in France, Portugal and Czech Republic. They’re also on a run of four defeats in the last five away matches, and will find it hard to live with a buoyant Polish team on Wednesday night.
Croatia v Israel
Croatia ran Italy very close in qualifying group H, eventually finishing 2nd three points behind the Azzurri, but they should be far too good for Israel on Wednesday afternoon and can be backed at -250 with Coral and Marathonbet
With the likes of Modric, Rakitic and Mandzukic, the Croats have some real world class talent in their ranks, and they will be quietly confident of making an impact at the Euros. Manager Ante Cacic announced just 17 outfield players and three goalkeepers in his squad for the friendlies against Israel and Hungary, stating that he wants his first team to have as much time on the pitch together as possible. Although retired from international football, veteran striker Ivica Olic has been invited to captain the side against Israel in honour of his service to the country, and Cacic said “There are not enough words for his contribution to Croatia”. This will sharpen the appetite of the players and fans to send him off with a win, and they should have little trouble dispensing with a very average Israel team.
While the Israelis have proven to be tricky customers in recent International football past, they do not currently possess a ‘vintage’ side, and they were relatively poor in qualifying – finishing fourth behind Belgium, Wales and Bosnia. They’ve now lost five of their last seven games, and have suffered defeat in each of the last four matches against Croatia. All signs here point to a comfortable home win.
Romania v Lithuania
Romania were surprisingly beaten to top spot in Group F by Northern Ireland, but they went through the entire qualifying campaign unbeaten with five wins and five draws. It has been a transitional period for the national side with plenty of young players coming through the ranks, but despite a few too many stalemates, they now boast an unbeaten record that stretches back over 15 matches to June 2014. They’ve not been beaten at home since a World Cup qualifying defeat to Turkey in 2013, and look a solid bet to win on Wednesday evening.
Lithuania have lost seven of their last ten away games, including defeats to the likes of Malta, Hungary and Estonia, and while they can be expected to get numbers behind the ball, they will struggle to hold out against Romania for 90 minutes.
Poland to beat Serbia
Wednesday 23rd March, 19:45 GMT
Croatia to beat Israel
Wednesday 23rd March, 17:00 GMT
Romania to beat Lithuania
Wednesday 23rd March, 18:00 GMT