Belgium beat Italy 3-1 in a Brussels friendly in November one is picking the Red Devils to frank the form in their UEFA Euro 2016 Group E game versus the Blues on Monday.
One remains sceptical that Belgium’s golden generation of players, including Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelo Lukaku, will go all the way in a major tournament such as UEFA Euro 2016, not least because Red Devils manager Marc Wilmots may not be up the coaching at the highest level.
Italy boss Antonio Conte is superior to Wilmots but the Chelsea-bound manager does not have the cattle because Italy’s talent pool is the shallowest that it has been, well, for decades. Defensively Italy is good – Juventus stars dominate its back line – but the Blues have no-one whose name leaps off the page in either midfield or attack. Eder and Graziano Pelle are likely to start up for Italy, while the Blues considered including 37-year-old Andrea Pirlo in their UEFA Euro 2016 squad even though he has operated in America’s Major League Soccer since 2015.
Antonio Candreva provided Italy with a third-minute lead in Brussels seven months but the Blues could not make the most of their early advantage, the Red Devils equalising in the 13th minute and scored two goals in the final quarter. Italy qualified for UEFA Euro 2016 from a terrible group and it is significant that the Blues failed to win either of their preliminary matches against fellow qualifier Croatia. The bottom line is that Italy has posted very few victories over highly ranked teams in recent years and Belgium, while not the sum of its parts, is one of the world’s top sides.
Several bookmakers, including Betfred and William Hill, are offering odds of +160 about Belgium kicking off its UEFA Euro 2016 campaign with a Group E win over Italy. One thinks that Belgium would be shorter odds to get the better of Italy if the Blues were not the Blues – their odds are based on their reputation rather than their ability.
Few UEFA Euro 2016 teams probe better than Spain and that spells trouble for a Czech Republic side that is incapable of shutting out anyone except football’s minnows. The Czech Republic has kept just one clean sheet in its last 22 games and that single instance occurred versus Malta in Austria two weeks ago. Czech Republic fans will point out that their team scored in nine of their 10 UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying matches but the Czechs will have to live off scraps of possession against a Spain side that hogs the ball.
Spain and the Czech Republic met home and away en route to UEFA Euro 2012, with the Spaniards winning 2-1 in Granada and 2-0 in Prague. Spain’s tendency not to turn bucketloads of possession into goals means that a similar scoreline on Monday is likely but, rather than pick the Spaniards to win by a specific result, one is selecting them to begin their UEFA Euro 2016 Group D program with three points. Spain is available at odds of -200 with numerous bookmakers, including Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and Totesport.
Finally, under two and a half goals at odds of -179 with Marathonbet is the best way to approach the UEFA Euro 2016 Group E game between Ireland and Sweden on Monday.
Exclude Ireland’s UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying matches versus Gibraltar and the Irish scored just eight goals in their eight games before they defeated Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-1 on aggregate in the play-offs. Nine of Ireland’s 10 UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying matches – excluding the two games that it played against Gibraltar – went under two and a half goals.
Sweden boasts one of the world’s most famous strikers in Zlatan Ibrahimovic but the larger-than-life character does not have much support. Ireland manager Martin O’Neill will be thinking: stop Ibrahimovic and you stop Sweden.
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Belgium to beat Italy
Monday 13th June, 20:00 GMT
Spain to beat Czech Republic
Monday 13th June, 14:00 GMT
Republic of Ireland v Sweden – Under 2.5 Goals
Monday 13th June, 17:00 GMT
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