Mark Stinchcombe: “The cracks are beginning to show in this Italian side and I think they look in real danger against a good Swedish team”

12 min

It was a welcome return to winning ways for me on the podcast last week. Firstly Tottenham labored to a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace on Sunday, comfortably finishing under 3.25 goals emphasising Spurs’ struggle to penetrate ‘smaller’ sides at ‘home’. Secondly, it was no surprise to anyone Jose Mourinho showed zero ambition against a vulnerable and negative Chelsea. The only disappointment was it didn’t finish 0-0, but under 2.25 goals never really looked in trouble.

As expected Jose Mourinho parked the bus against Chelsea last Sunday.

So we head into this weekend with some real excitement and…oh god it’s yet another international break. Qualification concludes for Russia 2018 with the playoffs and with goal lines of 2.0, 1.75, 2.0 and 2.0 in Europe, it screams caginess. It’s even difficult to get 0-0 onside when there’s no value at around 7.0. But I think I’ve found some decent bets to try and rescue some interest from the mundane grind that international football has become.

The format sees two legs of each playoff, with the return matches next week, with the away goals rule used if necessary. The World Cup is the pinnacle of a player’s career, and that brings with it huge pressure on the favourites and we’ve already seen Chile, Holland and the USA exit. I fancy there could be a couple more big sides following them…

Italians My Bet To Surrender

The first of these teams looking in danger of missing the big show is Italy and Italian manager Gian Piero Ventura is a man under massive pressure. Cracks started to show in September when he set up in a bold 4-2-4 formation away to Spain where they were promptly handed a 3-0 defeat and from there they managed just 1-0 wins against Israel and Albania, with a 1-1 draw with Macedonia sandwiched in between.

The Swedish back line are sure to be keeping close tabs on Italian striker Ciro Immobile.

Their last game he lined up in a 3-4-3, and he doesn’t seem to know what his best formation is, calling up 27 players for this tie. He’s bowed to public pressure by picking Brazilian Jorginho but it’s very short notice to build a team around him in just a few days. I’m still perplexed how Ventura got the job. He guided a Torino side with Ciro Immobile and Alessio Cerci to a 7th place finish while his best trophy success is winning Serie C1 with Lecce – the Italian 3rd division – 21 years ago.

Italy face up to a Sweden team that scored the most goals in qualifying out of any team who made the playoff round. ESPN’s Soccer Power Index, an international and club rating system designed to be the best possible representation of a team’s current overall skill level, has Sweden’s chance at 43% or 2.30.

This is an interesting comparison to betting models, especially at international level where there are much fewer matches and thus data to paint an accurate picture of a team’s true ability.

Sweden play as a team, a quality Italy sorely lack, and their goals have come despite Zlatan Ibrahimovic retiring from International football after Euro 2016. They beat France at home and Portugal away this year, and while they have a couple of good players in Emil Forsberg and Victor Lindelof they are very much more about the collective. This feels very similar to the Northern Ireland game, and I feel the best way to attack the tie is to back Sweden to qualify at 3.80.

When (Northern) Irish Eyes Are Smiling

Northern Ireland face Switzerland and will be a very tough nut to crack. They conceded just six times in their 10 group games, with five of those in their two matches against Germany, and finished above both the Czech Republic and Norway, beating both 2-0 at home. Northern Ireland are an excellent match play team, strong and organised, well drilled and tactically astute. They are perfect for these ties.

Northern Ireland Manager Michael O Neill has done wonders with his current side.

On the other hand, the Euros last summer give a good indication of how the Swiss perform in these big matches, only beating 10 man Andorra 1-0 and drawing 1-1 with Romania. They were beneficiaries of a relatively easy qualification group for Russia 2018 and still underperformed, only beating the Faroe Islands 2-0 in both games and managing a 2-1 win in Andorra.

The fact they are relying on the likes of Arsenal reject Johan Djourou goes to show their level of ability, and they lack a decent striker.

Michael O’Neill knows exactly what is required in this situation: “The most important thing is we don’t concede an away goal,” he said. The match odds don’t look far wrong in a 1.75 goal game, but even if they are, by backing Northern Ireland to qualify instead, we essentially get two chances to win instead of one. The aforementioned Soccer Power Index rates Northern Ireland’s chance of progression at 39%, or 2.55, and the price to qualify looks great value at 3.80 to me.

South Americans To Conquer New Zealand

Finally, I will admit the next team I’m about to recommend are not very good but at the prices I couldn’t let it pass. In the final round of the South American qualifiers, Peru equalised with 10 minutes to go against Colombia, but settled for a probable play-off tie against New Zealand rather than go for a victory which would see them automatically qualify. Radamel Falcao of Colombia can be seen allegedly telling the Peruvian players to stop playing and accept the playoffs!

Burnley’s Chris Wood is New Zealand’s talisman and will lead the line vs Peru.

Now I rate Peru but seemingly so does the market but with the arrogance that beating New Zealand is a given, I think that overconfidence is there to be opposed if possible. And at odds of 7.0+, it looks worth paying to find out. Especially as Peru will be without their captain and record scorer Paulo Guerrero who failed a drugs test.

Peru are in good form having drawn 0-0 in Argentina, won 2-1 in Ecuador, beaten Uruguay 2-1 and won 4-1 away to Paraguay, however, I am wondering if the market is simply looking at this as a “south American” side against a poor New Zealand outfit as this is priced up as if it’s Chile.

Let’s not forget Peru arguably shouldn’t even be here as a 2-0 loss in Bolivia was overturned after the home side were found guilty of fielding an ineligible player.

I don’t think New Zealand are very good but I think they might be improving, losing 2-1 away to Japan and Mexico, and drawing 1-1 in the USA last summer. Crucially they have their captain and talisman playing in Chris Wood who has 24 goals in 54 caps. Given the circumstances by which Peru have arrived here and the fact they have lost their captain at this stage, I can’t let the Kiwi’s go unbacked at the prices so we will have a small bet here.

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