It’s the last international break until March with the final furlong of Euro 2020 qualifying upon us. Football betting analyst Mark O’Haire picks out two of his favourite fancies from preliminary fixtures on Friday and Saturday.
There are only two rounds of regular Euro 2020 qualifying to play and vital places in next summer’s tournament are up for grabs. Six nations have already booked their place at the European Championships and a handful of others are on the brink of joining them.
I’ve delved into the matches that matter to pick out two value-laden fancies to make the international weekend a little more palatable.
Armenia Underrated On Friday
Armenia have been in the international doldrums since flirting with qualification for Euro 2012. A young Henrikh Mkhitaryan led the Eurasians to a crunch clash against Ireland in Dublin back in October 2011 with the winner progressing to the play-offs. An early Armenia red card put the new nation on the back foot and a 2-1 defeat followed.
Despite the disappointment, Armenia were expected to kick-on with a collection of up-and-coming players looking to make their mark on the international stage. A lack of consistency saw Armenia miss out on the 2014 World Cup and the nation picked up just two qualifying victories across their next two campaigns as they slumped back to mediocrity.
However, there have been signs of life under head coach Abraham Khashmanyan, particularly in Yerevan. In front of their home supporters, Armenia have registered an excellent 4-2 success over Bosnia and given runaway group winners Italy a stern examination despite a 3-1 defeat here.
A top two berth still looks beyond Khashmanyan’s outfit but Armenia remain in contention coming into the final two rounds of action and the hosts look undervalued for a home tie against a beleaguered Greece team. After all, the Eurasians were 3-2 winners in Athens as recently as June.
It’s been another torrid qualification effort from Greece. The Blue-White are onto their seventh boss in five years and the latest incumbent, John van’t Schip, is already under pressure having been held at home by Lichtenstein in September. Nevertheless, the team did restore a slice of pride when overcoming Bosnia last time out.
But Greece are back on the road here. The Pirate Ship are comfortably the second-lowest scorers in the group and have only won away at rock-bottom Lichtenstein, Cyprus, Estonia, Lithuania and Gibraltar in competitive contests since 2012 and look false favourites for a fixture that has little riding on it for the visitors.
The 2.17 on the away win is too short and so backing Armenia with a +0.5 start on the Asian Handicap line is advised at 1.78.
Croatian Selection Concerns Make Blazers Vulnerable
World Cup finalists Croatia crushed Slovakia 4-0 when the teams met in September and so the hosts are understandably short price jollies do complete the double in Rijeka on Saturday night. But with a collection of frontline players unavailable through injury and suspension, the Blazers might not enjoy such a serene encounter.
Draws in Azerbaijan and Wales, plus a shock loss in Hungary, have hampered Croatia’s qualifying campaign. Even so, the top seeds know that a draw here will seal their spot at next summer’s Euros, and so there’s no need to panic, nor look for the Hollywood score.
Croatia will have to plot their path without Barcelona ace Ivan Rakitic.
The Blazers have won just four of their past 11 without the midfield maestro, whilst forward Andrej Kramaric – three goals in his last six caps – could also be crocked. To make matters worse, regular centre-backs Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida are suspended for Saturday’s showdown.
Head coach Zlatko Dalic still boasts plenty of available talent, although it might be worth opposing a cushy home win with Croatia winning by the solitary goal in five of their last seven outings, including against sides of similar or weaker pedigree in Wales, Azerbaijan, Jordan and Senegal. The hosts have also silenced only two of their past 10 guests.
Considering Slovakia have troubled the scoresheet in 21 of their past 25 matches, as well as notching in eight of their most recent 12 away days, a goal for the Falcons would, in theory, see the pre-match handicap hurdle look even steeper for Croatia to beat.
Slovakia are never easy meat, highlighted by the fact that 10 of their past 11 losses on the road have arrived by exactly one goal.
And their goal threat, coinciding with Croatia’s defensive reshuffle, should ensure we get a good run for our money backing the Falcons with a +1.25 start at 1.8.
The away side know a positive result is necessary to keep their own qualification hopes alive and so motivation should not be a concern in Rijeka.
- Armenia +0.5 – 2 units @ 1.78
- Slovakia +1.25 – 2 units @ 1.8