Euro 2008 Qualifiers - Match Previews 11-Oct-2006
Croatia v England
After a lame 0-0 draw against Macedonia on Saturday, England must start winning soon, but they definitely will not have it easy against Croatia. Slaven Bilic has created a young and skilled Croatian team that will not be intimidated by their English opponents.
This will be a very diifficult text for Steve McClaren. His honeymoon period has ended and he knows he must start producing if he is to keep the media at bay. If England lose in Zagreb, McClaren will come under intense pressure. There won't be much sympathy ofor them either. The draw seems a very possible result and it would likely keep both managers satisfied. Few sides can go to Croatia and collect points. Their home form is very strong and they have a dangerous striker in Mladin Petric who scored four goals in the 7-0 thrashing of Andorra on Saturday. McClaren will doubtless rely on a old tactic of stuffing the midfield on Wednesday and consequently will aim to frustrate the Croats. England have the skilled players to win a match like this, but they hardly looked good against Macedonia in the two times they have encountered them so far. This is a game that will likely be low scoring. A goalless draw is another possible score line but the odds of 5/1 do not appeal. Perhaps the best bet is under two goals in the game at the reasonable price of 13/8.
Wales v Cyprus
Beaten 5-1 at home to Slovakia was a tragedy for Wales. What shocked most was they played decently. The Welsh approach was strong, but they lacked that final scoring touch in the opponents' third of the pitch. Craig Bellamy and Robert Earnshaw are similar players and would be far more menacing playing off a large frontman such as John Hartson. However Hartson has been ruled out of this encounter for not being match fit after John Toshack asked the West Brom striker to return to international duty. So it appears Earnshaw and Bellamy will lead the attack up front and they should have plenty of ability to exploit a poor Cyprus defence that was clearly weak, even against Ireland on Saturday. If Earnshaw is omitted, then David Cotterill could play with Bellamy. Despite being young, Cotterill is another top player and can score goals easily. He is 9/4 bet odds to score anytime and 8/1 to be first or last goal scorer. Cotterill may be worth a wager.
It is unclear how Cyprus will react to their amazing win over Ireland. They rarely beat other teams and if they do it's normally only at home. They play poorly on their travels and may not be capable to withstanding a Welsh backlash. Toshack has asserted "there's no going back" now and he will tell his squad to attack the Cyprus defence. The Slovaks played strong football but it was top class finishing that produced their goals and this Cypriot team won't likely produce at a similar level. It's hard to see Wales losing this match and we can expect them to win comfortably.
Republic of Ireland v Czech Republic
Republic of Ireland 11/5
Czech Republic 11/10
Ireland have just experienced a great humiliation in getting destroyed by Cyprus 5-2. It surely hurt them and the only way to redeem themselves is to come out strongly against the Czech Republic and more get a good result. Steve Staunton's job as the national team manager might depend on it.
The Czechs come into the match coming off a 7-0 victory over San Marino and a 2-1 win over Wales. Their defeat of Wales was hardly a top performance. Wales deserved a draw and they created several chances to test the Czech defence. If Ireland get lucky, they are more than capable of defeating the Czech Republic. To do so, they must rediscover their motivation and bring the game to their opponents.
The big question is whether Staunton still controls the dressing room. If Ireland lose then Staunton's job as coach could be over, and it isn't inconceivable the players want him out too. They definitely hav not performed with much quality under Staunton's reign.
The Czechs are an experienced team and they will have a set game plan ready to put pressure on Ireland from the start. If they let them play they could be in for a tough night. But if they shut down the Irish in the first half and the crowd begins to get restless then the evening could well be theirs. It is sure to be a exciting night in Dublin Over 2.5 goals looks a decent bet.
Ukraine v Scotland
It is back to business for Scotland who must descend from Cloud Nine after their incredible win against France. They played well, particularly in the second half and they proved that if players work hard as a team, they can compete with the biggest sides in Europe.
But consistency crucial to Scotland now. With a total of nine points from three matches, the foundations are in place. The Scots must keep collecting points away from home and that is exactly the type of game that will challenge them. It is hard to see them winning this match, but a draw would be a excellent result. Few sides in their group will come back from Ukraine with any points so if the Scots get something Walter Smith will be a very happy man.
Andriy Shevchenko is expected to play and he is sure to cause some fear at the back for Scotland. He hasn't been prolific this year for Chelsea, but remains a class act and is capable of producing goals at any time. Scotland struggled to score against France, primarily since McFadden lacked accuracy and it seems Garry O'Connor is out of the equation by going missing. Kenny Miller should be back and he could be an annoyance for the Ukrainian defence. He could also be the lone striker as Scotland will try to protect their midfield. They should be over confident after beating France. This should be back to basics, but Smith is aware of that and the squad seems to understand his instructions very well. A draw will suit the Scots, they will be coming to Ukraine with just that in mind, so at 5/2 odds could be a tempting bet.
Northern Ireland v Latvia
Northern Ireland 6/5
Northern Ireland head into this match having produced two fantastic performances against Denmark and Spain, but coach Lawrie Sanchez won't be fooled about how much more is required. Consistency is vital and again they face a tough match against Latvia, a game Sanchez thinks will be tougher than Denmark. Latvia defeated Iceland 4-0 on Saturday and on just form lines (Northern Ireland lost 3-1 at home to Iceland) it does not bode well. Earlier Latvia lost their opening match 1-0 at home to Sweden.
This is the type of a match that is very hard to predict. Both teams will look at this fixture and believe they will have a good chance to win. Once again, the draw would seem a logical choice to arrive at, but this match could really go either way. We've seen Northern Ireland do that many times. They shock people in the difficult matches and lose the games they should win. They must make the most of their intimidating Windsor Park and the boisterous crowd to their advantage. If Northern Ireland avoid the complacency that has troubled them in the past then they can frustrate opposing teams and get results. In this match, however, the Latvians have a good chance not to lose, and could be worth a punt on the Asian handicaps.