The Euros are proving to be even more exciting than I could have imagined ! On Wednesday night, Croatia (who were priced at 21/1 to win the Euros, just prior to kick off) grabbed a late winner, to pip Spain at the post (who started the fixture as favourites to win the Euros). Spain are forced to resign themselves to an encounter with a very well organised and defensively sound Italy. Croatia however, get the benefit of beating Spain, in that they face a Portugal side who are too reliant on individual players, and don’t play as a collective team. As much as their ultra determined attitude should be commended, we should not forget that they conceded 3 goals and were always chasing the game. Matched against a better team like Italy, the door would have been shut on them and they would never have recovered!
Croatia, who have match winners, in Ivan Rakitic (who is a talisman for Barcelona behind Messi), along with Mandzukic upfront, have the weaponry needed to beat any team on their day! In my opinion, the results so far confirm, that there are NO clear favourites in this competition, as soon as a ‘favourite” team seems to be showing consistency, they falter.
Belgium have been playing well in the last 2 games, especially in how they saw off a desperate Sweden, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. As it turns out, playing in his last international giving his ALL to play just a few more internationals! In the end, they created no clear chances and in all fairness, what I assumed was a group of death was anything but, with Belgium and Italy proving far superior. I mentioned in a previous article I wrote, that a Euro winner from this group was plausible and good value, as the ‘To win from Group’ market.
Italy may face Spain next, but like Leicester showed in the EPL, the tide is turning in football regarding what style of play is more effective. The Spanish style tiki-taka that has been dominant for 6 years and possibly ended at the last world cup, may be A way, as opposed to THE way. The ‘keep-the-ball and pass it into the net’, or the more direct approach?
Spain had enough chances to beat Croatia, but ultimately the ball needed to cross the line. If it were boxing, Spain would win on points and punches thrown, but football only rewards goals. This year, Manchester United demonstrated this, in contrast to Leicester who highlighted how important a strong defense is, as well as how important taking your chances are. Lots of crosses, a few long balls and stretching the opponents with width and pace is as effective as the Spanish possession-based game, and the Spain versus Italy encounter may give us clues as to this question. All the other games will be interesting but none will have the CONTRAST of this game.
Germany will do what Germany always do, and progress deep. They have always played football with just the right balance, between directness and possession, and whilst not in superb form, they know how to win tournaments. I feel that Belgium are the most gifted and if they can defend well, they are as good as anyone, if not, the best on paper. I hope that they do progress because they are awesome to watch.
Now for the fairytale story in Wales. They are 30/1 and were backed as high as 250/1! With their team spirit, good solid players mixed with some superb players, like Ramsey from Arsenal , and the incredible Gareth Bale, I can see them progressing passed Ireland with relative ease, and I think the odds on this game should have Wales reflect as stronger favourites. Wales, along with Croatia and Italy, are my selections for the punter that seeks value, as I feel that there are no clear favourites as mentioned previously.
Both the Republic and the North of Ireland’s (teams are there, which is a fairytale story with 4 UK teams in the last 16 ( If the republic would just concede to be part of the UK 🙂 ). However, I think Wales will progress the furthest. That may sound controversial but England are only fractionally better on paper and the huge pressure of expectation always trips them up. Wales went toe-to-toe with them and personally, it’s the “same car for double the price” … regarding Welsh value.
On to the host country, France. Of course they are now favourites. If I was forced to pick a lower odds favourite I would take them, simply because the home support will be parochial and vociferous! The French are emotional to the nth degree, and that passion, if controlled, along with a very good football team, who I actually picked to win the last world cup, should progress to the finals by sheer will. Home-ground advantage is immeasurable. If used in the right way and the energy is controlled, it is what gives them the edge among a maize of speculated potential winners at low odds, that simply cannot be separated.
The way the draw has panned out means that the more fancied and gifted teams can, not to say will, progress.
I look forward to some encounters , and think that the favourites in all of these matches and the value odds teams that I have mentioned above, will progress. The obvious exception mentioned is the Spanish / Italy encounter and that will reveal a lot, I suspect. I am backing Italy at big odds 19/1 and if they beat Spain, those odds will come crashing down. Against the odds for me likened to Leicester FC. So, lets all enjoy the fireworks that are sure to emerge as we continue on the road to the final.