Euro 2016 is shaping up to be the perfect tournament: most of the ‘better’ teams have navigated their way through the pitfalls of major competition play to take their place in the quarter finals, while three stubborn underdogs – Poland, Wales and Iceland – have booked their spot in the last eight courtesy of stoic defensive work.
There is the potential for three of the four semi-final berths to be filled by that trio of ‘small fry’, which would be some story, although the respective favourites in those matches – Portugal, Belgium and France – will all be fancied, the latter two especially, to get the job done.
The other quarter final should be an absolute humdinger, as world champions and bookmakers’ favourite here, Germany, take on a revitalised Italy.
So where is the smart money for punters this weekend?
Portugal vs Poland Betting Tips
This one won’t be pretty. Both Portugal and Poland have made a habit of serving up dour, low scoring encounters in this tournament to date, and neither is likely to give an inch here with so much at stake – sound the Under 1.5 Goal klaxon, which is available at a princely 7/4.
Poland have only conceded a solitary goal thus far, and that was a scorching bicycle kick from Switzerland’s Xherdan Shaqiri in the last 16, so it’s no surprise to learn where the Poles’ emphasis lies. With their vaunted front two of Robert Lewandowski and Arkadiusz Milik registering just one goal between them to date, ‘Under’ punters can rest assured their betslips are on easy street.
Even accounting for the Ronaldo factor, Portugal are hardly in net-busting form at the moment. Indeed, take the bizarre 3-3 draw with Hungary out of the equation and they have scored just one goal in regulation time in their other three matches in the tournament. Ronaldo himself has just two goals in his last twelve international knockout stage matches as well.
Value fans will take the 4/9 on offer for Under 2.5 Goals, but how about this: backing both Poland and Portugal to win on penalties; available at 8/1 each!
Belgium vs Wales Betting Tips
The fortunes of these two sides have been fairly contrasting so far. Belgium started poorly, they were outclassed by Italy in their first match, but since then they have gone W3 D0 L0 GF 8 GA 0. Heading into the business end of the tournament, that is ideal.
Wales produced their worst performance of Euro 2016 as they struggled to see off Northern Ireland last time out, and you’d wager that they will prefer being the underdogs here once again; it suits their style of play and psychology.
The crux here could be the physical battle between Welsh skipper Ashley Williams and Belgium’s battering ram frontman Romelu Lukaku. Questions remain over Williams’ fitness after a shoulder injury, while Lukaku will be fed by Eden Hazard, leading assist-maker in Euro 2016, and Kevin de Bruyne, the competition’s lading chance-creator.
This could be the end of the line for the Welsh dragons, and at 3/4 there will be plenty of interest in the Belgians winning in 90 minutes.
Germany vs Italy
The resurrection of Italy as a genuine contender for honours has been glorious to watch, and while they many boast the star names of yesteryear there is a certain togetherness and cohesion in their ranks, which is an essential component for any team with aspirations of success.
What has worked for the Italians thus far is defending in numbers before springing out on the counter attack, and it is a tactic that has led to three of their goals in the competition. With the Juventus nexus of Gigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli keeping things tight at the back, the Azzurri stand a great chance of going even further here.
In their way is the not inconsequential presence of Germany, who finally appear to be getting back to somewhere near the best. They demolished Slovakia 3-0 last time out, and while this is a much sterner test it was their efficiency with the ball – seven shots on target, eight corners and 89% pass success – that was the differentiator.
As such, many will take the opportunity to back Germany at odds against – how often does that chance come along? – at 13/10, although those of a more pragmatic nature will no doubt take the 1/2 on Under 2.5 Goals.
France vs Iceland
Underdogs don’t come much pluckier than Iceland, but if we could take a reality check for a moment we have to ask an awkward question: what have they actually achieved?
Sure, they beat England, but we know that our boys are terrible in major tournament play! They had previously struggled past an Austria side that were beaten by Hungary, and could only muster a 1-1 draw with the Hungarians themselves, who would go on to concede seven goals in two games against Belgium and Portugal.
France will j’adore Iceland’s approach of sitting back and letting their opponents have the ball, and the likes of Griezmann, Pogba and Payet will be licking their lips in anticipation at trying to melt their defensive wall. Sorry to burst the Icelandic bubble, but France should triumph comfortably here.