Meaningless friendlies and slightly less meaningless Nations League matches await football fans for the next two weeks of club-free football.
Who cares about mid-week Champions League matches when you could be watching Switzerland v Qatar in a grudge match for the ages on Wednesday night? We have already reached the third international break of the season and it’s just the middle of November!
The only good thing about this international break is that it marks the last one until next March.
However, in the stream of pointless matches, one ‘friendly’ stands out as mildly interesting. The Republic of Ireland, who so often make use of friendlies to play against the best Oman have to offer, take on Northern Ireland for the first time since 2011, and only the second time since the Good Friday Agreement.
While the game is unlikely to be a classic, there should be a definite edge to it and money to be made from our same game multi.
Both sides come into this game on the back of worrying runs and it is hard to make a case for either scoring a goal, let alone winning a game. The Republic have won just one of their last nine matches (2-1 win in a meaningless friendly against the USA in June), since they beat Wales in Cardiff in October 2017. They have also failed to score in both of their home UEFA Nations League games and it is hard to see where the goals will come from on Thursday night, apart from set pieces.
Northern Ireland have hardly fared much better and have won just two of their last 11 internationals since they all but secured their World Cup play-off place last September. They sit bottom of their Nations League group with no points from three games, their only goal coming as a 92nd minute consolation at home to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
With a large portion of each player pool coming from the lower end of the English Championship, the sides look set to cancel each other out. They even boast identical performances in major tournaments since Martin O’Neill took the reins of the Republic of Ireland in 2013. Both were eliminated in the second round of Euro 2016, and both sides fell at the final hurdle in qualifying for this year’s World Cup, although Northern Ireland did so without the embarrassment of losing 5-1 at home to Denmark.
Both will also have more than one eye on their final Nations League games next week, where they can still avoid relegation with the help of a miracle or two.
30/1/72 🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/RjAbKeVa0I
— James McClean (@JamesMcC_14) January 30, 2018
It’s been a turbulent few weeks for James McClean, for the seventh year in a row. The fact that he won’t wear a poppy is well documented at this stage, but the criticism seemed to go up a notch this year.
All things considered, McClean is likely to be fairly emotional come Thursday night. For someone who always plays with his heart on his sleeve anyway, it’s perfectly reasonable to think that McClean will be out to prove a point when he plays the country of his birth for the first time. Especially considering that he is certain to get a hard time from any Northern Irish supporters who make their way South.
McClean has been booked in his last two games and is suspended for Ireland’s trip to Denmark on Monday. He was booked three times during Ireland’s World Cup campaign and at 6/4 is always worth a punt to be carded.
*This same game multi on a 0-0 draw & James McLean to be carded pays just over 18/1 with Paddy Power. Pices are correct at time of publishing.