We’ve no Premier League football this weekend, but that’s okay. There’s a bevy of Euro 2020 qualifiers on Saturday and this 16/1 acca can help light up the dross.
It’s the start of a glorious new era…or the resumption of a glorious past era, whatever floats your boat. While some will say this is a comfortable first game in charge for Mick McCarthy on his return to the hot seat given that Ireland’s opponents are minnows who they’ve smashed 11 goals past without reply in their only two meetings to date, the words “banana skin” will be ringing in his head like an alarm bell.
This is because, as it stands, Gibraltar are the form side right now having won three games in 2018 — prior to this, Gibraltar had won just once since gaining full UEFA membership in 2013. Two of these wins came back-to-back in the UEFA Nations League last October — Armenia and Liechtenstein were the victims — and marked their first competitive victories. Not only have they outperformed us recently, Julio César Ribas’ men have also outscored us.
UEFA’s smallest member have notched five goals from their last four games and there’s an exciting running battle to be the nation’s all-time top scorer at the minute, with four players tied on two goals apiece: Jake Gosling, Lee Casciaro, Joseph Chipolina and Liam Walker. Those are some stellar names. Meanwhile, the Boys in Green have drawn four of their last five, losing the other game, and scoring just once in the process.
This recent impotency in front of goal won’t be helped by the fact Shane Long has dropped out of the squad for the next two fixtures — McCarthy’s available forward options boast a combined total of 14 caps and one goal between them. Long might have days where he couldn’t hit the side of a Renault Espace, but Gibraltar are exactly the kind of cannon fodder he’d expect to score against.
In the halcyon days of the 2002 World Cup, McCarthy could call on the mercurial talents of Damien Duff and Robbie Keane; the Ireland boss is about to find out that James McClean is no Duff and that Robbie Keane in a pitch-side assistant’s role just doesn’t cut the same mustard.
With all that in mind, we like the look of Gibraltar +4 here. What we’re saying is that Ireland will win. They just won’t win all that well.
Verdict: Gibraltar +4 @ 4/7.
A positively thrilling clash. The unstoppable force meeting the immovable object. Malta are without a win since a glorious 1-0 friendly triumph over Ukraine in June 2017. For a last competitive Maltese victory, you also need to go back to June…of 2013 — Coventry City legend and current Malta captain Michael Mifsud scored as they secured a famous away victory over the might of Armenia.
You don’t have to go back nearly so far to figure out the last time the Faroe Islands won a game. It was in September in the UEFA Nations League: they won 3-1 at home against Malta. In fact, the side famously once managed by Brian Kerr have had the upper hand in clashes between these two giants, winning four and drawing one of their six meetings.
The last time these two teams faced each other, in another Nations League clash last November, it very nearly threatened to turn into a thriller — both sides scored within the opening four minutes of the game. “Hold up,” we thought to ourselves, “could it be that we have a seven-goal classic on our hands?” Nope, the game ended 1-1. The players were just trolling anybody who arrived late.
With that recent experience behind them, and given their overall strong record against Malta, we fancy the Faroes to rock up and take all three points this time around.
Verdict: Faroe Islands to win @ 13/10.
To put the task facing Finland into perspective, they have only ever beaten Italy once: this solitary victory came in the very first meeting of these sides at the 1912 Summer Olympic games. The Finns dumped the Italians out of the competition in the first round thanks to a 3-2 win in extra-time.
The result so scarred the Italians that they proceeded to win 11 of the next 12 encounters with Finland (drawing the other 0-0 in Rome in 1975). The Azzurri have been ruthless, scoring 32 goals and conceding just seven from 13 meetings — Finland haven’t breached an Italian defence since bagging a sweet, sweet consolation goal in a 6-1 defeat in 1977.
More recently, however, Finland did enjoy a successful Nations League campaign which saw them win four of their six games, though they come into this one on a run of three losses from their last four outings.
Meanwhile, the Italians’ 2018 was underwhelming as they won just three of 11 matches. Roberto Mancini will be aware that a strong Euro 2020 qualification campaign will be required to ensure long term job security, so we fancy Italy to win to nil for this one.
Verdict: Italy to win to nil @ 4/6.
Spain away is a tough challenge for any international side, but if anybody can mastermind a result here, it’s Lars Lagerbäck. The legendary Swedish manager had retired following the incredible exploits of his Iceland team at Euro 2016, but he was coaxed back into the game by the Norwegians in February 2017 for one last gig and has seen his new side lose just five times in 19 games.
Norway have won eight of their last ten games, keeping six cleansheets and securing promotion from their Nations League group in the process. While Spain only lost twice in 2018, a leaky defence cost them better results on more than one occasion and they were dumped out of the World Cup by Russia at the last-16 stage after losing a penalty shoot-out.
That said, Spain have only lost once to Norway in six encounters and the World Cup humiliation at the hands of Russia occurred before the tenure of Luis Enrique began. While the former Barcelona boss is still trying to work out the defensive kinks in this team, we reckon La Roja take all three points here despite conceding.
Verdict: Spain and BTTS @ 15/8.
*Prices correct at time of publishing