The first round of qualifying fixtures for the 2018 World Cup involving European teams take place between Sunday and Tuesday but before that, a number of those countries are in friendly action.
Of Wednesday’s selection of games, Germany’s clash with Finland looks the most enticing. Die Mannschaft are understandably the 2/15 favourites but after falling in the semi-finals of Euro 2016, will be looking to blow out some cobwebs against the Finns.
The duo have drawn their last four meetings, stretching back to 2001 but the Germans are a different animal to back then and backing over 3.5 goals at 35/4 could be worth considering with the attacking talent on show for Joachim Low’s men.
It’s also worth noting that Robbie Keane is due to win his 146th and final cap for the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday, when they take on Oman. The Irish do not appear much value in the match betting due to the gulf in class between the sides but with Keane almost certain to start his swansong, 39/20 for him to score first looks a fair price.
Thursday’s games features two fixtures that could be extremely entertaining, including Belgium against Spain. After poor showings in France over the summer, both countries have new men at the helm. Belgium have ironically gone for a Spaniard in Roberto Martinez, while Julen Lopetegui has taken over La Roja.
Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’ appears to be running out of chances to prove themselves but Martinez’s passion could breathe new enthusiasm into the side and 17/10 for them to win appears sensible. Spain have been a team seemingly in transition for a while now but Lopetegui will be keen to introduce his own ideas following their stagnation under Vicente del Bosque. An away win at 7/4 looks a decent price, while the draw is 43/20.
The other friendly on Thursday that grips the imagination sees Italy host France. These sides have met in huge games in the recent past, including the finals of the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2000. This friendly in Bari will obviously have less riding on it but new Azzurri boss Giampiero Ventura will be desperate to start his reign with a win in arguably the most passionate football city in Italy.
France most recently lost in the final of Euro 2016 on home soil and may still be suffering from a hangover. All these factors mean a home win at 19/10 looks tempting, although 8/5 for Les Bleus also appears reasonable.