Sunday’s Football

Saturday delivered with a main winning bet plus a tidy bet on the shortlist coming in.

Bournemouth vs Everton was 0-0 at half time but four shared second half goals saw the 21/20 main bet land easily in the end.

Tranmere were on the shortlist. I gave you two option with them with a win (23/20) or the correct score grouping of 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1 (21/10) and that came in with it just being a 1-0 win over Port Vale to extend their terrible away record.

I’ve been chasing a tail trying to find something appealing for today’s card given the infancy of a number of leagues. The bet I’ve spotted looks a big price considering recent outcomes.


Lokomotiv Moscow vs Anzhi (17:00)

The riches seem a distant past for Anzhi, who have had to massively transform and rebuild.

After four games this season they find themselves in the relegation zone having picked up just three points following a 1-0 win at Ural in their opening game.

A three game losing streak has followed, including a 3-1 home defeat at the hands of Orenburg last time out.

Lokomotiv haven’t got off to the best of starts themselves with just one goal scored in four games with five points on the board.

The club from the capital started with two goalless draws, including one in the Moscow derby against Spartak before losing 1-0 at Orenburg then winning by that scoreline last Sunday against Krylya Sovetov.

That win came at a cost with midfielder Vladislav Ignatyev being dismissed 12 minutes from time, so he’ll have to watch on from the sidelines.

I looked at the match with results and H2H data before looking at the markets as usual, so I was shocked to see Lokomotiv 1/4 best price to win this given their start to the season.

Like I started with, Anzhi have undergone plenty of changes and manager Magomed Adiev has his work cut out with this season ahead but he’ll likely line up with a 5-4-1 here in a bid to frustrate the hosts.

When you look at Lokomotiv’s home form you’ll see they are unbeaten in ten home games but many of them have been low scoring affairs.

Their last seven home games, including last season, have yielded a total of three goals. That’s three 1-0 wins and four 0-0 draws, so this isn’t the place to come for entertainment.

Add in the fact that Anzhi have played three of their four games away this season with two 1-0 scores meaning this is unlikely to get the pulse racing.

To compound matters for those paying to get in would be the fact that the last three games between these sides has seen just two goals. A 0-0 draw with two 1-0 Lokomotiv wins.

That is a complete lack of goals on that part, especially with Lokomotiv’s four games so far seeing just two, with one at each end.

I hope I’m selling this as a must watch spectacle!

Lokomotiv 1-0 (21/5 – Marathon) must be worth a look given it’s won in the last two H2Hs, plus is their only winning score this season.

Despite the bookies expecting this to be a simple stroll in the chilly Russian air for the hosts, they could take some time to get going, especially with it taking Spartak 70 minutes to break Anzhi down a couple of weekends ago.

Despite the short quotes for a home win and similarly short quotes for goals, the bare stats suggest differently, so that’s good enough for me, especially at the price.

Under 1.5 Goals (12/5 – Unibet – 0.5pt)


Football Shortlist

Motherwell vs Rangers (12:15)

There has been plenty of needle in the build-up following some comments in the media from Peter Hartley in regards to Fabio Cardoso’s sustaining a broken nose in this fixture last season.

Rangers have had a few disciplinary issues under Steven Gerrard, so his players will need to watch their heads.

This could boil over despite the experienced Craig Thomson in the middle, so cards an option.

Peter Hartley to be shown a card (3/1 – Bet365) could be a way in given Rangers players could target him for a bit of treatment following those comments and he could retaliate.

Conor Goldson to be shown a card (7/2 – Bet365) is an option for the Gers. He was cautioned on the opening day against Aberdeen and was booked late on in the Europa League win on Thursday, so the CB is one to potentially watch, as is Kyle Lafferty at the same price for Rangers.

 

Gent vs Lokeren (17:00)

There isn’t much pre-match value given the shortness of the prices and the lack of good markets for what I’m about to say.

Gent are unbeaten in their last six in all competitions after losing their opening league game away at Standard Liege.

They were held by Bordeaux on Thursday despite being the dominant side and just failing to get the goal they deserved.

Having watched the second half of that game, I can confess they were good for corners and when I delved deeper in to their team totals then that stacks up.

So far this season in all seven competitive games their totals have been: 5, 9, 3, 11, 6, 8 & 8.

The lowest of those figures was a three, which came away in the first leg of a Europa League tie in Poland, so circumstances say you go there to keep it tight and they did nick a winner, so tactically it worked.

Otherwise their corner tallies have been fairly good. Only Sky Bet have available corners markets at the time of writing with Gent requiring eight for an odds-on bet – 8+ Gent Corners (11/10) but I’m sure if you have this on in-play, you could catch some good ‘Race to’ markets to get better value.

 

Sevilla vs Villarreal (21:15)

These two were involved in two humdingers last season with nine goals across the two meetings.

Those two games saw 12 corners in both, while there were three red cards and booking points of 110 and 85 respectively.

Sevilla’s season started at the end of July with Europa League qualifying and Pablo Sarabia has been in good form in front of goal and he got their winner on Thursday night finishing a good move.

That’s seven goals for Sarabia so far, so for a goalscoring option at 21/10 with Bet365 looks appealing.

Villarreal will be looking to bounce back following a disappointing home defeat to start their campaign, especially after Gerard Moreno put them ahead early on.

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Saturday’s Football


Bournemouth vs Everton (15:00)

It’s a rare Premier League tip today and it’s one I can’t let pass given the two sides coming up against one another.

Bournemouth have started the campaign with two wins and have netted twice in both of those matches.

They came from behind to beat West Ham last weekend with Callum Wilson getting his second of the season before Steve Cook won the game for the Cherries.

Everton are unbeaten themselves with a win and a draw after last weekend’s 2-1 home triumph over Southampton – a game that could have had plenty more goals from the chances cut out.

The fact the Toffees have scored twice in both games and have conceded in both shows the way that Marco Silva likes to play where they’ll look to get on the front foot but still be vulnerable at the back.

Richarlison has come in and started to justify the £50 million price tag having scored three in two, so he’s one the Bournemouth defence will have to watch but Theo Walcott got his first goal of the season last weekend and he should have had a second to go with it.

I’m looking at goals here unsurprisingly and with Bournemouth only keeping three clean sheets at home last season, even though they started with one against an unadventurous Cardiff side, you have to expect Everton’s quick football to find a way through.

The Toffees only kept three clean sheets on their travels last season and two of those came at sides that were ultimately relegated, so they struggled to shut out those higher and mid-table sides and it could prove the same this season under Silva.

The bet I’m going with landed 11 times last season in Bournemouth homes games and it’s won in five of the six Premier League H2Hs between these two sides.

There have been three 2-1 scores when these sides meet, plus a 6-3 Everton win in February 2017, which just highlights everything about these two sides. Good going forward, not so good at the back.

The first ever Premier League encounter is one some will remember with Chris Kamara losing it as Ross Barkley put Everton back in front, after leading 2-0, in the last minute, only for Junior Stanilas to score his second of the game in a bonkers 3-3.

When you factor in that these two sides do score plenty of goals, then this is a bet I like.

Add in the fact that in two games so far, Everton have recorded 12 shots on target, an average of six per game, while Bournemouth have had nine, an average of 4.50 per game, then if those are achieved here, you’d have to expect goals.

Both Teams to Score & Over 2.5 Goals (21/20 – Coral)

                                                                                                                                   

Football Shortlist

I mentioned going against Stoke the other night and Hull are a very tempting best price of 10/3 this afternoon.

Norwich vs Leeds is another game I’d look for goals in alongside the main bet.

 

Tranmere v Port Vale – Tranmere Win (23/20) or Tranmere 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1 (21/10)

Tranmere have picked up five points in four games on their return to the Football League.

Four of those points have been won here at Prenton Park where they defeated Cheltenham and held Mansfield.

Those two games have only seen one goal but it has seen Micky Mellon’s side keep clean sheets in both.

Port Vale have six points but those have been won in their two home matches while they’ve lost both matches on their travels.

Vale’s last away win came in December 2017 at Carlisle. They’re on a 14-game winless away run and it’s unlikely to end against a tough Tranmere side.

Those 14-games have seen eight defeats and six draws with the Valiants failing to score in five of those games.

This should pan out in a narrow home win, so either of the two options above represents the best ways in.

 

Wilstermann v Royal Pari (20:00) – Royal Pari to Score First Half (9/4 – Bet365)

On Soccerway this game is down as tonight but on Bet365 it’s down for Monday, so take your pick.

If it is tonight then the bet is the visitors to score in the first half.

Royal Pari top the clasaura stage of the season having won six of their seven games while drawing the other 1-1 at Blooming.

They’ve scored six first half goals in their last five games, so do start games strongly.

Wilstermann don’t have the Copa Sudamericana to worry about having gone out on penalties to Deportivo Cuenca.

Their form has picked up in the league since that exit where they are unbeaten in four.

However, in their last three games, Wilstermann have conceded in the first half of each of them and that’s also been the first goal of the game meaning they leave themselves an uphill task.

 

World Cup Final

It was Belgium who took third place following a 2-0 win over England that saw Thomas Meunier and Eden Hazard on the scoresheet.

A quick start saw Meunier score inside four minutes and England did get a foothold in the game. They came close in the second-half when Toby Alderweireld cleared Spurs teammate Eric Dier’s dink off the line but the Red Devils held a threat on the break and that’s how they wrapped up the victory.

The World Cup Final beckons for France and Croatia – here’s the preview!


France vs Croatia (16:00)

Euro 2016 runners-up France have progressed to another final under Didier Deschamps stewardship despite criticism from the way he sets up his sides.

He can point to that being a success though considering his Les Blues side are unbeaten at this tournament having scored ten goals and kept four clean sheets.

Croatia won all three group games but have done it the hard way since with all three knockout games seeing at least 120 minutes.

Their semi-final win against England was won in extra-time by Mario Mandžukić capitalising on a lapse in concentration but it was the Blazers who found something in the second-half of normal time to show how good they can be.


Team News

Blaise Matuidi should be able to start after going off against Belgium following a coming together with Eden Hazard.

No lasting or serious damage was done and he has passed concussion protocol, so should keep his starting berth.

However, Zlatko Dalic has more to contend with given the injuries and knocks his players have sustained through the extra periods.

Man of the match against England, Ivan Perisic missed training on Friday while defender Domagoj Vida has been cleared to play by FIFA following an online video.

World Cup Final Trends

The previous three finals have all seen the need for extra-time before they were settled. Brazil’s win over Germany back in 2002 was the last time one was won in 90 minutes.

In 2010 and 2014, both games ended goalless while back in 2006 France were on the receiving end of penalty shootout heartbreak against Italy, in a Final remembered for Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt.

If you go back into 1998, then it was Zidane’s double that fired France to glory with a 3-0 win over Brazil, which is one of the highest scoring finals in recent times.


Reflection

I’ve already pointed out how defensively strong France have been with the clean sheets kept and the fact they managed to silence Belgium’s frontline is testament to that.

Les Blues have restricted opportunities to their opponents and when they’ve arisen Hugo Lloris has pulled off some stunning saves.

In total, France conceded just 4.25xGA during this tournament, which is a staggeringly low figure and that averages out to 0.71xGA per game.

If they put in a solid performance at the back once more then this Croatian attack could be limited to scraps and forced to take them in order to remain competitive.

In the Croatia semi-final preview I wrote about how their opponents had been wasteful and keeper Danijel Subašić had gotten them out of their trouble because of their high xGA.

It has come to light that Subašić got something on Harry Kane’s attempt, which deflected it onto the post stopping England from doubling their lead. It’s moments like that which could turn a game of this magnitude.

In that victory, they put in a good attacking display in the second-half once getting to grips with the England formation.

The game ended with Croatia creating 2.12xGF whilst restricting England to 0.73xGF.

They won’t face the challenge of wing-backs in this game though with Deschamps more for a flat back four, so Dalic will know how to get the best out of his side from the start.

The likes of Luka Modrić, Ivan Perišić, Mario Mandžukić and Ante Rebic will have to be creative to cut open this stingy French defence while they’ll have to be clinical if something does crop up.

Everything in expected goals terms has pointed to Croatia’s defence overachieving and with Kylian Mbappe performing to high levels alongside Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud then it’s hard to get past a France win.


Referee

The man who blew the first whistle at the World Cup will also blow the last.

Nestor Pitana has already taken charge of both sides during his previous four games at the competition.

He oversaw Croatia’s win against Denmark on penalties when showing just one yellow card in extra-time while he showed four as France saw off Uruguay.

The former actor is a no-nonsense official and one the players won’t look to mess with given his strong over exuberant gesturing.

He’s a hard one to judge for cards. In the normal time of his four games so far, he’s shown 11 cards, an average of 2.75 per game, however, I don’t see this being physical to earn cards, more of gamesmanship towards the end of the game.


Angles

We saw in the first-half of Croatia’s semi-final that they struggled to cope with pace and directness.

Raheem Sterling had the running of both Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida and at times the two centre-backs just resorted to fouls to stop the attacks.

Up against Mbappe in this game could prove them some problems because of his speed and his intricate passing.

While they won’t mind the long balls forward to pick out Giroud, they’ll hate being left one-on-one against Mbappe or Griezmann, so look at the Croatian centre-backs to be carded.

Lovren (11/4) and Vida (7/2) both look big prices in that market and the former was very lucky to escape without a caution against England.

Mbappe (9/4 anytime) is well worth taking too. He’s got three goals to his name, will drift in-field, has the pace and skill to worry the defence and if he performs to another high standard then is a leading candidate to claim the Golden Ball award.

With plenty at stake plus Deschamps pragmatic approach during this tournament then Under 1.5 Goals (11/8) could be worth a look but could go out the window if one side leaves them exposed to the counter-attack as they chase the game.

The bet for me does surround a France win in 90 minutes and they’ll do it in the only way they know how – keeping it tight at the back and producing a moment of quality in front of goal to win it, whether it be from open play or a set-piece, just like how they defeated Belgium.

You wouldn’t be surprised if France won this 1-0 but given the players they have on the break then they could score a second late on to kill any Croatian hope.

With Mbappe and Griezmann likely to enjoy playing up against this defence then back a low-scoring French success.

France to Win & Under 2.5 Goals (23/10 – Ladbrokes/Coral – 0.5pt)

 

World Cup: Day 23

Didier Deschamps masterminded another French victory and one that takes them to their second major final two years on from their Euro 2016 runners-up berth.

It was another set-piece that paid dividends with Samuel Umtiti netting early in the second half then we saw some strong and resolute defending from Les Blues.

Today it’s all about England in their first World Cup Semi-Final since 1990 and the first of my lifetime!


Croatia vs England (19:00)

Will Gareth Southgate guide his young Three Lions to a World Cup Final to face France or will Zlatko Dalić’s Croatia spoil the dream?


Team News:

Jordan Henderson has trained after suffering from a tight hamstring following the quarter-final win over Sweden.

The only doubt is surrounding Leicester forward Jamie Vardy, who tweaked his groin against Colombia.

Croatia have concerns over the wellbeing of a number of players following the amount of football they’ve played over the last six days.

The main doubt is over Sime Vrsaljko, who picked up a knee injury in extra-time against Russia and his club, Atletico Madrid, are trying to stop him from playing.

There were knocks sustained by Danijel Subašić and Mario Mandžukić during the Russia game but both are said to be fit.


Route to this stage:
 

Croatia England
2-0 (W) vs Nigeria 2-1 (W) vs Tunisia
3-0 (W) vs Argentina 5-1 (W) vs Panama
2-1 (W) vs Iceland 1-0 (L) vs Belgium
1-1 (D) vs Denmark – won on pens 1-1 (D) vs Colombia – won on pens
2-2 (D) vs Russia – won on pens 2-0 (W) vs Sweden


Reflection:

England put in a very good display to see off Sweden 2-0, which saw Harry Maguire net his first goal at international level.

The Three Lions controlled that game quite well and even though Jordan Pickford made a couple of smart saves, the Swedes never created anything too clear-cut.

Jordan Henderson has been a lynchpin in protecting the back three while the likes of John Stones, Kyle Walker and Maguire have all been able to drive into midfield areas.

In that quarter-final victory, the England defence restricted Sweden to an xG tally of 0.56 showing it was a dominant display.

Croatia looked weary the further the game went. It was their second game in six days that they had played out the full 120 minutes and the penalties that followed.

There were plenty of aching and struggling bodies in the Blazers side that won on penalties once again and that could prove problematic against this young Lions side.

The Croatian fatigue is highlighted by the 0.07xGF tally racked up in extra-time and that’s despite Domagoj Vida scoring from a set-piece.

Prior to that, they had created the better chances, which saw them end the 90 minutes with a 2.24xGF compared to Russia’s 1.2xGF.

In terms of Expected Goals For across the tournament:

Croatia – 7.72xGF (non-penalty) – average of 1.36xGF per 90 minutes.

England – 8.73xGF (non-penalty) – average of 1.75xGF per 90 minutes.


On xGF, you can make a solid case to back England to triumph in regular time and that is solidified when you look to the other end of the pitch.

The Three Lions have conceded a total of 3.97xGA (non-penalty) – just 0.79xGA (non-penalty) per game.

When you consider that England have conceded four goals at this World Cup, one of which was from 12-yards against Tunisia, then that is pretty much spot on for what they have achieved and shows how well the back three have worked.

Whilst Croatia have only conceded the same amount of goals as England over the course of their matches, there is a case to be made that they are over-achieving.

Four goals conceded, one of which came in extra-time but their non-penalty xGA suggests they should have conceded more goals with their figure at 6.90xGA.

That suggests the Subašić has been busy in goal, keeping shots out while it shows the wastefulness of their opponents in previous contests.

If Croatia continues with their average of 1.38xGA per game then they could find themselves in trouble.


Referee:

Turkish whistleblower Cuneyt Cakir takes charge of his third match at this World Cup when officiating this semi-final tie.

In his previous two matches, he has dished out nine yellow cards and awarded a penalty.

The 41-year-old has a history with the England national team and English clubs. He angered Sir Alex Ferguson when sending off Nani in a Champions League tie at Old Trafford.

The former insurance broker has taken charge of five previous England matches where the Three Lions are undefeated but he did send Steven Gerrard off in a game against Ukraine back in 2013.

His last England game was in November 2016 when the Three Lions beat Scotland 3-0 at Wembley in a game where he cautioned Gary Cahill and Wayne Rooney.


Corners and Cards:
 

  Croatia England
Total Match Corners 56 39
Total Corners Taken 26 30
Total Corners Against 30 9
     
Total Yellow Cards 12 5
Total Fouls Committed 78 53
Total Fouls Suffered 80 69

*All above stats include Extra-Time!

Croatia’s matches have seen plenty of corners with matches against Nigeria (11), Iceland (15) and Russia (14) seeing double figures.

Those corners have generally been split between the sides that has resulted in them giving more away than they’ve taken and that could be dangerous against an England side that have been excellent from set-pieces.

None of England’s five matches have yet to reach double figures but three of their five matches have finished on totals of nine, all with the corner count showing 7-2 in the Three Lions favour.

I went with the England Corner Handicap on Saturday against Sweden, which won, and given the width that they play with against a potentially fatigued opponent then it is worth looking at once more.

The bar is -1 at 5/6 for England and that’s won in four of five matches. Just the Panama game where the Three Lions went goal crazy saw that bet fail to land but you could take the -2 bar at 11/8 with that also landing four times.

Despite the cards being wiped after the quarter-finals, the players must be careful given the referee’s history of showing red cards.

There are players on both sides breathing a sigh of relief that the cards have been wiped with a number having one to their name already.

Neither side has seen a player pick up two yellows or a red card, so suspensions haven’t been a concern for either manager.

On the FIFA stats, Ivan Strinic and Mario Mandžukić have both committed nine fouls, plus both have previously been cautioned.

Ivan Rakitić has given away six fouls but ha been one of the most fouled players at this competition having won 14 free-kicks.

The Croatians have picked up 12 cards in five games compared to England’s five, so straight away Croatia Most Booking Points (10/11) is a bet that comes to mind.

For a card, I’d be looking towards Ivan Strinic (4/1). The full-back will have his work cutting out with Kieran Tripper from right wing-back, plus there will be Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard drifting to that side of the pitch throughout this game.

The 30-year-old was cautioned in the first half against Russia and was taken off in the second half to avoid being sent-off. He could have his hands full and that 4/1 does look a tempting price.


Angles:

From an England point of view, this will prove a stern test but one that Southgate’s side should negotiate.

The fresher, younger English players can take full advantage of these tired, aging Croatian legs, who have endured not just physical fatigue but mental fatigue having gone to penalties the last twice.

You’d imagine a tight opening but as tiredness hits the Croatian players then it could open up, especially in the second half, so things could fall into England’s hands.

England will continually threaten from set-pieces with eight of their 11 goals coming via that method, so do look towards the likes of Stones and Maguire adding to their goals tallies.

Most bookmakers will do specials on England to score from a set-piece with the header being a likely route to goal. Maguire or Stones to score a header (13/2) looks about right and they’ve proven successful thus far.

Considering the Three Lions have scored 11 goals, a joint-record along with 1966, on top of the xGF and xGA, which are in England’s favour then a punt on England to Win (27/20) looks to be a solid enough bet.

I’m trying not to be swayed by patriotism but I do believe this will be won, like last night, in 90 minutes.

There is a #YourOdds with William Hill I do like given everything I’ve highlighted.

Croatia Most Cards, England Most Corners & England to Qualify (7/2) has to be of appeal given the Croatians have had more cards while England have a better xGF and xGA while they’ve taken more corners.

But for me, the main bet has to surround England goals and corners. This one at just shy of EVS looks a great bet to me.

I do expect England to score with the pace and flair from open play, plus their strength from set-pieces while the Three Lions average six corners per game so far, so this looks a great bet.

England 1+ Goals & 5+ Corners (10/11 – Sky Bet – 1pt)

World Cup: Day 22

The World Cup semi-finals get underway this evening and attention turns to St Petersburg for France against Belgium.

One of these teams will be staying here and playing in Saturday’s third-place play-off while one will advance to Sunday’s final in Moscow to write their own piece of footballing history.

But will it be Didier Deschamps or Roberto Martinez leading his team to a World Cup Final?


France vs Belgium (19:00)

Two European neighbours full of footballing giants face-off to see who will play in Sunday’s showpiece.


Team News:

Blaise Matuidi is set to return for France in place of Corentin Tolisso after serving a suspension during the Uruguay quarter-final victory.

Belgium are without Thomas Meunier. The full-back picked up his second caution of the tournament against Brazil meaning he serves a one-match ban.

Roberto Martinez could bring Dedryck Boyata in to replace Meunier if sticking to the back four that served them well against Brazil.

Route to this stage: 

France Belgium
2-0 (W) vs Australia 3-0 (W) vs Panama
1-0 (W) vs Peru 5-2 (W) vs Tunisia
0-0 (D) vs Denmark 1-0 (W) vs England
4-3 (W) vs Argentina 3-2 (W) vs Japan
2-0 (W) vs Uruguay 2-1 (W) vs Brazil


Reflection:

France came through their quarter-final against Uruguay with a 2-0 win but it was one of the least convincing 2-0 victories you are likely to see.

Les Blues netted from their first shot on target, which came from a free-kick headed home by Raphael Varane.

The second was a howler from Fernando Muslera that allowed Antoine Griezmann’s shot through his hands.

Other than that they created very little despite dominating the ball and finishing the game with 62% of possession. Many would say it was efficient, some would argue otherwise.

When looking at Expected Goals in that game then France only finished with 0.46xGF while Uruguay generated a total of 1.01xGF.

Belgium rode their luck in the early stages against Brazil and were lucky not to fall behind when Thiago Silva hit the woodwork.

However, they grew into the game and were rewarded with a Fernandinho own goal, which was followed by a wonderful attack and strike from Man City’s Kevin de Bruyne.

Roberto Martinez’s change of tactics and formation seemed to work in that first half to stifle the Samba Stars but they were forced to dig-in during the second half.

Brazil did pull one back from a number of chances they created and should have probably equalised from the chances they cut out.

That game saw Brazil finish with a 2.87xGF while Belgium generated a total of 0.54xGF suggesting they were efficient in-front of goal.

In terms of Expected Goals For across the tournament:

Belgium – 11.66xGF (second best) – average of 2.33xGF per game.

France – 6.30xGF – average of 1.26xGF per game

 

Didier Deschamps has a wealth of attacking options to call upon but his pragmatic approach at times has seemingly held back this French team.

His focus is on defending when you consider they have conceded just 3.71xGA, which is the best of the four teams left in the competition and that’s proven by the three clean sheets to their name.

Similarly, Belgium have conceded fewer than 1xGA in three of their five matches so far and despite conceding five goals, they haven’t given their opponents clear sights of their goal on too many occasions.


Referee:

Uruguayan official Andreas Cunha has been selected to take charge of this game and it’ll be his third of the competition.

He’s already refereed a France game and it was their opener against Australia. Les Blues won 2-1 and a penalty was given to each side plus it featured an own goal, which won it for the French.

Four players entered his notebook that day, three Socceroos and Tolisso was the Frenchman to have his name taken.

His other game saw him oversee Spain’s 1-0 win over Iran where two players were booked, so six yellows in two games at an average of three per game.


Corners and Cards:
 

  France Belgium
Total Match Corners 31 56
Total Corners Taken 17 30
Total Corners Against 14 26
     
Total Yellow Cards 8 7
Total Fouls Committed 73 72
Total Fouls Suffered 75 64

 

From a corners point of view, Belgium have been excellent with three of their five games reaching double figures unlike any of France’s games.

Both sides have taken the most corners in three of their five games, so the most corners market isn’t really one to look at unless you like the averages with Belgium taking averaging six corners per game to France’s 3.4. Belgium Most Corners (5/4) might appeal to some.

On the cards and fouls front then Blaise Matuidi returns from a ban and has committed ten fouls at this World Cup plus this referee cautioned the midfielder in their opening game.

Olivier Giroud and Paul Pogba have also given away ten fouls, so aren’t afraid of making their presences felt. Pogba is one in this game that could get caught out of position and see yellow for a cynical foul.

Pogba is one of the most fouled players at this tournament and has been on 12 occasions but teammate Lucas Hernandez has been fouled more (13).

Kylian Mbappe has been targeted too, especially by Uruguay, having being fouled ten times.

For Belgium, Kevin de Bruyne is their most fouled played and he’s also committed the joint-most fouls with three.

If the Red Devils are leading and they get a set-piece then he could be a candidate to get a card for time wasting.


Angles:

This could be a terrific semi-final with two quality attacks on show but splitting them is proving somewhat difficult.

France have arguably been playing within themselves so far given their xG ratios in games and the players they have at their disposal.

They can see plenty of the ball in games but fail to do a lot with it and that’s been part of the criticism aimed at Deschamps but it’s been an effective way of playing.

Les Blues have a solid spine and we’ll know that Kante will do the dirty work allowing Pogba more freedom to link up with the front three.

Belgium have been devastating on the counter-attack and showed that once again for their second goal versus Brazil but I doubt the French will get caught out just as easily with Kante screening the back four.

The way Martinez set out in that Brazil game reverting to a back four, which saw Marouane Fellaini in midfield allowing de Bruyne to play in a more advanced role, worked wonders.

We saw Romelu Lukaku at somewhere near his best during that Brazil quarter-final. His strength in holding up the ball and holding off opponents while he had the directness about him we don’t see all that often.

If the same Red Devils turn up as did on Friday then they will give this French unit a stern test and would be surprised if Les Blues managed to keep another clean sheet.

You’d be surprised if Thibaut Courtois kept a clean sheet too given the chances they let up in the second half against Brazil.

If France creates the same amount of chances as Brazil did then they’ll be punished by one of Griezmann, Mbappe or Giroud and despite only 40% of semi-finals since 1998 seeing both teams scoring, it is a bet high on the list in this contest.

However, the biggest quandary comes in the outright and to qualify markets. Martinez has a selection headache whether to stick with the back four or revert to his back three that saw them get out of the group and win their Round of 16 game.

But against Japan, their weaknesses were highlighted and if he does go back to it in the absence of Meunier then that could play into the hands of the French.

With that in mind, I’d be leaning towards Les Blues and the double result market could be of interest.

Both sides have been level at the break in three of their five games and semi-finals generally play out a cagey opening 45 minutes.

Even though the calibre of this Belgium attack being strong, I can see France continuing the trend of restricting their opponents to limited clear-cut sights of their goal.

With Griezmann and Mbappe likely to have joy if Belgium goes with the wing-backs then the Draw/France (21/4 – Unibet) looks a decent bet.

I did highlight that I’d expect BTTS (5/6) being a solid approach to this game with the world-class attacking players on the pitch and we did see Hugo Lloris forced into a smart save to deny Uruguay, so we’d expect this Belgium frontline to carve out something of note.

I just have my doubts about this Belgium side whether that be tactically or game management, so putting everything I’ve said together the bet I’m going for is in the anytime correct score market.

Look at France to be leading 2-1 at any point in this game. This can land if France go 2-0 up and the Belgian pressure finally earns a consolation or if it’s 1-1 with Les Blues able to utilise the space in the channels vacated by the likes of Yannick Carrasco and Boyata.

If the French midfield three hold firm with Kante nullifying the threat posed by de Bruyne and Hazard then that should set Les Blues up nicely and with the talented Mbappe likely to enjoy the freedom opposite Griezmann then this France side look the ones likely to progress.

2-1 France Anytime Score (7/2 – Betfair/Paddy Power – 0.5pt)

World Cup: Day 21

The World Cup is staying in Europe following the eliminations of Brazil and Uruguay.

France and Belgium move on to face off in St Petersburg on Tuesday in the first semi-final.

Les Blues won 2-0 with a Raphael Varane header and Antoine Griezmann strike that went through Fernando Muslera.

Belgium progressed following a masterful Eden Hazard display. The Red Devils knocked out favourites Brazil with a Fernandinho own goal and a Kevin De Bruyne effort on the break.

They rode their luck early on when Thiago Silva hit the woodwork and when Renato Augusto pulled one back, things got a little nervy but they held on.

Who will be the other two teams to reach the semi-final stage?


Sweden vs England (15:00)

England did it the hard way against Colombia when winning on penalties and sending the country delirious.

They did everything right but see the game out. Jordan Pickford’s save from Mateus Uribe is one of the best we’ve ever witnessed but they failed to defend the corner allowing Yerry Mina to equalise.

If being very critical then the Three Lions had plenty of possession but failed to cut out anything too clear-cut or much of note to test David Ospina.

Gareth Southgate’s men will see plenty of the ball here and will have to be patient in manoeuvring these Swedish bodies around to create space for Harry Kane, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling to utilise.

If Southgate makes changes to his starting line-up will be seen with Dele Alli continuing to carry a thigh problem, while Sterling is yet to light up this World Cup and has come in for criticism from various quarters.

Patience is the keyword with Sweden having kept three clean sheets at this World Cup so far and the pragmatic Janne Andersson will set his side up to set-up and nullify any English threat.

Against Switzerland, they managed to keep Xherdan Shaqiri relatively quiet and allowed no space in and around their 18-yard box, which meant the Swiss ended with an Expected Goals figure of 0.6.

In their final group game, they only allowed Mexico one clear sight of their goal when Carlos Vela headed wide from a couple of yards out.

Once again they quashed the Mexican threat and reduced them to potshots, which resulted in an Expected Goals figure of 1.1.

England’s advantage is the way they’ve benefitted from the wing-backs of Ashley Young and more importantly Kieran Trippier. Their width will be paramount in England success and stretching this Swedish side around the park.

If the Three Lions are looking to play with plenty of width then they’ll need to get bodies in the box to help and support Kane, while they can search for knockdowns and second balls.

The Swedes have looked to hit sides on the break and take any half chance that fell their way. They were fortunate that Manuel Akanji deflected Emil Forsberg’s shot past Yann Sommer.

Other than that Andersson’s men offered little going forward until the break in stoppage time when Switzerland through men forward and that resulted in Michael Lang being sent-off.

England will have to be cautious against that threat but they should win the midfield battle with Jordan Henderson keeping the play ticking over after his immense display against Colombia.

With Mikael Lustig being suspended then that is an area can take advantage of with a rusty Emil Krafth likely to deputise in his place.

A tight game is what is expected with the way Sweden are expected to set-up and drop deep, which will see England having plenty of possession.

We saw England win plenty of early corners against Colombia in a bright start and I’d have to be looking towards corners for the Three Lions in this game as a sensible approach for a bet.

England have taken 23 in four games compared to Sweden’s 15 but taking that further, the Three Lions have covered the corners handicap in three of their four games.

Counts of 7-2 (against Tunisia and Belgium) and 6-1 (versus Colombia in regular time) have won those counts and with what is expected then that has to be the way to go.

Fair enough Sweden had a lead to protect against Switzerland, which saw the Swiss win the corner count 11-3 but in their group games against Germany and Mexico, they also lost the corner handicaps with counts of 8-3 and 7-3 respectively.

Corners look the way to go for me here but I am slightly concerned that England are yet to keep a clean sheet at this World Cup.

Tunisia did net from the penalty spot and only against Belgium did the Expected Goals figure come to fruition – England 0.6 vs 1 Belgium.

Despite the pragmatic Swedish approach, their Expected Goals figures have beaten their opponents in three of four matches with two of those totals being 1.4 and 1.6.

Those figures are better than what England have produced. The Three Lions peaked at 3.1 in their opening game against Tunisia but their next best is 1.0 against Panama.

That proves Sweden will offer an attacking threat and they’ll do some of that via set-pieces, which saw Mina equalise, so with the Expected Goals figures and recent World Cup meetings between the sides finishing 1-1 and 2-2 then Both Teams to Score (13/10) is worth considering.

This could follow a similar pattern as Tuesday’s quarter-final for England. Take the lead then concede as Sweden go for it but I’d rather take a look in the corner handicap market.

England -2 Corners (6/5 – William Hill – 0.5pt)


World Cup Quarter-Final

Russia vs Croatia (19:00)

Two sides that came through the Round of 16 on penalties, so part of this game could come down to the recovery of the players.

Both sets of players were looking leggy during extra-time of their respective matches against Spain and Denmark but you have to say Russia will have been more physically and mentally fatigued.

They’ve covered plenty of ground during this World Cup and staying switched on mentally to keep Spain out for a second time in their game.

The hosts defended resolutely but offered little going forward when their counter-attacks broke down all too early too often.

Stanislav Cherchesov will give his side a similar rigid formation but how his players have got over their exerts on Sunday will be crucial.

Sergei Ignashevich was the one who gave Spain the lead and if he tries the same marking techniques on these Croatian players, he could be giving away a penalty instead.

However, the 38-year-old had a good game otherwise but was struggling for most of extra-time with cramp.

The thing with both sides is that they are both yet to concede from open-play having both conceded twice.

Mo Salah converted a penalty against Russia while it was an own goal that broke the deadlock for Spain against the hosts.

The first goal Croatia conceded was from the penalty spot also while they had a mad opening minute against Denmark when the Danes pounced from a long throw.

This game will be all about fine margins and this could well go the distance once more.

I’ve banged on about the quality in this Croatia side with Luka Modrić, Ivan Rakitić and Ivan Perišić likely to dominate in midfield.

They should have the keys to unlock this stern Russian defence from open play and I’d have to be looking at Croatia to Win by One Goal (13/5).

The Blazers should have plenty of possession and if they play with more pace and intensity than Spain then I do believe we’ll see this Russian side come up short.

The cynical part of me believes there is more to the eye with how Russia have performed given the scepticism of their own fans heading into the tournament but that hasn’t materialised.

Artem Dzyuba has played a pivotal role for Russia with three goals and an assist, so he’ll give Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida something to think about with his presence and 6” 3’ frame.

If he can hold the ball up and bring Aleksandr Golovin and Denis Cheryshev into the game then there should be chances for Russia but you’d imagine them few and far between, so they’ll need to take any sight they have.

Croatia (6/5) at a shade of odds-against appeal but with the narrow winning margin expected that could be a way to eek out more value.

World Cup: Day 20

 

Have we all recovered from England winning on penalties?  

Well, the two-day World Cup break if finally over and there are two World Cup quarter-finals to look ahead to!


Brazil vs Belgium (19:00)

Brazil have only conceded one goal at this World Cup and that was Switzerland’s hotly-disputed equaliser in their opening game.

Since then, they’ve been a well-oiled machine defensively and have only given few sights of their goal to their opponents.

However, today’s opposition will be a stiff test with the players they have at their disposal but Tite is a shrewd tactician and he has instilled an ethos across to his players, which has seen them so defensively strong.

The work they do on and off the ball might get unnoticed by some but the sense of responsibility and teamwork the coach has got across has proved a success.

That’s highlighted by the fact the Samba Stars are unbeaten in their last 15 matches in all competitions (W11, D4) and they’ve only conceded three goals in this run.

Tite is forced into a change to today’s starting eleven with Casemiro suspended meaning Fernandinho is likely to get the nod in front of the defence but Douglas Costa is likely to remain sidelined.

It’ll be important that the Manchester City midfielder is more restrained in his forays forward because if he goes then that could force Paulinho deeper, which doesn’t suit him, so a sense of responsibility will fall to Fernandinho here.

Belgium got very lucky to beat Japan in 90 minutes and were bailed out by an excellent counter-attack finished by substitute Nacer Chadli.

The thing I’m not getting is all the praise for Roberto Martinez?

He was tactically inept for the first 65 minutes, which saw the Red Devils trail 2-0 before making subs.

He abandoned his ‘philosophy’ to hit long balls and crosses into Marouane Fellaini, which eventually paid off against a small Japanese team.

The Blue Samurai were unfortunate to go out in the manner they did because they were excellent in that Round of 16 game and exposed Belgium’s vulnerabilities.

That won’t have gone unnoticed by the shrewd Tite, so you’d imagine Brazil could have plenty of joy in this game.

For all Belgium are having their golden generation, they seem a little tentative in games at times.

Kevin de Bruyne sits too deep with Axel Witsel but he has to so Dries Mertens and Eden Hazard can be shoehorned into the side, as they drift in field because of the wing-backs trying to utilise the width.

Belgium conceded to Costa Rica in a friendly, conceded twice to a very poor Tunisian side and then twice to Japan when showing how you can expose their weak points.

For me that leads to just one outcome – a Brazil win inside normal time.

The South Americans are growing into the tournament and have scored two or more goals in five of their last six matches and if doing that here then that should be enough given their strong defensive record.

Neymar has been getting plenty of detractors lately for his play-acting antics and rightly so, but the PSG forward has been involved in 20 goals in his last 19 games for Brazil (11 goals & nine assists) – that’s some record.

Gabriel Jesus is yet to score at this World Cup but he could have some joy against Man City teammate Vincent Kompany and Spurs pairing Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, especially with the pace and dribbling skills his Brazilian teammates have to provide him with opportunities.

With the way Yannick Carrasco and Thomas Meunier push on from their wing-back roles means there will be space in the channels for Neymar, Coutinho and Willian to exploit.

If the Brazilian frontline gets this right then Thibaut Courtois could be in for a very busy match.

Goals look the main play but don’t be scared of backing corners.

Belgium’s game against Japan saw 16 (10-6) in total, while Brazil’s win over Mexico saw 15 (8-7).

Brazil’s final group game saw 14 taken (9-5), so it might be worth looking at either Over 11 Corners (7/5 – Bet365) or Each Team 5+ Corners (2/1 – Sky Bet).

For me, the main bet is backing the Samba Stars to shine against a side that will be caught out during this game, so back them plus goals.

Brazil to Win & Over 1.5 Goals (17/10 – Coral/Ladbrokes – 0.5pt)


Quarter-Final

Uruguay vs France (15:00)

Edinson Cavani was Uruguay’s match-winner against Portugal, however, he is likely to miss out with a calf injury sustained during that victory.

That’s a big blow to La Celeste but I’m not convinced by the way the bookmakers have priced this match-up.

France around the EVS mark to win in 90 minutes doesn’t sit well with me considering that they aren’t the best side defensively, haven’t played all that well plus they face a resolute defensive unit.

This has been priced up simply because Cavani is out. If the PSG forward was fit then the prices could be much closer together.

France should probably be favourites given they have a stronger midfield and edge the strength up front but defensively, Uruguay are much better, so the prices should be closer together.

Les Blues have conceded four goals in this World Cup, three against Argentina but they seemed to switch off and lose concentration, which left a nervy couple of minutes after Sergio Aguero’s stoppage-time goal.

For all the quality attacking and midfielders the French have, I’m not totally convinced by them as a defensive unit.

That can’t be said about Uruguay, who has only conceded once. With Diego Godin and Atlético Madrid teammate Jose Giménez providing the rocks in the heart of the defence then this French attack might have to be more creative than usual.

Kylian Mbappe has scored three goals from five shots on target and his pace could cause Godin a few problems but Oscar Tabárez is a shrewd tactician and will come up with a plan to nullify the likes of Mbappe and Griezmann.

As much as Cavani’s absence is a blow, I want to go with a price play here because Uruguay just looks a big price.

On recent evidence against France then that’s true too. Uruguay have only lost to France once in eight previous meetings (W3, D4), while La Celeste are unbeaten against Les Blues in World Cup matches (W1, D2).

Their last five meetings have only resulted in one goal scored and that was from Suarez (13/5) in a friendly back in 2013. Prior to that, the four meetings had all finished goalless.

So if this game follows the low-scoring mould then it could swing on the genius of someone on the pitch and that could be Suarez.

He’s got two goals at this World Cup and his lively nature will give headaches to Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane.

I’m just not convinced by the way Didier Deschamps sets up his sides, especially Blaise Matuidi playing on the left side of a midfield trio.

That said Matuidi is suspended here forcing Deschamps into a change. That could benefit the likes of Paul Pogba, who seems to have to play in more of a restrained manner at international level.

There are question marks still lingering about France and this Uruguay side could just stifle them then find a way of scoring.

Uruguay (18/5) in 90 minutes looks a big price while I’d also consider Uruguay to Qualify (15/8) with the South Americans unlike to give away a cheap goal, which can’t be said about this French side.

I just feel that Uruguay are being underestimated here and at the prices, I’d rather side with them than a French side I’m not totally convinced by.