By Antony Jordan
Day four of the European Championships in France this summer offers another trio of matches and with Spain, Belgium and Italy all in action along with the Czech Republic, Ireland and a Zlatan Ibrahimovic powered Sweden sees the promise of the best day of football so far.
We take a look at three of these matches in Toulouse, Paris and Lyon with online sportsbook Bet365.com to provide our top Euro 2016 picks from this trio of clashes.
The defending European Champions kick off the defence of the titles that they won in 2008 and 2012 in Toulouse against the side that reached the final of the 1996 Euros in England as the teams meet for the first time in five years. They clashed twice in qualification for the 2012 European Championships as Spain triumphed home and away before going on to qualify and lift a second successive trophy and will be focussing on these thoughts instead of their performances in Brazil two years ago as they crashed out at the group stages.
As well as that poor time in South America the Spaniards will need to ensure that they are 100% focussed on this opening match as their build up to the tournament has not matched their victory in nine of ten qualification games to secure their spot in France. They were beaten by Georgia in their final warm up match and the media have reporting stories from off-field that have seen their concentration further disrupted and while players such as Juan Mata, Fernando Torres and Diego Costa have all been left out of the team for this competition they will still believe that they can win this opener.
This is boosted by the fact that the Czechs have kept just one clean sheet in 22 matches going back as far as 2013, and this clean sheet was secured against the lowly Malta. The final of these matches came against South Korea and they were beaten 2-1 only four days after Spain have put six past this team in a friendly so we feel this helps define the differences between these sides. Even though Spain have a lot of off the field problems going on, we still see them defeating the Czechs comfortably enough.
Euro 2016 Pick
The Irish are another side who are aiming to put the ghosts of their last major international tournament appearance to bed in France this summer after they were well beaten in all three group games four years ago in Poland. They impressed many people in qualifying as they finished behind Germany and Poland, taking four points from the world champions in the process, before seeing off the more fancied Bosnians in the Play Offs to secure their spot in Group E this summer with Belgium, Italy and this evening’s opposition Sweden.
There is one stand out player in the two squads doing battle at the Stade de France this and it is Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the player who has just departed PSG of the French capital this season certainly has plenty of experience of scoring in Paris with him netting 50 goals in the season that has just concluded. The 34 year old Swedish captain failed to score in his two meetings against Ireland in 2013 as they drew 0-0 and won 2-1, but with this tournament likely to be his last you can be sure that’ll want to get goals to challenge for the Golden Boo
With the latter game from Group E seeing the two favourites to progress to the knockout stage clashing this match is the most important game for both these sides if they’re to secure passage out of the group stage too. Ireland have players that can score and a good team spirit, while Sweden have Zlatan as their focal point so they need the striker to be on the top of his game if they’re to win this one.
If pushed we’d just back Ireland ahead of Sweden but, as many games have already shown us, this could go either way. We do see goals as both teams have goal scoring abilities and questionable defences and we’re backing this outcome.
Euro 2016 Pick
The final match from day four of the 2016 European Championship pits two very different sides against each other as the free flowing and free scoring Belgians, who currently occupy second in the FIFA world rankings, take on a stout and resolute Italian side that is renowned for its defensive abilities. The last time that these two teams clashed was in November (and this was the first meeting since 2008) and it was Marc Wilmots’ men that triumphed 3-1. They are favoured to do so again, but can they take all three points?
Three warm up games for Belgium saw wins over Switzerland and Norway as well as a 1-1 draw with Finland as they scored six and conceded four goals, while Italy played only twice and defeated Scotland and Finland 1-0 and 2-0 respectively. These results reinforce the thoughts on how these two sides will set out and play in Lyon this Monday night and we see the team designated as the ‘home side’ being the stronger of the two and that they’ll take the points in this opener.
They have a solid goalkeeper and defence, despite missing Man City’s Vincent Kompany, as well as creative midfield, with Kevin de Bruyne and Edin Hazard the standouts, playing into a motivated Romelu Lukaku who’s looking for a move away from Everton and will be out to showcase his talents this summer. On the other hand, Italy are missing Riccardo Montolivo, Claudio Marchisio and Marco Verratti through injury and Andrea Pirlo was not selected for the squad, so we see this going the way to the Belgians.