The Nations League returns on Thursday and Mark Stinchcombe has picked out his best bets for Bulgaria v Rep Ireland and Finland v Wales.
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Bulgaria v Rep. Ireland
Match Odds: Home 9/4 | Draw 2/1 | Away 13/10
Bulgaria arrive here in terrible form with just one win from their last 14 games, losing eight of those. They’ve failed to score in four of their last five and over the 14 games they’ve scored just nine goals.
In contrasting style, Ireland have lost just two of their last 15 games, although they've only picked up five wins. Their problem has been scoring goals, as outside of friendlies they’ve managed just 15 in their last 21 competitive games over the last four years.
And this includes two matches against Gibralter three against Georgia. This will be Stephen Kenny’s first game in charge of Ireland but looking at their squad it’s difficult to see where the goals will come from.
Shane Long is the top scorer in the squad with 17 but he has scored just once in his last 18 caps, and grabbing just two goals in 26 games for Southampton last season doesn’t suggest that total is about to change anytime soon.
Next top scorer is James McClean with 10 but he has scored just once in his last 21 caps. Other than that only Robbie Brady has more than three goals and he hasn’t started a football match since New Year's Day.
Bulgaria themselves are in a similar position, particularly with the retirement of Ivelin Popov, and post a combined total of just 12 goals across 266 caps.
So with both sides struggling to score, I will back under 1.5 goals in the opening group game. It’s worth noting these two sides met in a friendly in Ireland a year ago where the home side ran out 3-1 winners, but Bulgaria’s goal came from the penalty spot and two of Ireland’s strikes came in the last 10 minutes. It’s not surprising given a friendly lends itself to a more open game and this match is clearly not in keeping with these two sides’ competitive records.
Best bet: Under 1.5 goals at 7/4
Finland v Wales
Match Odds: Home 21/10 | Draw 21/10 | Away 13/10
Finland enter this match in positive fashion. Having topped the Nations League Group C, they followed that up by finishing second in their Euro 2021 qualifying group to automatically book their place at Euro 2021. One of the cornerstones of their success has been their home record which has seen them win 11 of their last 14 games over the last three years. The only team to beat them was Italy and that required a winning goal from the penalty spot.
Wales took just three points from their opening three matches in Euro qualification but managed to turn that around by going unbeaten and ensure their place in next summer's tournament by beating Hungary 2-0 in a must-win game. Looking back over the last couple of years, goals have been an issue for Wales with them scoring only 15 in their last 15 games. And here they are missing a number of players, including Sam Vokes, David Brooks and Neil Taylor, but the biggest miss will be two-goal Hungary-hero Aaron Ramsey.
The list of teams Finland have beaten on home soil isn’t fantastic – Liechtenstein, Armenia, Greece (twice), Bosnia, Estonia (twice), Hungary, Belarus, Malta and Iceland – and with Wales possessing players such as Gareth Bale, Harry Wilson and Dan James they are capable of creating something out of nothing – I’m going to find another way to side with Finland.
The danger man for the Finnish is none other than Teemu Pukki, who has scored 15 goals in his last 17 caps - contributing to a huge 68% of the team's goals. Finland are 1/2 to score here but if they do it’s a better chance than 12/5 that it’s Pukki.
Best bet: Teemu Pukki anytime scorer 12/5
Odds correct as of 1102 BST on 02/09/20