Our Tipster Michael Hughes takes a look at the 2nd round of games at Euro 2016 and gives us his Pick 5 and Colossus Pick 7 selections.
Republic of Ireland couldn’t hang on to their lead against Sweden but they are still in a better position than the likes of Albania and Northern Ireland as the second round of group games get underway.
In a reversal of opening games of the past like England (1990) and Cameroon (2002), Ireland actually took the lead and were the ones disappointed at being pegged back at the end.
There was something to be admired in drawing 1-1 with a team that didn’t have a shot on target – pretty special that.
Seriously, though, there were plenty of positives and if they can reproduce that form against an under-pressure Belgium, especially if Shane Long hits top gear, there is cause for real hope on Saturday.
The opening few days had largely been lacking inspiration on the pitch – and were severely dented by events off it – but clicked into gear with Italy beating Belgium, Hungary upsetting Austria and Iceland battling hard for a point against Portugal.
We didn’t do too bad with our predictions, it would have been better had Bastian Schweinsteiger not done more in one counter-attack for Germany than he did in a whole season with Manchester United.
There’s another 10 million Colossus game starting tomorrow, so here’s my take on the seven games involved and a Pick 5 thrown in for good measure.
Colossus Tipster & Pick
ENGLAND v WALES, Thursday, 2pm
Gareth Bale has been stoking up the fires for this one and the Welsh have good reason to be confident as they sit top of the group. However, this is probably the best game for England to have. When they come away to these tournaments there is always an inferiority complex. Against players they see every week that will not be there and I expect them to come to the fore. Wales’ back five is a weakness that can be exposed by the English forwards. Marcus Rashford off the bench to score the winner? If Wales want inspiration they can look back to 1980 when they beat England 4-1 (watch out for Mickey Thomas scoring into the same goal in Wrexham that 12 years later he scored in to knock Arsenal out of the FA Cup).
MY VERDICT: England 3 Wales 1
Wales beat England in 1980
NORTHERN IRELAND v UKRAINE, Thursday 5pm
These teams are in the same position – on zero points – but how they got there was very different. Northern Ireland barely landed a blow against Poland, while Ukraine had plenty of positives to take out of the match against Germany. Conor Washington looked lively when he came on and could be pushing for a start with Kyle Lafferty not 100 per cent but the latter has had more time to recover. This looks to be a showdown for third place. A win for either side may not be enough but it would at least give them a chance. This could make the game more open than it otherwise would be. I’ll just give the edge to Ukraine.
MY VERDICT: Northern Ireland 1 Ukraine 2
ITALY v SWEDEN, Friday, 2pm
Italy gave a fabulous Italian performance to frustrate Belgium with rock solid defence and clinical chance taking. The Swedes were blessed to get a point from their game with Ireland – even Zlatan Ibrahimovic looked off the pace. They can’t be as bad again and if the big man can find some inspiration they could get something here and a surprise draw could be on the cards.
MY VERDICT: Italy 1 Sweden 1
CZECH REPUBLIC v CROATIA, Friday 5pm
The Czechs will have to pick themselves up after their agonising late concession to Spain, while Croatia will be pleased to have got a win under their belt against Turkey. Freed of those shackles I expect Croatia to make it two wins from two against the Czechs, who just lack quality and are reliant on guys in their mid-30s like Tomas Rosicky and Jaroslav Plasil.
MY VERDICT: Czech Republic 0 Croatia 2
SPAIN v TURKEY, Friday 8pm
Turkey have got to find another gear from somewhere before this game. So do Spain after their narrow win last time, but at least we know they have more than one gear to use. Talks of an ageing Spain may become more relevant at the end of the tournament but for now they should have more than enough to get a second win on the board here. Turkey did well at times against Croatia, especially some of their less experienced players, though Ozan Tufan rather let himself down by ruffling his hair as he rather casually jogged towards Luka Modric just before the Real Madrid man’s excellent goal (see below).
MY VERDICT: Spain 2 Turkey 0
Ozan Tufan’s hair care
BELGIUM v REPUBLIC OF IRELAND, Saturday 2pm
After an unexpected defeat by Italy, and the performance was not exactly up to par either, the pressure is really on Belgium to get something out of their game against Ireland on Saturday. This may help Martin O’Neill’s men as they know that Belgium will have to come forward to try and get a positive result. Ireland’s group position may be stronger by the time they start if Italy have beaten Sweden. In that case a draw would put the Boys in Green second with a game to play against an Italian side already guaranteed to finish top. Both sides will know where they need to improve. Ireland had a few chances that they didn’t convert, while Shane Long did not get into the game enough. Romelu Lukaku was off the pace and his replacement Divock Origi was little better. Aside from that they can go with Christian Benteke, whose season at Liverpool was a write-off (see below) or Michy Batshuayi, who was a consistent scorer in a poor Marseille team. I can see this one being a draw as well, but I expect Belgium to score.
MY VERDICT: Belgium 1 Republic of Ireland 1
Benteke forgets to score against Leicester
ICELAND v HUNGARY, Saturday 5pm
Iceland will be delighted with their point against Portugal but not as happy as Hungary, who must have feared that their first appearance in a major finals for 30 years would end in three defeats. But ably led by captain Balazs Dzsudzsak and with young Werder Bremen midfielder Laszlo Kleinheisler a dynamic presence, they got a fine win against Austria. Both sides will know the importance of a win here, which might lead to a more cagey game but on paper I give the edge to Iceland and this could be the game for Gylfi Sigurdsson to show why he is their star player.
MY VERDICT: Iceland 1 Hungary 0
Pick 5 Selection
France v Albania, Wendesday, 8pm: MY VERDICT: France
England v Wales, Thursday, 2pm: MY VERDICT: England
Ukraine v Northern Ireland, Thursday, 5pm: MY VERDICT: Ukraine
Italy v Sweden, Friday, 2pm: MY VERDICT: Draw
Czech Rep v Croatia, Friday, 5m: MY VERDICT: Croatia