If Friday is the day that Euro 2012 officially starts as Group A kicks off, then Saturday is the time that the tournament really catches the imagination of the millions watching around the world.
Group A may have been mockingly dubbed ‘the group of life’ given its less than stellar nature, but there is no doubt that Group B is the notorious ‘group of death’ that all major tournaments must feature.
With Holland, Denmark, Germany and Portugal all in action on Saturday, the sense that the championships have truly begun will be felt come 9.30pm.
The latter two meet in the day’s late game in L’viv in what is the moist interesting of encounters.
Germany, many people’s idea of eventual winners, will be hoping to get their campaign off to a flying start against a Portugal side who will be bemoaning the difficult group that has inconvenienced their chances of improving on a good recent record in the European Championships.
With both sides at different stages of their development, it is a case of contrasting philosophies.
A young team that has been nurtured by coach Joachim Low, Germany are a cohesive, fluid unit that have bought into a style and pattern of play over his six years in charge.
Since 1980 the opening group games in the European Championships have averaged just 1.9 goals per game, compared with 2.6 by the time the third round of games come around.
Portugal, by contrast, will be neat and tidy in possession, but in the absence of much genuine creativity and, as always, a top quality goal-getter, are heavily reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo to come up trumps with something special.
To be fair, there is not a player at Euro 2012 that I’d rather be relying on. Coming off the back of a 46-goal, La Liga-winning season with Real Madrid, Ronaldo is in the form of his life and looks set to make an impact in Poland and Ukraine in a manner he has failed to in tournaments gone by.
But the over-reliance on Ronaldo does Portugal no favours and if for whatever reason he fails to shine then goals could be at a premium (no matter the qualities of Joao Moutinho), putting coach Paulo Bento in trouble.
Germany are the better, more developed side and that is reflected in the odds with bwin, who make Low’s men the 21/20 favourites, with the draw at 23/10 and the Portuguese 27/10 outsiders.
The price on Germany looks pretty inviting, as Portugal have been erratic of late. It took them a play-off to qualify for Euro 2012 and even that was hard work against a decent Bosnia side, a flattering 6-2 second-leg win confirming a two-legged win by the same score after the first encounter finished goalless.
Yet that remains Portugal’s only win in the last six and Bento’s side have scored just two goals in those other five matches.
So Germany are deserving favourites, but I’ll look for more value and statistics suggest that it may not be the goal-fest that Germany have tended to be involved in of late (38% of their games since 2010 have seen over 3.5 goals).
One imagines that matches in the first round of group games are usually tight affairs and this should guide the betting here.
Interestingly, since 1980 the opening group games in the European Championships have averaged just 1.9 goals per game, compared with 2.6 by the time the third round of games come around.
That means just 27% of teams’ opening group games have featured more than 2.5 goals.
Even given Germany’s impressive strike rate – they have scored 57 in their 22 games since World Cup 2010 – they are stats that need to be heeded and as such I’ll be on the 9/5 that Low’s side triumph in a match that sees less than 3.5 goals.
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Germany certainly give their opponents a chance – they have kept just three clean sheets in the last 15 matches – and with Ronaldo on the pitch, Portugal can score at any time, so I’ll give myself the extra cushion of a third goal.
But with Portugal’s tactics likely to revolve around keeping it tight for as long as possible, the 9/5 on a German win with less than four goals looks like the way to go for a profitable start to your Group B punting.
Recommended bet: Germany to win and under 3.5 goals combined @ 9/5
Outside punt: Germany to win 2-1 @ 15/2
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