As David Cameron decided to reshuffle his cabinet this week (I bet he was listening to ‘Party Rock Anthem’ by LMFAO), we decided to have our own reshuffle here at bwin.
This meant the demotion of the recently unsuccessful bwin boffins to a lower-profile role (sandwich testers), to be replaced by Geoff, the prediction squirrel. He’s no Paul the Octopus, but he did call Northampton’s midweek win over MK Dons.
We’ve put Geoff to the ultimate test this week and asked him for an international accumulator to go with our Friday night curry.
He hand-picked five teams that could win you £237.50 should you place the free £20 bet you receive for registering with bwin on his selections.
You’d be nuts not to give it a go (I’m not going to apologise for that this week).
Russia to beat Northern Ireland @ 19/100
After an impressive showing at Euro 2012 (barring the final game against Greece), Russia embark on World Cup 2014 qualification with Fabio Capello at the helm.
Opinions differed on his reign as England coach, but with the best win ratio of any Three Lions boss since Sir Alf Ramsey, it is not unreasonable to say that the Italian, along with his nine league titles at club level, is well equipped to guide his new charges through Group F.
The entire squad named by Capello is based in Russia, with no room for Andrei Arshavin or Pavel Pogrebnyak. However, big guns such as Alan Dzagoev, Alexander Kerzhakov and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov are included.
Standing in their way for their opening fixture are Northern Ireland, who, under Michael O’Neill, will be hoping to qualify for their first World Cup since 1986.
The Green and White army have developed a woeful away record in recent times. Their last three competitive games against Holland, Italy and Estonia have seen 13 goals conceded and only one scored, while they won only one of their away games in Euro 2012 qualifying.
With injury problems mounting, (no Shane Ferguson, Martin Paterson or Paddy McCourt), current free agent and former Coventry midfielder Sammy Clingan has had to be called up as a replacement.
O’Neill’s men are likely to realise that the Russia game will be tough, so may well conserve energy for the more realistic prospect of beating Luxembourg at home on Tuesday.
Republic of Ireland to beat Kazakhstan @ 13/20
Giovanni Trapattoni’s Republic of Ireland side begin their campaign in Kazakhstan and will be confident of starting proceedings with three points.
With plenty of quality striking options available in Robbie Keane, Shane Long, Kevin Doyle, Simon Cox and Jon Walters, Ireland will be looking to take advantage of a Kazakhstan side that came bottom of its Euro 2012 qualifying group.
Miroslav Berenek’s men beat Azerbaijan 2-1 in that campaign, but did not manage to score in any other home games.
Ireland, on the other hand, conceded only one goal away from home in Euro 2012 qualifying and their only loss came at the Aviva Stadium.
The Boys in Green only have a friendly in midweek against Oman at Craven Cottage, so can surely afford to put all of their energy into this game.
Belgium to beat Wales @ 4/5
Having a Belgian is like having a smart-phone to Premier League clubs these days.
Big things are expected of the so called ‘Golden Generation’ of Vincent Kompany (Man City), Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham), Marouane Fellaini (Everton), Moussa Dembele (Tottenham), Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku (both Chelsea), Christian Benteke (Aston Villa) and Kevin Mirallas (Everton).
Numerous others such as Steven Defour (Porto), Axel Witsel (Zenit), Dries Mertens (PSV) and Toby Alderweireld (Ajax) make up a very talented squad and this could well be a defining campaign for them.
Marc Wilmots took over from Georges Leekens after he took the reigns at Club Brugge and he is inheriting a side who scored in every away game of their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign and bagged an impressive 21 goals overall in their ten fixtures.
Their hosts on Friday, Wales, have not made a great start under Chris Coleman, losing all three games so far, against Costa Rica in February and Mexico in May, plus in a very limp display at home to Bosnia in August.
One plus for the Welsh is that they did win their last meeting at home against the Belgians 3-1, but that was back in 1990.
The Dragons had two wins and two defeats from their home games in Euro 2012 qualifying, but will struggle against such a star-studded team that looks to be on the cusp of something big.
Italy to beat Bulgaria @ 3/5
The Italians were, of course, runners up at Euro 2012, impressing many along the way. The collapse in the final against Spain aside, Italy were the surprise package of the tournament.
Cesare Prandelli’s outfit has strength throughout, with a particularly solid defence and indeed a legendary goalkeeper in Gigi Buffon.
The Azzurri will be missing Mario Balotelli through injury, but can call upon Giampoalo Pazzini, who is fresh from scoring a hat-trick in his debut for new club Milan last weekend.
The Italians were just as impressive in Euro 2012 qualifying, going undefeated and winning eight of their ten games. They only conceded two goals and scored 20.
Bulgaria, by contrast, had a very poor campaign, finishing bottom of England’s group and failing to score a single goal at home.
Clearly missing the retired Dimitar Berbatov and captain Stilyan Petrov, Lyuboslav Penev is not blessed with much in the way of talent to take on the four-time World Cup winners.
Norway to beat Iceland @ 21/20
Finally, we come to the glamour tie of the international break (what is sarcasm?).
These Nordic nations also faced one another in Euro 2012 qualifying, with Norway winning both ties (1-0 at home and 2-1 away).
Egil Olsen’s side amassed an impressive 16 points to Iceland’s four, agonisingly missing out on qualification on goal difference to Portugal.
Norway have five English-based players in the squad for this match, with John Arne Riise and Brede Hangeland of Fulham, Jonathan Parr of Crystal Palace, Alexander Tettey of Norwich and Josh King of Manchester United all earning call-ups.
Iceland have some promising players, but do rely heavily on Tottenham midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, who, along with his new club, has not enjoyed the best start to this season.
Lars Lagerback’s charges haven’t beaten Norway in their previous four meetings, last registering a victory against them in 1987.
Norway will be hoping that the firepower of Hannover striker Mohammed Abdellaoue will help them to victory on Friday in Reykjavik, having scored in both Euro 2012 qualifiers against Iceland.
So there you have it, Geoff’s very first selection. If he continues with his successful picks then you never know, he may earn a place in government the next time there’s a reshuffle. The worst part is that I may not be kidding.
Happy international punting, folks!
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