0.5pt Spain to win in ET @ 8/1
The fifth and sixth matches in the round of 16 take place on Monday as Croatia and Spain (5pm ITV) clash in Copenhagen before France and Switzerland do battle in Bucharest (8pm ITV).
Immediately after the group games and the match ups were finalised, I thought the 6/1 offered about Croatia to get the better of Spain in 90 minutes (5/2 to qualify) looked too big. These are both sides who have started slowly in the competition but come into this first knockout tie on the back of their best performances so far. I say ‘first’ knockout tie, it was really a knockout situation for both in their final group games as defeat would have meant early exits.
However, upon reflection I was less keen to get involved.
Spain have dominated their games but spurned chance after chance in front of goal, which all changed after a huge helping hand from Slovakian keeper Martin Dubravka. He knocked the first into his net and after that, everything the Spanish forwards touched turned to goals.
There was another own goal while Alvaro Morata (10/3 to score first, 5/4 anytime) missed a penalty after 12 minutes to continue his patchy form, but the inclusion of PSG’s forward Pablo Sarabia (6/1 first, 5/2 anytime) and Barcelona’s key midfielder Sergio Busquets made all the difference.
Croatia toyed with Scotland at times as Luka Modric pulled all the strings. However, the ball will be dominated by the Spanish and the Real Madrid wizard will not be able to influence the game as much. Added to that the blow of losing Ivan Peresic who tested positive for Covid-19 and the 6/1 looks less appealing.
I still think Croatia have been overlooked with a massive overreaction to Spain’s 5-0 win against Slovakia, while they will not have home advantage. However, many felt the Seville Stadium wasn’t much of an advantage with the distance between pitch and fans and La Roja do look best equipped to progress. The Spaniards are just too short at 4/7 to recommend backing outright in 90 minutes (1/3 to qualify), so we need to find the best angle.
Croatia conceded a single goal in each of their three group games, while Spain were only breached once, so I expect a tight affair. Spain to win to nil is a 7/5 shot.
The draw at 11/4 would not be the biggest surprise and with Spain having the greater experience among their younger stars, they would be warm favourites in extra-time. They are 8/1 to follow Italy’s lead and win in extra-time, while they are 11/1 to win on penalties with the World Cup runners-up 12/1 to qualify via spot kicks and 20/1 to win in extra-time.
From Copenhagen we head southeast to Bucharest to see tournament favourites France take on Switzerland. Didier Deschamps’ World Champions are favourites at 4/7 (2/9 to qualify) while the Swiss are big outsiders at 6/1 (3/1 to qualify).
Interestingly the match odds are similar to the previous game, yet France are a lot shorter to be playing a quarter-final next weekend. While I scoffed at the 4/7 Spain, the same price about France looks very tempting.
So, they only won one of their group games, but they never looked in danger of losing any of them and are deadly when it comes to knockout football, as proven in Russia three years ago.
Switzerland came into this tournament on the back of a six game winning streak that came to an end with a 1-1 draw with Wales. They got the job done against a weak Turkey side to book their spot here but if this was a horse race, Group A’s form did not stand up on Saturday and I think the French will blow the Swiss away.
The 4/7 will appeal to the big hitters while options like France -1 at 13/8 and France to win and over 2.5 goals at 7/4 are also viable alternatives.