While the Nations League may be doing it’s best to grab the headlines at the moment, the competition will never be the premier UEFA international tournament. That spot will always be reserved for the Euros. With the qualification cycle well underway, we’re going to focus on last years World Cup finalists, Croatia and France, in this preview. Reigning champs France face a tough trip to Turkey, while Croatia host Ryan Giggs’ Wales.
Since losing the World Cup final at the Luzhniki Stadium, Croatia have been in mixed form, with clear differences in performance between home and away fixtures. They’ve been spanked 6-0 by Spain and defeated by England at Wembley Stadium in the Nations League. But, beaten Spain and drawn with England at home. Thus far in the Euro qualifiers, they’ve beaten Azerbaijan at home but been defeated in Hungary. Currently, in Group E, four teams sit on three points, so with only the top two qualifying automatically, Croatia need to find their form quick sharp if they want to make it to the tournament proper.
Having missed out on World Cup qualification, Wales will be desperate to make it to the Euros again, having qualified for the tournament for the first time in 2016. To do so, Wales are pinning their hopes on a combination of youth and fresh blood. Manager Ryan Giggs has capped 12 new players in his 11 games in charge, with more than half of the debutants aged under 22. In the Euros, Wales have only played one qualifier thus far, defeating Slovakia 1-0 courtesy of a Daniel James strike. Gareth Bale is set to play for the first time since April having fallen out of favour at Real Madrid.
Like Wales, Turkey qualified for Euro 2016 but missed out on World Cup qualification. Unlike Wales, Turkey didn’t make it out of their group in the Euros. Thus far they’ve earned two victories from two fixtures in qualifying and sit level with France atop a relatively weak Group H on six points. Thus far, Turkey are looking like the strongest team behind France. They’re yet to concede a goal while recording comprehensive victories over Albania and Moldova.
World Champions France do not appear to be suffering a World Cup hangover. Admittedly they failed to qualify for the knockout stages of the Nations League, but they only suffered one defeat in the competitions league stage, losing to a resurgent Netherlands side. Since then, Les Bleus have won four fixtures on the bounce, scoring four goals in each of their qualifiers, with Giroud, Mbappe and Griezmann all netting in both matches. Turkey should present the only obstacle to France topping the group and securing automatic qualification for the tournament.
Croatia are strong favourites for a home victory at 3/5 (1.60) with Wales 23/5 (5.60) to achieve a win on the road. As reigning World Champions, France are favourites to win the match with odds of 8/15 (1.53), opponents Turkey are 53/10 (6.30) to cause an upset.
Croatia may have been dominant at home but they’ve had a leaky defence, keeping only one clean sheet in 13 fixtures; while Wales have registered a goal in five of their last six fixtures, so we’d back Croatia to win and both teams to score at 16/5 (4.20).
France have scored two or more goals in six of their last eight fixtures – with Antoine Griezmann hitting the back of the net in each of the last three games. Meanwhile, Turkey have kept a clean sheet in six of their last eight fixtures. So, who do we trust? The Turkish defence, or the French attack? We’re going to have to back the unit that contains Griezmann and Mbappe, so we’ll opt for France to win and more than 2.5 goals at 13/10 (2.30).
*Odds subject to change. Odds correct at time of publishing.