England begin the first of ten qualifying matches for the 2016 European Championships in France by facing their strongest rivals for the top spot in Group E, Switzerland, at the St Jakob Park Stadium in Basel on Monday night. On Paper, this is the most difficult game of all the qualifiers for the Three Lions and so a solitary point for Roy Hodgson’s men would be a decent result, especially when you consider the new format for qualification.
Michel Platini’s newly shaped UEFA European Championship has expanded the competition from 16 to 24 nations, giving hope to smaller countries who usually miss out like Scotland, Wales and Ireland, while also ensuring the higher ranked national teams will almost certainly all be on the plane to France next summer. The new process involves the Group winners and runners-up directly qualifying for the finals tournament along with the highest ranked 3rd placed team. The remaining 8 third placed sides will then contest a two legged play-off to decide the final four places.
With San Marino a guaranteed 6 points, and Estonia, Lithuania and Slovenia making up the rest of Group E, a draw would also not be a bad outcome for the first competitive match of Vladimr Petkovic’s reign as Swiss manager. If the Sarajevan’s organised and defensive style at Lazio for the past two seasons is anything to go by, then we could see Switzerland returning to a more familiar counter-attacking approach like in their 1-0 extra time second round elimination to Argentina at the World Cup. In the Group stages, Ottmar Hitzfeld went against his nature by trying out a more open, attacking formation against France which lead to a 5-2 humiliation, causing the subsequent reversal to a more solid, compact looking side in the knockout stages.
The natural caution of Roy Hodgson combined with the lack of any real urgency for both of these nations to push for all 3 points, could well see this fixture ending all square – I’d place a small bet on the draw at 3.2 Euro odds or 11/5 UK – and leaving both countries still in prime positions to qualify from the Group.
Hodgson’s uncharacteristic anger at the criticism of England’s dull, uninspiring 1-0 win over Norway, suggests that the press reaction is finally starting to take effect, as it has done for all his predecessors before him. It also points to the burning stubbornness that rages within, when it comes to his monotonous tactical approach, and his lack of any apology in how he tries to get results. England’s new look midfield of Henderson and Wilshere looks far more dynamic when assisted by the pace and trickery of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sterling on the wings, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Roy brought in the functional and limited James Milner to “do a job” on Monday night, sacrificing one of the aforementioned wide players.
Either way, it should be a a tight encounter – go for a medium to large sized bet on an Under 2.5 goal result at 1.53 Euro odds or 53/100 UK – with a limited number of goalscoring chances.