With the important business of qualifying out of the way we thought we'd take a light-hearted look at tonight's friendlies, featuring the likes of Russia v Belgium, Republic of Ireland v Iceland, Portugal v Sweden, and France v Spain. Whilst the overriding sense may be one of European Unity, there's some tasty looking games there... and the possibility of making a few quid whilst we're at it.
Win or lose, on the booze!
Being a fresh-faced intern, eager to impress as I learn the industry, the last thing I thought I'd be doing would be writing about International Friendlies featuring European clubs, but being straight out of university my boss pointed out that it made perfect sense for me to tackle today's task:
1. I've spent part of my gap year 'bollocking about Europe, inter-railing, or whatnot', as he kindly put it.
2. The closest Big Jim (our regular Euro-footy writer) gets to Europe is on a Friday night: necking pints of Stella and enjoying 'French fries' from the chippy on the way home.
3. What Jim knows about football can be written on the back of a postage stamp.
So, fellow traveller, without further ado, join me on my whistle-stop tour of Europe, below. I can't promise the preview will be your passport to riches, but you never know!
Kronenburgh v Alahambra
France v Spain
One flaw in the boss's idea to let me loose reviewing these games is that my memories of my European adventure are a little... hazy. What can I say, the sun was shining, the vibe was bohemian and my student pass was accepted everywhere, guaranteeing me cheap drinks from Calais to the Carpathians, and everywhere in between. With this in mind, this preview will reimagine these friendlies as a 'Battle of the Beers!' Let the games begin.
France would have to be a frothing pint of Kronenburg - Rich, luxuriant and guaranteed to leave one glowing all over with the effects remaining with the drinker long into the night. That the class is there is apparent, evident in the team reaching the finals of the European Championship. With Oliver Giroud and Antoine Griezman effervescent at the head (or La Plume, as our continental cousins like to call it) France, have a real potency about them. Unbeaten in 18 games (in normal time), with 14 victories and draws away to Switzerland and Belarus and at home to the Ivory Coast, this 2017 batch has the makings of beings as successful as the 1998 vintage. With Pogba and Payet providing the body this team has substance and goals in abundance.
They should be triple-rated, really. Having dominated world football in recent memory, Spain have caused opposition players, fans and managers alike headaches for the last decade. Pleasing on the eye, with a crisp, silky taste, Alhambra Reserva 1925 has a dark side that can punish non-believers. However, displays have been rather flat since that era, a result of possibly leaving the beer in the sun during one of Spain's famous siestas. Those results left a rather bitter taste which eventually saw bon vivant boss Vicent del Bosque politely removed from his position; Julen Lopetegui replacing him at the hop. The change has worked, as well, with Los Conquistadors drawing with beer-imbibing rivals Belgium in his opening match. Since then, respectable draws away to Italy and England have seen the Spaniards partying hard with four wins as well. David Silva is on fire, complementing he team as well as the beer does tapas or tortilla, scoring yet again at the weekend against Israel. Diego Costa, Vitolo, and Isco all got on the scoresheet as well, which just shows how much depth there is to this team.
What's the tab, then?
A tough, tough battle, between two seriously strong brews. Spain have won four, drawn one, and lost two of their last seven meetings with France, but they're likely to find it difficult to ovecome their rivals this time out. Kronenburgh v Alahambra? Honours even, with the bubbly Griezeman to score at any time. Draw 85/40 | BTTS EVS | 1-1 9/2 | Griezmann anytime GS 5/4.
Bruges the best!
Russia v Belgium
Russia, oh yes. I remember... Volga, or was it Nastya? Olga rings a bell... Actually, everything's a bit blurred, blame it on any one of the 188 varieties of vodka I was forced to try by those crazy souls in St. Petersburg (there's nothing saintly abot that place, let me tell you!) However, that's another story, so back to the preview!
Nostrovia! Russia can only be described as Vodka. As powerful as a mule, on their day they can match anyone for strength, determination and purity. Their tactics and style can be as transparent as the drink, and they do exactly what it says on the tin. The team plays to its strengths, but they've unfortunately fallen short in recent times. In fact, so potent can their blend be that they've pretty much been suffering a hangover since their Euro 2016 ended, and played most of that tournament in a stupor not unalike that I suffered on my travels to the motherland. However, best foot forward and all that. Hosting the World Cup in 2018 seems to have awoken a vigour in the team, with fresh recruits aplenty, especially in defence, with seven defenders having under ten caps each. Alan Dzagoev (a one-time target for the top European clubs) remains in midfield and Russia will looking to his guile and craft to supply main striker Fyodor Smolov. With two wins, one draw, and three defeats in the six games they have played since Euro 2016 ended they are building slowly, but remain dangerous and should, like vodka, be treated with extreme caution.
Currently ranked fifth in the world, Belgium went into the Euros with big expectations, confident their reputation would carry them far... alas, they fell short of many people's expectations, losing to Wales in an exciting, but ultimately disappointing quarter-final. As American liquor importer Don Feinberg once said of Belgium Beer: " it’s what’s in the bottle that counts, not some absurd adherence to an approved ingredient list or narrow stylistic guidelines." Given a team that can boast the attacking prowess of the Hazard brothers, Axel Witsel, Dembele and Romulu Lukaku, along with the defensive might of Alderweirald and Vertonghen that remains as true now as it did then. Belgium then, must be the Brouwerij Bockor N.V. Cuvee Des Jacobins Rouge, probably the best of the 'Flanders Reds' -it's sour and slightly funky, with beautiful tart cherry notes, along with a touch of woody/oaky dryness in the finish. With a nice balance of sweetness, fruit, and tartness, just like the team!
What's the tab, then?
Brouwerij Bockor N.V. Cuvee Des Jacobins Rouge travels extremely well (even if it's rather hard to say, especially after the third glass!) With eight wins on their travels, Belgium go up against a Russia team who have lost four of their last seven home games. 13/10 for Belgium to win? Sounds good to us. In fact, with the Tottenham defence on guard, and Lukaku on fire, we're going to lump for a 0-2 win: 9/1
Back the Boys on the black stuff!
Republic of Ireland v Iceland
If Russia and St.Petersburg was hair-raising, then the trips to Dublin's fine city put the hairs there in the first place! Think of the Emerald Isle and images of flame-haired goddesses serving pints of that liquid gold spring to mind. No other drink epitomises the Ireland team quite like Guinness! Often described as a meal, rather than a drink, this firm-bodied stout has the fighting qualities you'd expect from the Irish, encased in a welcoming, warm and friendly exterior. It's the head that first grabs you, a unique, icon of the imbiber's world. Rather like Shane Long himself, who will likely spearhead this Irish team. Punchy, the Irish have scored in 10 of their last 11 home games, and that cream is there for all to see. Then we come to the body of the drink - robust, and full of potential, an alchemists dream, perfecting the art of blending. Of course, the loss of captain Seamus Coleman, who horrifically broke his leg in two places in an ugly, ill-tempered match against Wales on Friday. John O'Shea was another victim of the roughhouse tactics, and misses this game, along with Jon Walters and James McCarthy, also sidelined through injury.
Iceland are new boys to the top table, their victory over England in the 2016 Euros the highlight of their history so far. Surprisingly, they are also newcomers to the world of wine, beer being illegal until the early 1980's. However, as the England game showed, they are quick learners and, whilst their beer buds may need refining, their is nothing uncertain about Brennivin, the national drink which translates to 'Burning Wine!' It is also known colloquially as 'Black Death' and this distilled brand of Schnapps can be deadly! Second in their group, ahead of Ukraine, the tiny footballing nation haven't fared too badly since stunning the world last summer, with five wins, one draw and three defeats. They have scored in 86% of their last 14 away games..; the potency of their attack, like Brennivin, there for all to see.
What's the tab, then?
The Republic are strong at home, scoring in ten of their last 11 and keeping six clean sheets in the process. However, the loss of their defence could see them vulnerable, especially to set pieces and in Gylfi Sigurdsson Iceland posses a player with the technique to punish anyone. That Iceland remains porous is a concern for them, but should be seen as an opportunity for us to get some beer tokens in... BTTS 11/10 | Sigudsson anytime GS 11/4 | BTTS, ROI win 19/4
*All prices subject to fluctuation. Make sure to check StanJames.com for up to date prices.
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