FRIDAY JUNE 8th
Big day, Euro 2012 is finally here, we have the Men's Semi Finals at Roland Garros ( or maybe not) , the Serie B relegation playoff and a selection of World cup qualifiers, but after much deliberation I will pass on those.Canada did get my attention after playing very well against the US in midweek though and have travelled to Havana to face Cuba in pretty bouyant mood. These are the two weaker teams in the group and as such, both should be looking for the win, Cuba have been hit by defections to the US in recent years, all their players play domestic football and striker Alain Cervantes hinted at a lack of confidence saying " we lack a killer instinct and skill at decisive moments, in part due to our lack of international experience". However, positives for the hosts are a poor pitch and gruelling conditions, match is going to be played at the hottest time of the day (31 degrees), but with a Humidex** reading of 43C/109F ( !) not a game to get involved with and certainly not one to take very low odds about the visitors in.
** Humidex is an index number used to describe how hot the weather "feels", by combining the effect of heat and humidity.
FRENCH OPEN TENNIS : MEN'S SEMI FINALS
It is cold, windy and wet in my part of the world this morning and conditions are set to be very similar at Roland Garros and to remain so all day. If forecasters are correct, it is going to be very difficult to get both semi's completed , which is going to hand an even bigger advantage to Rafael Nadal who is first on court and he could easily be in the final and with his feet up, whilst Federer and Djokovic are still waiting for the weather to clear !
It is very hard to make a case for " Mini Rafa " or David Ferrer to give him his official name, defeating the real deal. Rafa has won their last 12 h2h meetings on clay, the last seven all in straight sets and has looked imperious this year, being broken just once and only taken beyond three games twice, in winning 15 sets in the last fortnight. On Monday, he beat Argentina's Juan Monaco and world number 15, 6-2, 6-0, 6-0 in a complete rout, that match was played in very similar conditions to what we will see today. Monaco said that it would be "practically impossible" for any player to defeat Nadal at this year's event. Adding "I know him, because of how he's been feeling on court the past few weeks and having won those last two matches against Djokovic, has made him believe even more in his tennis" It was cold and windy on court, Rafa was a virtual wall from the baseline, committing just 13 unforced errors during the one-hour, 46 minute match, combing defense and consistency with powerful shot-making on the forehand side, producing a total of 23 winners.
Ferrer had his final against Murray in the quarters, his target was a first RG semi and he has made it, I suspect mentally his intensity will slip a little , he has a very similar game to Rafa, but cannot play it as well or as consistenly and whilst I am not putting up a bet today, I again expect Nadal to want to get this finished as quickly as possible and show no mercy once he gets on top of Ferrer.
RUSSIA - CZECH REPUBLIC
POLAND - GREECE
It is very difficult to see too many goals in this game and the Greeks especially are tough to break down, they were 17 games unbeaten until recently and regardless of opposition, that is incredibly impressive at international level and breeds confidence .Captain Giorgos Karagounis has not done much to change the general opinion of his team as a purely defensive unit by stating that they must avoid defeat in their opening game if they are to have any chance of making the quarter-finals, the 35-year-old midfielder said: “If you cannot win then you must not lose because it is the first match ". The Greeks only conceded five times in qualification and have a miserly defence built around the central defensive partnership of Avraam Papadopoulos and Sokratis Papastathopoulos, but the whole squad is very experienced, close knit and knows what is expected of them. They have a huge threat from set pieces (nothing changes) just ask Croatia and have a couple of a wildcards in Sotiris Ninis and Giannis Fetfatzidis, the former will play on the right side of midfield. Injuries have meant the 22yo has not quite fulfilled his potential yet, but he guided Greece to the final of the U-19 European Championship and was named MVP of the tournament and after not playing much until March this season, should be fresher than most at the Championships, he plays more centrally for his club, but wide internationally and is capable of great things on a going day, he will be playing in Italy next season. Fetfatzidis the "Greek Messi" is tiny and has been having growth hormone treatments, but lacks nothing in talent , he will be on the bench,..... REST OF THE PREVIEW IS RESTRICTED
SERIE B PLAYOFFS : EMPOLI- VICENZA
First leg finished 0-0, ahead of which I wrote ....I am not going to waste too long on this, these relegation playoffs have traditionally been very tight, with the last three first legs all ending in draws, two of which were scoreless, the second legs then tend to open up, but in what is low scoring league in any case, or at least was until recently, teams tend to revert to type with so much on the line. These two met just three weeks ago in Empoli and played out a tight 1-1 draw, with both very cautious early and we can expect the same today. Empoli trained behind closed doors for three days this week and the general consensus of opinion is that they have been experimenting with an extra midfielder in order to combat Vicenza, who have indicated in training this week that they will play effectively a 3-5-1-1 . A packed midfield is not going to make things any less tight and I like the draw here at 3.10 + on the exchanges, there is some 2.0 around for the half time stalemate and that looks a good call, with Vicenza drawing 12 of 21 at the break this season and scoring just six first half goals on home soil.
That went pretty much according to plan and I expect the second leg tonight to go the way of these previous games and the first goal to throw this match wide open. Vicenza have scored 24 road goals this season, just one less than they have managed at home and Empoli have conceded 33 times on home soild, only relegated Nocerina have allowed more. There were chances at both ends in the first game and Vicenza felt they did enough to have won the match and now know that they will be playing Lega Pro football next season if they do not win tonight. Hosts will survive with a point, by virtue of their higher league placing, as away goals do not count double. I cannot see Empoli being too expansive early and they will set out to hold on to what they have and do have more quality in their squad, but it is a very dangerous game to try and hold out for 90 minutes,Vicenza will have to gamble and the first goal for either, regardless of when it comes will throw this match into chaos. I am tempted to take Vicenza + 0.5 ball as this also gives us the draw, which will suit Empoli very well, but I just about prefer the "over" alternative, I have seen it before with these second leg games, there will be some very nervous footballers out there, mistakes will be made and I expect both to score, maybe 2-2, but I will opt for 1.5 units "over" 2 goals 1.84 asian line.
Likely starting line ups:
EMPOLI(4-3-1-2): Dossena; Buscè,Ficagna,Stovini,Gorzegno; Signorelli,Moro,Valdifiori; Saponara; Maccarone,TavanoVICENZA(4-4-1-1): Frison; Brighenti,Martinelli,Pisano,Giani; Gavazzi,Soligo,Motta,Maiorino; Pinardi; Paolucci
Very interesting looking day tomorrow, two Euro 2012 matches to discuss and my first strong match bet of the competition, I will also preview the Women's final from Roland Garros and the South American World Cup games, where I have another very solid pick.