Friday, 24 June 2016

Euro 2016 Second Round Picks (June 25-27)

Euro 2016 Second Round Picks
The expanded format of the Euro 2016 tournament might not have been to everyone's taste, but I have to say I have been pleasantly surprised with how it has worked. There simply hasn't been a dead rubber in the tournament so far with so many of the teams knowing the importance of Group positions, while only one team were eliminated before the final round of games.

I also think there has been an encouraging trend towards attacking football and most teams have looked to win games rather than settling for draws that might have been the most convenient result.

And there have been some surprises.

The failure of Spain and England to win their Groups means they join the likes of Italy, Germany and France in the bottom half of the draw which has opened the door for a potential surprise Finalist.

Or it has opened the door for a team like Belgium to show why so many have put them down as a potential 'golden generation', but it won't be an easy run to the Final for them either. Croatia, as long as the fans behave, have the talent to beat any team in their half of the draw, while the likes of Poland and Wales may feel they can surprise in the summer of a season in which Leicester City shook up the Premier League.

The most disappointed teams have to be those I have mentioned that failed to win their Group- Spain and England should have been in the so called 'weaker' half of the draw, but failing to win their last game has left them in this spot. Both can be rightly criticised as Spain missed a penalty and then conceded late in a game they could have drawn to win the Group, while Roy Hodgson will have some explaining to do after changing more than half of his starting line up for the final Group game against Slovakia which ended in a goalless draw.

The short straw has obviously been drawn by Spain and Italy who will meet in a huge game on Monday, but England are also left in a situation where they will likely have to beat France and then Germany/Spain/Italy simply to get to the Final. With the pressure on Hodgson to at least reach a Semi Final, perhaps the England manager's office could be looking to be filled by a new occupant in time for the World Cup Qualifiers at the beginning of September.

There are some big Second Round matches to be played in the coming three days as we prepare for the final few days of multiple games being played on the same day. After this we will have one game per day, at best, and the withdrawal symptoms from the missing Premier League may begin to settle in.

Thankfully there isn't so long to wait one this tournament is over though.

Saturday 25th June
Switzerland v Poland PickFor many of the fans watching Euro 2016, the feeling was that the tournament wouldn't really start until the Knock Out Stages. With only eight of twenty-four teams going out in the Group Stage, that is an understandable reaction but now we have gotten to the time where one mistake can cost a team a place in the Quarter Finals.

The natural inclination is to move towards thinking these games will be a lot more cautious with so much on the line and that can make it tough to pick the way they will go.

Both Switzerland and Poland have been in good form in the tournament so far and both have to think they won't have too many better chances to get into a major international tournament Quarter Final. That can create its own pressure on players and I am not that surprised that the layers are not expecting a lot of goals.

This Stadium in Saint-Etienne has seen six goals scored in the three games here in the Group and one of those was the Slovakia-England goalless draw. The pitch is playing well compared with some of the others in France and I can see both Switzerland and Poland being able to play some very strong football in this one.

Goals have been an issue for both teams in the tournament so far though and both defences have combined for five clean sheets in six games. That is a contrast to the form they were displaying going into Euro 2016, but has to be respected and instead I believe backing Poland to progress is the right call.

Poland have just looked a little better all around than Switzerland and have a player in Robert Lewandowski who looks to be the star turn on the field. There is quality in the squad and I think Poland will have enough to move through in this match, although I will back them on the level ball Asian Handicap which will return stakes if the match does go into extra time.

Wales v Northern Ireland PickWhen England and Wales played each other in the Group, the match very much took on the feel of an English club game and I think this Second Round is going to have a similar feel.

Both Northern Ireland and Wales have to be looking at the other as an ideal Second Round opponent and there will be some familiarity having played in March. Northern Ireland were moments away from winning that friendly played in Cardiff and ending their poor run through recent years against Wales, but they were denied at the death.

You have to consider that neither Aaron Ramsey nor Gareth Bale played in that match while many of those Northern Ireland players that started that game will likely be in the starting eleven in this one. It is hard to ignore the quality that Ramsey and Bale will offer Wales in this one and I think that will give them an edge in a match where both teams will set out in similar ways.

The defensive units being compact is the key for both Wales and Northern Ireland, although the former will look for Bale and Ramsey to use their speed and quality whole Northern Ireland may look to take advantage of set pieces. I really liked the way Northern Ireland played against Ukraine and I don't think they will be overawed in facing Wales so I can see more attacking play than the layers who have again left some tempting numbers when backing goals.

And I don't mean backing at least three goals to be shared out, I mean backing at least two goals to be scored which can be found at 1.70 which does look appealing. All of the Wales Group games would have seen that number hit and Northern Ireland created enough in their win over Ukraine, while also giving up plenty of chances to Poland and Germany, to think that can come in.

Games at the Parc des Princes have not featured a lot of goals which might concern, but I was more tempted in simply backing Wales to win at odds against anyway and won't put off anyone in suggesting there will be at least two goals. I like Wales with the likes of Bale and Ramsey being able to unlock the Northern Ireland defence and I think they can prove to be very dangerous on the counter attack through the ninety minutes.

While I have a lot of respect for the way Northern Ireland have conducted themselves on the field and in the stands, I think those two players mentioned are the best on the field. In the Knock Out Stages of these major international tournaments, those players can come to the fore and I like a moment of magic from one, or both, to beat Northern Ireland and move into the nosebleed area of a Quarter Final here in France.

Croatia v Portugal PickYou can't have been anything but impressed with the way Croatia came from behind to beat Spain in their final Group game which has put them in the 'weaker' half of the draw to the Final on July 10th. Spain missing a penalty at 1-1 was the key moment in the match, but Croatia showed why so many have tipped them as a potential winner here.

Having won the Group, Croatia would have hoped for better than a clash with Portugal in the Second Round and this does look like one of the better Second Round matches. The latter have put themselves in this spot having failed to win a Group game against limited opposition, but Portugal will feel beating Croatia opens up the path to playing in the Final in two weeks time.

I can imagine Croatia earning plenty of backers and the layers have placed them as the favourite in this match, but Cristiano Ronaldo will be a constant threat in this game. His two goals against Hungary may have seen him come alive in the tournament at just the right time for Portugal who may also feel they can peak in the Knock Out Stage of the Finals.

Personally I am finding it hard to separate these teams and the prospects of extra time and perhaps even penalties does loom large. Both teams have looked a little vulnerable defensively which could make this an entertaining game to watch for the neutrals, although I do think a returning Luka Modric might give Croatia more control and thus the edge.

However I want to go with that vulnerability we have seen in both defences with one clean sheet kept in their Group games by both teams. They have also shown enough in front of goal to suggest both Croatia and Portugal score in this one and I will back that, although I wouldn't put off anyone backing a draw and seeing this as the first game to go into extra time in the tournament.

Sunday 26th June
France v Republic of Ireland PickAfter all the emotions of the win over Italy which has put the Republic of Ireland through to the Second Round we can expect that happiness to have turned to thoughts of revenge. No one will have forgotten the way France beat the Republic of Ireland in the 2010 World Cup Play Off as Thierry Henry deliberately used his hand to help guide the football into his path before setting up William Gallas' equaliser that saw France go through and Ireland go out.

It would be fitting for the Republic of Ireland to get ultimate revenge in this one by beating France in the tournament they are hosting, but it might be a big ask for them. There have been suggestions they will play the same eleven that beat Italy in the final Group Stage, but that might leave them a little too open against a France team that can create chances and score goals.

We have yet to see the best of France, which isn't a bad thing as they would want to peak on July 10th rather than June 10th. There is so much quality in the squad that even when they are struggling they have players that can create a moment of magic and create something out of nothing.

The Republic of Ireland can look to frustrate France in a similar manner that Romania, Albania and Switzerland have all done. However they will know that the former two nations were undone, while the latter escaped thanks to the woodwork and a couple of top saves from the goalkeeper.

I think it will be tough for the Republic of Ireland to pick themselves up again after the emotional win over Italy. They might have 'nothing to lose' in this Second Round match where there is little expectation on their shoulders, but I think Ireland may struggle with their balance if they do fall behind in a similar way they did when Belgium got the better of them in the Group Stage.

After keeping France at a distance for some time, I expect the hosts to find the breakthrough and I expect they will be able to finish off an Ireland team chasing an equaliser down the stretch. Backing the hosts to cover the one goal Asian Handicap looks to be the best way to get onto this game.

Germany v Slovakia PickThis looks like being another one of the Second Round matches that should capture the imagination as I think Slovakia are anything other than an 'easy' game for Germany. Slovakia simply haven't lost too many games since Qualifying for the Euro 2016 Finals and they have to take some confidence out of their 1-3 win over Germany prior to the tournament.

That was a victory in Germany against a much changed team, but Slovakia will believe they can get forward and cause some problems. Good performances through the Group Stage suggests Slovakia have the quality to surprise and they have a player in Marek Hamsik who is capable of the magical at any given moment.

There are some injuries in the Germany defensive positions which may also make them vulnerable, but I am encouraged by Joachim Low's decision to move away from the 'false nine' system. I have to expect he will stick with Mario Gomez leading the line after seeing Germany create many chances in their 1-0 win over Northern Ireland and the all around performance was encouraging after earlier matches had been a little more inconsistent.

Germany certainly have the quality to find room against this Slovakia team who generally don't defend as well as they did against England. I also think Germany are a lot cleverer in the final third than England when it comes to breaking down teams that will sit back and I think the World Champions will prove a little too good.

Slovakia can play their part, but I can see them in a position to chase an equaliser which sees them caught on the counter as Ukraine were in their 2-0 loss to Germany in the Group Stage. I did consider backing at least three goals to be shared out between the teams at odds against, but instead will stick with Germany to win by a couple of goals and cover the Asian Handicap.

Hungary v Belgium PickThe top half of the Euro 2016 draw looks an open one and any of the eight teams in that half have to believe they can go all the way to the European Championship Final next month.

There are some surprising nations in the mix, but I think none more so than Hungary who were the absolute outsiders in Group F. Not many would have picked Hungary to get into the Second Round and outside of the team I don't imagine too many picked them to win the Group.

It has given Hungary some confidence to take into the Second Round, although I do wonder if they have just taken advantage of slack play from others in the Group. They were moments away from losing to Iceland and all three goals scored against Portugal had their fortunes about them while Hungary looked significantly second best in that game.

Failing to win a Group they were expected to has helped Belgium join the top half of the draw and they would be ecstatic with the draw. Italy won Group E and have to face Spain, while Belgium finished second and get to play Hungary and I do think they are going to be too good for them on the day.

Belgium have looked solid in their wins over the Republic of Ireland and Sweden and they have been flowing when going forward. There are still some question marks as to whether they score enough goals, but Belgium will have their chances against Hungary and going ahead in this one could see them run away with this Second Round match.

I have been impressed with some of the Hungary play in their first three games, but I think they might have looked better against poorer teams than Belgium. The one quality team they have played is Portugal and Hungary needed two deflections and a special strike from Zoltan Gera to come away with a draw and you can't rely on those bounces of the ball in two games in a row.

There is still some room for improvement in the Belgium play, but I think they might be picking up some momentum and I will back them to score a late goal to put this one away and win by at least two goals.

Monday 27th June
Italy v Spain PickThere is no doubting what match is considered the best of the Second Round and it is fitting that Italy and Spain will be meeting in the biggest football Stadium in France.

The winner of the match might feel they have some real momentum behind them to win the Euro 2016 tournament although whoever gets through likely has to face Germany in the Quarter Final and France in the Semi Final to simply have a chance to play for all the marbles.

I think it is fairly obvious what we are going to see on Monday- Italy will look for their Juventus backline to defend as they have and set Italy up with a clean sheet while they will look to hit Spain on the counter attack against a vulnerable defence.

Spain will likely dominate possession and hope to pull the Italian defence around and eventually wear them down, while also protecting the defence by keeping the ball for long periods.

I have no doubt that Vicente del Bosque and Antonio Conte are well aware of this too and the game will come down to which of the teams can impose themselves on the other more effectively. They have met five times since the Group Stage of Euro 2012 and three of those games have ended in draws with one another seeing a single goal being enough for Spain to win.

Of course the exception is the Euro 2012 Final but Spain scored twice in the last ten minutes against a chasing and tired Italy side to put a gloss on that scoreline and generally games between these teams are tight.

I think Spain are the more likely winners in regulation time with Alvaro Morata likely to provide them with some inside information on his Juventus team-mates who make up the Italy defence. Morata has scored three times in his last couple of Spanish games and he might be the big threat, but Italy have been strong defensively and this looks like being another tight game between these nations.

It would not surprise me at all if this is one of those Second Round matches that does need extra time and perhaps penalties to separate them. I'm going to have a small interest in the draw at full time in this one, even if the layers aren't taking any chances with the prices.

England v Iceland PickEngland and Iceland have both got through to the Euro 2016 Second Round with different attitudes and there are also different expectations on their shoulders. For England anything less than a place in the Quarter Final would likely be the end of Roy Hodgson as manager and see the team come home with plenty of criticism to face.

For Iceland they have already achieved more than their fans possibly could dream and going out in the Second Round would be no disgrace. That means the team have nothing to lose in this match and they have shown by holding Portugal that Iceland are able to load the box and make life difficult for any team that face.

Breaking down teams has been a problem for this England team, but the selection for the Slovakia game didn't really suit the game plan. The likes of Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane are likely to be restored with both full backs and England will feel they have enough in their locker to break down Iceland.

The latter will defend deep and look to counter, while Iceland can be a threat from set pieces against a vulnerable England backline that will offer some chances if teams go at them.

I think one issue for Iceland is they have put a lot into their Group games with the way they defend and work hard through a game. That has to mean there is a chance for some fatigue in the team, while they haven't really had to chase a game for long periods at any point. That is what England have to make them do and see what Iceland have in the locker when they are forced to come out.

Can England do that? They have created enough chances early on in their last three games to think they can and a more familiar line up might just be what Roy Hodgson needs. I have a lot of respect for Iceland, but it has taken a few last ditch tackles to keep them from conceding more goals than they have and Iceland had conceded a fair few goals in the friendlies leading up to Euro 2016.

England should be too strong and if they can take their chances early on in this Second Round game like they've created through the tournament, I can see England picking off Iceland. This is a much improved Iceland than the one that lost 6-1 to England in June 2004, but I can see a situation where Iceland are chasing the game and England pick them off for an impressive win and likely a Quarter Final against the hosts next Sunday.

MY PICKS: Poland 0 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Wales @ 2.05 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Croatia-Portugal Both Teams to Score @ 2.20 Sky Bet (2 Units)
France - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet365 (2 Units)
Germany - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.15 Bet365 (2 Units)
Belgium - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.20 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Italy-Spain Draw @ 3.10 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
England - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)

Second Round Update: 0-0-1, + 0 Units
Group Stage Final: 16-21, - 5.30 Units

Copa America 2016 Final Pick (June 25-26)

Copa America 2016 Final Pick- Argentina vs Chile
The Copa America has been a fantastic tournament this year, even accounting for some of the controversies that have affected the results, and it is coming to an end this weekend.

The Final is the one most Argentinian fans would likely have wanted as they look for the ultimate revenge over Chile for their Copa America defeat last year. That came via penalties in the Final and even the two wins Argentina have since posted over Chile won't have done enough to erase the memory of yet another defeat in a Final.

It is an important game for Argentina.

Going twenty-three years without a trophy in which time Brazil have won two World Cups and reached the Final of another is not good enough considering the talent Argentina have been able to call upon. Some may argue this is the most talented squad of that time, although I tend to favour the 2002 and 2006 teams that should have done better at those World Cup Finals.

The Final is played on Sunday, but before that we have the Third/Fourth Place Play Off between the United States and Colombia. I am not a big fan of this game simply because you have to try and read between the lines regarding the motivation of players who have missed the big prom and are being consoled with a one person party in their own bedroom.

However it is perhaps a big game for the hosts to underline a successful tournament and show they are ready to prepare for the World Cup in two years time and go into that event as a genuine threat.

Saturday 25th June
United States v Colombia PickThe third/fourth place Play Off in any tournament is perhaps one of the harder games to work out as you simply don't know what kind of motivation teams are bringing into that match. For the United States as the hosts there has to be a little more behind them to right the wrongs of the performance in the loss to Argentina in the Semi Final, while a third place finish would be a big achievement for Jurgen Klinsmann and his squad.

On the other side of the field will be the disappointed Colombia team who are still in touch of their best finish at a Copa America since winning the competition in 2001. That is a consolation prize at best for Colombia who expected to reach the Final following a positive start to the Copa America and they also have to pick themselves up from the manner in which they lost the Semi Final.

Going behind 0-2 after eleven minutes would be a huge mental blow for Colombia who will feel a better start might have paid off in that Semi Final with Chile. They dominated much of the rest of the game, but Colombia also had to put in a lot of physical work on a heavy pitch which may affect their performance here.

How much energy have the Colombian team got left against a United States team that will have a number of suspended players back in the starting line up?

I am leaning towards the United States to win this game with a little more motivation behind them, but the bigger lean is towards goals, or a lack of them anyway.

The layers are expecting an attacking game, and that may be the case, but I do wonder if Colombia have had a lot of energy sapped in their last game. The United States should look to be a lot more solid at the back than they were in their defeat to Argentina and so this might be a game that has chances but perhaps not the finishing of earlier in the tournament.

4 of the last 6 between these nations has seen under three goals shared out, while one of the exceptions saw the third goal scored in the 87th minute. Earlier in the Group we saw Colombia beat the United States 0-2 and odds against quotes for fewer than three goals looks tempting enough.

Sunday 26th June
Argentina v Chile PickRevenge might be on the mind of some of the fans on Sunday as Argentina take on Chile in the Copa America Final for the second time in the last twelve months. The players are likely to be more focused on winning their first major international trophy since 1993 having already earned 'revenge' twice over Chile since that defeat in the Final last year.

The 2-1 win in the Group doesn't highlight the dominance Argentina had in that game, although Chile will say they are more confident now. That defeat meant Chile had lost 5 of 6 games, but they have won their last 4 in the Copa America and have beaten both Mexico and Colombia in the last two Rounds.

Those wins look better than the Argentina wins over Venezuela and the United States, and Chile might feel they are more prepared for the Final.

However Argentina have looked like a team on a mission through the last month and this is a team that missed Lionel Messi in the first win over Chile. Messi is on fire and Argentina have scored at least twice in every game in the Copa America and will feel they have the physical edge having played a day before Chile and the latter also had to deal with a heavy pitch in their Semi Final.

Chile were given a bit of a chasing in that game against Colombia and I am a little worried that they might not have the legs to stay with Argentina. Going forward they should have chances against this backline and I am expecting a better Final than we saw in the 2015 Copa America which ended goalless.

The edge has to be given to Argentina to win this time around though and I think they can do that in normal time. They are scoring plenty of goals and I think the team are focused and relaxed while also winning on the schedule to earn an extra day of rest. As long as Argentina can hold back the mental pressure of winning their first trophy since 1993, I like their chances of doing that in this Centenario competition.

MY PICKS: United States-Colombia Under 2.5 Goals @ 2.30 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Argentina to Win @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Semi Final Final: 1-1, + 0.10 Units
Quarter Final Final2-2, + 0.20 Units
Group Stage Final11-12, + 3.45 Units

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Tennis Picks 2016 (June 23rd)

I do have to say that Wednesday was a frustrating day for the picks with two of the three losing picks being in a very strong position to cover but both failing to do that. Mikhail Youzhny had a brain freeze in the third set as he needed one more game to cover, while Steve Johnson was clearly the better player against Vasek Pospisil but couldn't earn the break to win a set and instead did it in two tie-breakers.

Frustrating to say the least when you think how close both were, but it seems to be the way things have gone for me since the French Open as we have moved onto the grass courts. Next week is Wimbledon so I am hoping for a turn in fortunes, but hopefully that begins with the rest of the events in Eastbourne and Nottingham where they are hoping to get through the remaining matches and beat the poor weather that has affected all of Western Europe in what is supposed to be the summer months.

The organisers at Wimbledon will be hoping the same, but first let's get through the Quarter Final matches that have been scheduled for Eastbourne and Nottingham.

Marcos Baghdatis - 3.5 games v Pablo Cuevas: Both Marcos Baghdatis and Pablo Cuevas needed three sets to come through their Third Round match, but it was the latter who had to put in a much bigger physical exertion in his win. All three sets that Cuevas played against Dan Evans were tight and would have needed some winning, while Marcos Baghdatis had to come from a set down to beat Sam Querrey but in a match that wouldn't have featured too many gruelling rallies.

Baghdatis continues to show his form on the grass courts, although he had to pull out of his Semi Final here last year with yet another injury issue. He does look healthy this time and Baghdatis will believe his experience on the grass will aid him in this match against a player that is Ranked higher than him.

However it has to be remembered that Cuevas has not had the best record on grass through his career and will be forced to work hard for some of the points he earns. The first serve isn't a bad shot, but Cuevas will have to deal with a different movement on this surface compared with his favoured clay and someone like Baghdatis can expose his limitations on grass.

We never can know how well Baghdatis will serve in a match, but he should get cheaper points out of the first serve and I think he can build pressure on Cuevas through the match. After some difficult moments, I expect Baghdatis will be able to come through this Quarter Final with a 64, 64 win.

Andreas Seppi - 3.5 games v Dudi Sela: He might never have been a consistent face in the top 4o of the World Rankings but there is plenty of talent in the Dudi Sela racquet which makes him a dangerous player when he is feeling it. He has been so far this week to reach the Quarter Final in Nottingham, but one of the big downsides of the Sela game is the serve which can be exploited on a surface like this one.

The same argument can be levelled at Andreas Seppi, but the Italian has been serving well in the last couple of weeks and he only suffered a close loss to Florian Mayer, the eventual winner in Halle. There is plenty to like about Seppi's game outside of the serve too as he can be an effective return of serve to make up for the likelihood that he would drop his own.

If he can continue in the way he has been playing over the last couple of weeks, Seppi should have the edge in a contest against a player he has beaten in both previous matches. Those came a long time ago so won't be relevant now, but I still think Seppi has shown a little more behind serve than Sela and that could be the difference in making the Semi Final.

I am expecting to see a few break points for both players, but I am looking for Seppi to be the more solid player and come through 75, 64.

Steve Johnson + 2.5 games v Kevin Anderson: The final Quarter Final in Nottingham looks to be the standout match of the day when Kevin Anderson takes on Steve Johnson.

Both players have shown decent form so far this week and the big key for both Anderson and Johnson is going to be the first serve and setting up their service games from there. The second serve and ability to attack that will also be important to get into a position to have a chance to break serve, and I think this is going to be a match dominated by the serve.

It is Kevin Anderson who leads the head to head, but the last two matches have been close and Johnson snapped a four match losing run against the South African at the end of last season. Johnson has been serving very well so far this week, but he has to maintain that as there will be a lot of pressure put on him by Anderson's own big serve which has been firing.

Anderson is yet to face a break point so far this week and was very good in beating Fernando Verdasco on Wednesday. However I have been impressed with the way Johnson has been playing too although he has to be better when he does get a half chance in this match, better than he was in his win over Vasek Pospisil.

All in all this looks a match that might need tie-breakers to settle things and I will back the American with the games in the pocket.

Kristina Mladenovic - 2.5 games v Monica Puig: A big hitting contest is likely to develop in this Quarter Final and I don't think there is an awful lot between Kristina Mladenovic and Monica Puig. Both look to be rounding into very good form for Wimbledon too judging by the results they have earned so far in Eastbourne and I think this could be a fun match with plenty of winners to enjoy.

Why do I like the Frenchwoman to come through this match though and cover what could be a large amount of games when you consider the form being shown? My main reasoning is that Mladenovic has shown more consistency in her serving this week and I think that will build some pressure on Puig who might not be prepared for the firepower that will be coming back at her in this match.

The grass courts suits both players, but I do think Mladenovic has an edge when it comes to the serve and being able to hold. That is a huge importance on the grass courts and should see her in a position to earn the majority of the break points in this one and thus get into a better position to make the Semi Final.

After a lot of big winners and some heavy hitting, I am looking for Mladenovic to see off Puig 76, 64 in this Quarter Final.

Dominika Cibulkova + 3.5 games v Agnieszka Radwanska: Two players who will be very familiar with one another's game will be looking to impose their will on the other in this Quarter Final. For Dominika Cibulkova it is trying to use her power to hit through the grass courts and put Agnieszka Radwanska on the backfoot, while Radwanska will look to use the conditions to frustrate Cibulkova and extract mistakes from her game.

It is Radwanska who has been able to do that more often than Cibulkova in the past, but the last seven matches have seen the latter win four of those. This year they have split two tight matches and I think Cibulkova has the talent to keep this one competitive after a couple of impressive wins in Eastbourne.

The last couple of years on the grass have not been great for Cibulkova, but her opponent is unlikely to blow her off the court either. There is no doubt that Radwanska has had a lot more success on this surface than perhaps any other and she was a Semi Finalist at Wimbledon in 2015. Since 2012 Radwanska has reached two Semi Finals and a Final at Wimbledon and the surface suits her variation of shots very well.

It should give her the edge in this one, but I also believe Cibulkova is going to give her plenty of questions to answer and is good enough to win a set in this one at least. Taking the games looks the right way to approach this Quarter Final as Cibulkova battles Radwanska to the end and perhaps even wins this match outright with a little luck.

MY PICKS: Marcos Baghdatis - 3.5 Games @ 1.85 William Hill (2 Units)
Andreas Seppi - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Steve Johnson + 2.5 Games @ 1.73 Bet365 (2 Units)
Kristina Mladenovic - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Dominika Cibulkova + 3.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 4-4, - 0.38 Units (16 Units Staked, - 2.38% Yield)

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Tennis Picks 2016 (June 22nd)

We are now only a couple of days away before the Wimbledon draw is released so the Qualifiers will continue this week so the draw is ready to be filled out.

I am looking forward to Wimbledon even if it is perhaps being overshadowed by the Euro 2016 tournament with England playing on the opening day of the third Grand Slam of the season. The next two weeks will be full of big events with Wimbledon finishing on the same day of the Euro 2016 Final and I have to say you have got to look forward to that.

For now the concentration is on the two grass court events being played in Eastbourne and Nottingham and Tuesday proved to be a decent day for the picks. It should have been a lot better after Ana Konjuh pulled out with an injury a game away from being blow away by Monica Puig, while I don't think I will ever know how Ekaterina Makarova blew her chances to beat Roberta Vinci convincingly from the positions she manufactured in each of the three sets they played.

On Wednesday all of the Third Round matches will be played as the events try to beat some of the strange weather expected later in the week.

Mikhail Youzhny + 2.5 games v Gilles Muller: The last couple of years have been very difficult for Mikhail Youzhny who is down at Number 73 in the World Rankings. He will have looked at the grass courts as a chance to perhaps improve that Ranking and making a second consecutive Quarter Final would be some achievement for Youzhny.

The Russian won't need me to tell him the size of the task in front of him in this Third Round encounter against Gilles Muller. His opponent reached the Final in Hertongenbosch and then the Quarter Final in Queens as the Muller lefty serve can be quite devastating on the grass courts.

Muller had an impressive win this week already over Jiri Vesely, and he is going to put Youzhny under some immense pressure in this one. However I do think the latter has enough grass court experience and is playing well enough of late to give Muller a few problems to solve himself.

The key for Youzhny is going to be getting enough balls back in play on the return of serve and see if Muller can hold up from the back of the court or make the right approaches to the net. Youzhny needs to serve well to keep Muller from taking complete control of this match and I think this might be a tight match that needs three sets to determine the winner.

Steve Johnson - 2.5 games v Vasek Pospisil: Two big serving players from North America will look to impose their game on the other and there is not a lot to split Steve Johnson and Vasek Pospisil.

Both players have had disappointing 2016 seasons to this point, but recent form certainly gives Steve Johnson the edge. He has been using his serve to full effect on the grass courts over the last couple of weeks compared with Pospisil who won his first main Tour match since the Miami Masters when beating Damir Dzumhur in the Second Round.

That does not show that Dzumhur had to come through a match earlier in the day and perhaps had little to offer either emotionally or physically. It shouldn't be the case for Johnson who had another very impressive win against John Millman on Tuesday and who should feel a big serving display gives him a big edge in the contest.

For all the power Pospisil has, he has not really made the best use of his serve and I think Johnson comes through 76, 64 in this one.

Caroline Wozniacki - 2.5 games v Monica Puig: There was no doubting that Caroline Wozniacki was playing at a very decent level when crushing Sam Stosur in straight sets on Tuesday. She used the windy conditions to her advantage and Wozniacki looked after her serve effectively and I think she will need to be close to her best in this one to get through to the Quarter Final.

Her opponent is Monica Puig who has won four matches in Eastbourne already this week and also reached a Semi Final on the grass earlier this month. A confident Puig can be a very dangerous player as she has a decent serve and heavy groundstrokes, but I do think someone like Wozniacki has the capabilities to frustrate her on a grass court.

I think Wozniacki will look to play Puig like Kirsten Flipkens did in beating her in straight sets last week in Mallorca. I expect Wozniacki will try to vary the pace she gives Puig off the ground while her ability to slice the ball and keep it low might extract more errors from the Puerto Rican's game.

The key for Wozniacki will be to serve as well as she did for the most part against Stosur and try and keep Puig unbalanced on the return. If she can do that, I do think Wozniacki will be a little too good on the day and come through 75, 64.

Johanna Konta + 3.5 games v Petra Kvitova: Last season was a memorable one for Johanna Konta and one that will see her going into Wimbledon as one of the Seeded players. Getting to this position is a great achievement, but Konta will need to double her work to stay inside the top twenty in the World Rankings.

It has been hard graft for her in recent weeks and the grass court season has been something of a disappointment for Konta so far. Konta has only won back to back matches once since the Miami Premier Event, that coming at the Rome Premier Event, and that means she is yet to win two matches in a row on the grass this season.

Any time you play a former Wimbledon Champion it is going to be a challenge, so Konta taking on a two time Wimbledon Champion in Petra Kvitova is a huge task in front of her. Even though Kvitova's game is perfect for the grass courts, she hasn't been firing this season and too often has dropped silly sets and subsequently matches, while it has to be said that Kvitova was fortunate to beat Timea Babos in straight sets.

The serve for both players is going to be key in this Third Round match and I do think Konta will be inspired by the home crowd to take a set in this one. If she can take the chances that Babos missed on Tuesday, Konta can make this a very close match and I will take the games against a dangerous player like Kvitova.

Andrea Petkovic - 1.5 games v Ekaterina Makarova: These two players both took on awkward Italian players on Tuesday and both Andrea Petkovic and Ekaterina Makarova came through in three tough sets. This looks a very interesting Third Round match but I think Petkovic will have the edge having won all four previous matches against Makarova.

That alone isn't enough to make me believe in Petkovic, but she has had some previous solid results on the grass. Petkovic does have some heavy shots that makes her dangerous on this surface and I also have to say I am not convinced about Makarova who has looked a little unsure of herself in her last two matches.

Makarova has shown a little more form in those matches at the right time to come through against Tara Moore and Roberta Vinci but she will have to be a lot better against a competent grass court player like Petkovic. I also think Makarova may struggle against someone like Petkovic who can play solid defence, but has the power to quickly turn a point around in her favour while also being the superior mover around the court.

It has been Petkovic who has shown that to be the key to their matches and she has won seven sets in a row. I think she is the player more likely to battle through some difficult moments in this one and I like Petkovic to win 75, 64.

MY PICKS: Mikhail Youzhny + 2.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Steve Johnson - 2.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Caroline Wozniacki - 2.5 Games @ 1.73 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Johanna Konta + 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Andrea Petkovic - 1.5 Games @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 3-1 + 3.62 Units (8 Units Staked, + 45.25% Yield)

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Copa America 2016 Semi Final Picks (June 21-22)

Copa America 2016 Semi Final Picks
The Copa America tournament is coming to a close in the next few days and by the end of Wednesday we will know which two teams will be competing for the trophy on Sunday.

The favourites to do that are Argentina and Chile, the Finalists from the 2015 edition of the tournament, but both the United States and Colombia are sure to have a lot to say about that.

It has been a very good tournament to date, even if most in Europe are perhaps missing a lot of the games due to broadcasting rights on a subscription channel or the Euro 2016 tournament taking up the attention. That shouldn't detract from what has been a good display of attacking football for the most part and the goals have been flowing at a regular rate.

The main talking point out of the Quarter Finals have to be the United States achieving their goal of reaching the Semi Final and Chile's total dismantling of Mexico in their 7-0 win.

Only Colombia failed to win in the ninety minutes, but these matches go straight to penalties before the Final so I am not anticipating fatigue being a big issue for them. Instead I am looking forward to what should be two very good Semi Final games heading into the final two games of the tournament which will be played this weekend.

Tuesday 21st June
United States v Argentina PickThe two Copa America Semi Finals look like they could provide some fireworks this week and the first between the United States and Argentina will pull in some big viewing numbers. The hosts USA have really taken to the Copa America so it is no surprise that there have been some suggestions they could become a permanent host of the event, and the side have not failed to impress on the field.

The 0-2 defeat to to Colombia looks long forgotten as the United States have won 3 straight games including impressing against Paraguay and Ecuador. Of course this has to be considered a test along the lines of what Colombia provided as Argentina will be bringing in a team that has scored plenty of goals in their four wins here.

Games between the nations have been tight the last couple of times, but those were international friendly games and the last of those came back in 2011.

Now the United States have to show they can contain Argentina as they will be put under pressure for long periods. The Venezuela Quarter Final would have encouraged the United States that if they can defend well, they will have chances against this Argentina backline and Jurgen Klinsmann has a chance to become a national here in his adopted country if he can lead the USA to the Final.

That just looks a big ask for me and I think Argentina are scoring too many goals for the United States to really look to contain them. I expect this to be competitive, but I can see a situation where a late Argentina break finishes off the Semi Final.

The Argentina defence does look vulnerable at times, but the attacking talent more than make up for that and I think Argentina win this by the same margin as Colombia did over the United States in the opening game of the tournament. The United States may have an impact in the scoreboard in this one, but Argentina to win by a couple of goals is my pick.

Wednesday 22nd June
Colombia v Chile PickThe first Semi Final between the United States and Argentina will be played the day before this one, but Chile are favoured to make it a repeat of the 2015 Copa America Final.

That looks a big reaction to the 7-0 thumping of Mexico in the Quarter Final as Chile look to be rounding into form at just the right time, but Colombia might be another step up in competition.

There is a fear that Colombia might have peaked too early with an impressive win over the United States to open the tournament, but I wouldn't read too much into the goalless draw with Peru or the defeat to Costa Rica. Peru showed little desire to come out and play football, but Colombia were still unfortunate not to win that one in normal time, while the defeat to Costa Rica came against a second string Colombia team.

Colombia will find more space against Chile whose intention is to get forward and score goals and I can't see how these teams don't create chances against one another. Penalties will decide the winner if this match is tied after ninety minutes, but I can't see either side settling for that and I am looking for an attacking display from both Chile and Colombia.

Goals have been a feature of games between these nations with 5 of the last 7 seeing at least three goals shared out. At odds against, I am backing at least three goals to be shared out in the second of the Copa America Semi Finals.

MY PICKS: Argentina - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)
Colombia-Chile Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.30 William Hill (2 Units)

Quarter Final Final: 2-2, + 0.20 Units
Group Stage Final: 11-12, + 3.45 Units

Tennis Picks 2016 (June 21st)

All roads lead to Wimbledon and we are into the final two grass court tournaments before the third Grand Slam of the season gets underway in less than a week's time. The ATP event in Nottingham doesn't feature too many of the big names as most of those will spend their time playing exhibition matches and getting themselves mentally ready for a tough two week event.

The WTA event in Eastbourne does see more of the top names taking part as they put their final preparations for Wimbledon together and both events have plenty of tennis matches to get through on Tuesday as they look to make sure those events are concluded by Saturday.

The weather might play havoc on both tournaments through the week, but Tuesday looks a great day for tennis.

Fernando Verdasco - 4.5 games v Victor Estrella Burgos: A solid win over Rajeev Ram in the First Round will have given Victor Estrella Burgos a boost in confidence on a surface on which he has struggled. That win means Estrella Burgos has improved to 3-6 in main Tour grass matches and the veteran player is going to be challenged by Fernando Verdasco who has had some big results on the surface in the past.

When the draw is made for Wimbledon, Verdasco looks like one of those dangerous First Round opponents that every Seed in the draw will want to avoid. I even include the likes of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in that statement because Verdasco can still produce some sublime tennis when he brings his 'A' game to the court.

The Spaniard showed that in beating Stan Wawrinka at Queens last week, although he couldn't back up that victory in the next Round when going down to Bernard Tomic. This match should be a little more comfortable for Verdasco as his own experiences on grass courts should give him an edge over a player that is perhaps not at his best on the surface.

This does look a big number to cover, but I think Verdasco can do the job and come through with a 63, 64 win.

Steve Johnson - 2.5 games v John Millman: It was a solid week in Queens for Steve Johnson who perhaps feels he should have beaten Marin Cilic in his Quarter Final defeat to the eventual Finalist. 2016 has been a difficult season for Johnson so far and the American has not had the most success on the grass courts, but his game should work well on the grass courts.

Johnson has a big serve and a heavy forehand, but I think his return game can let him down sometimes. However I expect Johnson to be comfortable facing John Millman who he has beaten twice already this season and who possesses a serve that is unlikely to push players backwards.

Most of the Australian contingent would be very comfortable on the grass and Millman had some very good results on the surface last season. He hasn't really backed that up so far in 2016 and I think Johnson will have more success on the return of serve than Millman will in this Second Round match.

I can't imagine any Johnson match is ever straight forward as he can go on some really cool patches with his play at any time. However I do think he will be a little too good in this one and will come through 76, 64.

Monica Puig - 2.5 games v Ana Konjuh: Both players have come through the Qualifiers to take their place in the Second Round in Eastbourne and that should mean two confident players take to the court. Monica Puig already has one Semi Final appearance on a grass court this season, but she is taking on a player in Ana Konjuh of whom big things are expected in her future.

It hasn't been the best 2016 for Konjuh so far as perhaps some of the expectations on her shoulders has had an effect on her tennis. It does have to be remembered that the Croatian player did win the title in Nottingham last season so is clearly very happy on a grass court, but she is going to need to be at her best against Puig who has a big game that should be suited to this surface too.

Puig didn't have a great grass court season last year, but she has previously reached the Fourth Round at Wimbledon so can play on this surface. She is also in the midst of what looks to be a career year for Puig and that confidence might prove to be the key difference in this match between these players.

I can see this one going three sets, but that is where a confident Puig should be too good for Konjuh who is perhaps not feeling her best tennis. I like Puig to come through 63, 46, 64 in this one.

Ekaterina Makarova - 3.5 games v Roberta Vinci: It hasn't been a great first few months of the 2016 season for Ekaterina Makarova but it is still a surprise to see her dropped to Number 39 in the World Rankings. The Russian had to battle harder than expected to beat Tara Moore in the First Round, but Makarova has performed very strongly in Eastbourne in the past and does enjoy the grass.

The same might not be said for the Number 2 Seed Roberta Vinci who is coming in off a disappointing clay court campaign. This is her first grass court match of the year and it can't be ignored that the Italian has lost all five matches played on the surface since reaching the Fourth Round at Wimbledon in 2013. Vinci has won just two sets in those five matches and now faces someone who has a big serve and heavy groundstrokes.

Makarova has regularly reached the Quarter Final in Eastbourne and is a former winner here, although she will have to contain the unforced errors to keep Vinci at bay. She didn't serve well enough when losing to Vinci in Stuttgart on a clay court earlier this season, while they are 2-2 on the head to head when playing on a hard court.

The grass courts should give Makarova more of an edge though and I think Vinci's recent poor performances on the surface as well as recent poor form has to be considered. As long as Makarova keeps her emotions in check, I think she is good enough to find a 64, 64 win.

Caroline Wozniacki - 2.5 games v Sam Stosur: Not many would predict that Sam Stosur would have such a poor record on the grass courts when you look at the way she approaches her tennis. Her serve, especially the kicker, and her ability off the forehand and playing the net should mean Stosur is a very strong grass court player, but it simply hasn't happened for her at Wimbledon.

Even recent form at any grass court tournament has not been very good from Stosur and the Australian is 2-5 in her last seven matches on the grass. The worry for Stosur fans has to be that all five of those losses came as the favourite and mainly as a strong favourite too.

Being a favourite isn't a problem in this match as she takes on Caroline Wozniacki in the Second Round. It had been some time since we saw the former World Number 1 on the court having missed the entire clay court season, and Wozniacki has struggled for consistency which happens off a long lay off. However her win over Alize Cornet in the First Round was impressive and her added feel for the surface should give her an edge in this Second Round match.

Matches between these two players have been close through their career and the Wozniacki 5-4 lead on the head to head shows that. The Dane has won the last two matches on grass though, both in Eastbourne, and I think she is going to have a bit too much again in this one. If Stosur serves well she should be able to take a set, but I think Wozniacki comes through 46, 63, 64.

MY PICKS: Fernando Verdasco - 4.5 Games @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Steve Johnson - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 William Hill (2 Units)
Monica Puig - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Ekaterina Makarova - 3.5 Games @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Caroline Wozniacki - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Euro 2016 Group Stage Picks (June 19-22)

Euro 2016 Group Stage Update
The final round of Group games are going to be played in the next few days and a few teams might already have enough points in the bag to ensure they are going through to the Second Round.

For others winning the Group is an important factor and others still have 'must win' situations going into those games. The idea for a twenty-four team Euro 2016 tournament has certainly worked with only one team, the Ukraine, officially eliminated going into the final round of games.

It should be a good few days before we get into the beginning of the Knock Out Stage and the Second Round next Saturday.

Euro 2016 Group Stage Picks
The biggest disappointment of getting into the final round of Group games is that we have lost the three back to back games in one day until the Second Round begins, but there is still plenty of football to enjoy over the next few days.

Sunday 19th June
Romania v Albania PickThere is no doubt that at some point in this game that both Romania and Albania are likely to take risks with the draw meaning both teams will be heading home from the Euro 2016 tournament. Out of the two teams, it is Romania who would potentially have enough with two points, although extremely unlikely, and that might be good news for the neutrals.

You can't blame Albania for being a cautious side as they try to bridge the gap to teams with more quality, but the fact is that they have to play a little more expansive in this one if they want to play in the Second Round. There have been things to like about Albania as they have defended doggedly at times, while they did create chances in the loss to Switzerland, but it still looks a big task to beat Romania against whom they have historically struggled.

Like Albania, Romania might feel they should have more points on the board having also been undone by France very late in the game. They haven't defended as strongly as expected, but Romania have shown something going forward even if they are yet to score from anything other than a penalty.

I can see this game perhaps surprising the layers with goals at both ends and it producing at least three goals, but I have more of a feel backing Romania to win the game and move through. There should be more spaces to exploit with Albania likely to have to come out and play a bit more and Romania have shown they can be a dangerous team on the counter attack.

Their win over Northern Ireland in the Qualifiers should set up the team to know how to break down Albania if necessary and I think Romania will be a little too good in this final Group game. 4 points should be enough to move into the Second Round regardless of what happens in the other game in the Group and I will back Romania to earn those three points they need in this game.

I do think Albania will make history with their first goal at a major international tournament, but Romania look a big price at odds against to hand them a third straight Group game loss.

Switzerland v France PickLate goals have been a feature of the France Euro 2016 campaign so far with those goals helping turn two points into six and a place in the Second Round. Group A has yet to be won though and France still need a point in this game to win the section, although the talent in the squad suggests they are more than capable of doing that.

They can't expect Switzerland to roll over with a point helping secure a top two spot in the Group, while a little more belief could see them win the Group if they can beat the hosts. Switzerland have to show better composure in front of goal to do that, but they will get chances against this France defence which has looked far from comfortable through this tournament.

But France will also expect to create chances in this one as Switzerland have looked a little susceptible at the back with a high line not being held as well as they would have liked.

It should be entertaining, and I am expecting goals in this one.

However the overriding feeling is that France are going to be good enough to win this one and make it three wins in three games. It looks like Didier Deschamps won't be making wholesale changes to make sure the team wins the Group and the likes of Paul Pogba will be starting this one.

I will back France to earn the three points in this one at just under odds against.

Monday 20th June
Russia v Wales PickThere is a lot on the line when Russia play Wales in the final game in the Group and the authorities will be hoping that any battles will be contained to the twenty-two players on the pitch rather than the thousands in the stands and Toulouse in general.

Both teams have every chance of making it through to the Second Round without having to worry about the result in the other game in the Group and I expect plenty of attacking football from both. The draw doesn't really do a lot for Russia, even if Wales would likely take that now, and this could be a game where the Wales pace on the counter attack could be crucial in this game.

Gareth Bale has scored in both Group games already and his pace should be a big problem for an ageing Russia defence once they step forward. You do have to think Wales will look to defend in numbers, but Chris Coleman knows his side have already worked very hard on Thursday in the loss to England and Wales have to release some of that pressure on the defence with a more convincing attacking plan.

The counter attack will be crucial for Wales as they would have seen the spaces that Slovakia managed to find against Russia, but there are goals in this Russia team when forced to come forward. I am surprised that Russia are the favourites to win the game though as they have not looked like a good team for much of their first two Group games and only really shone late on when chasing the game.

That might make them more of a threat in this one as Russia know this is a 'must win' game for them and I do think we will see goals in this one. Russia have both scored and conceded in their last 5 games, while 4 of the last 6 Wales games have ended with at least three goals being shared out.

An early goal in this one should certainly liven things up as spaces open up with one of the teams beginning to chase the game. Backing at least three goals to be scored in yet another game in Group B at odds against certainly looks like it can give you a run for your money.

Slovakia v England PickThe other game in the Group could have a big impact in the way this one is being played, but on the face of things you have to think Slovakia and England can produce an entertaining game. The teams look well matched in styles of play as Slovakia will look to use a pacy counter attack against England's possession and I can see both teams having their chances.

For all of England's good play in the tournament, this is a defence that can look vulnerable and I think Slovakia have the quality to hurt them when they do go at them with pace. However I think Roy Hodgson has finally seen the light and the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy will give England plenty of pace and, more importantly, confident players in the final third compared with Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane.

I am expecting a good game because England have played well going forwards, but have always looked a little shaky at the back. There is a situation where a 1-0 England win would suit both teams and perhaps stop either chasing anything more, but they won't know exactly what is happening in the other game in the Group until the final few moments.

Before that I expect attacking football as both teams have been better going forward than defending and there is enough to gain from the victory to motivate the players. With the way games in this Group have gone, I wouldn't be surprised if there are at least three goals in this game and at odds against that has to be worth chancing.

My feeling is that England will be too strong on the day, but I will back goals at the prices on offer.

Tuesday 21st June
Northern Ireland v Germany PickThis is a huge game for Northern Ireland, but they would have appreciated events in the other Groups which have put them in a strong position to Qualify as one of the four best third place finishers. Northern Ireland certainly helped themselves with a 2-0 win over the Ukraine following a slightly fortunate 1-0 defeat to Poland, and they might be in a position where even a narrow loss to Germany does not spell curtains for them.

Depending on what has happened in the Group B games played on Monday, Northern Ireland might already be able to book their place in the Second Round by the time they finish this one. The fact they likely could afford a narrow defeat suggests Michael O'Neill will be happy to play a defensive formation to contain Germany, although he will want the same attacking verve that we saw against Ukraine rather than against Poland.

It is dangerous to think Northern Ireland can afford to sit back and hope to move through to the Second Round, but it does make a lot of sense. Germany have shown they can struggle to break down teams with their own 'false nine' system and Northern Ireland will likely load up with two banks of four to make it difficult for the World Champions.

However you would have to think that Germany will find some chances as Poland created against Northern Ireland and even a 2-0 defeat should not be an issue for Northern Ireland. That looks the most likely result as it should confirm Germany as Group winners, barring Ukraine falling apart against Poland, and I don't think Northern Ireland will commit too many players forward chasing the game as a 3-0 defeat might leave them under pressure.

This might be a rare occasion in Euro 2016 when both teams settle towards the end of the game rather than pushing for late goals. Northern Ireland will be a threat from any set pieces as they showed against Ukraine and almost stole a point against Poland, but I think Germany will hold them out and I will back them to win with a clean sheet.

Ukraine v Poland PickThe Ukraine have been a difficult opponent for Poland to deal with in recent matches, but I have to wonder what the mentality is of the players who are already out of the Euro 2016 tournament. Of course they should want to finish with a flourish and they did beat Poland twice in the 2014 World Cup Qualifiers, but it has been a long season for many of the players and it can show up with nothing to play for.

On the other hand Ukraine have nothing to lose and they can challenge a Poland team that are still striving to win Group C ahead of Germany. Unlike the Northern Ireland game, Ukraine should have more space to operate when they have the ball going forward, but defensively they have been poor, especially from set pieces.

Poland will be looking to expose those vulnerabilities, but they will also be looking for a little more composure in front of goal. For all their dominance in the Northern Ireland game, Poland did only score one goal in that game and scoring goals might have been the biggest concern pre-tournament even with Robert Lewandowski to call upon.

At least Poland have shown they are perhaps better defensively than many expected, but the onus is on them to push forward in this one. That should lead to some gaps at the back, but I think Poland will be able to cover them up against this Ukraine team and perhaps they can secure their first win over this nation since September 2000.

It might not be enough for Poland to win the Group, but I will look for them to record a narrow victory which secures second place and a Second Round berth. At just under odds against the prices are just tempting enough for the Poland win in this one.

Croatia v Spain PickA lot of the focus in the last few days would have gone on the behaviour of the Croatia fans who seem intent on disgracing their Football Association on the biggest stage. It might not be the way that all the Croatian fans want to display their dissatisfaction, as shown in their in-fighting during the draw with the Czech Republic, but there is a fear the fans will get the team thrown out of the Euro 2016 tournament.

For now they will turn to matters on the pitch and trying to secure a top two finish in the Group. Croatia might be missing Luka Modric which is a huge blow as they try to win the possession statistics against Spain and I do think he was one player they couldn't afford to lose.

There is pace in the counter attack which is a threat against Spain, but losing the passing and control of Modric means Spain should be able to dictate the tempo and have much of the ball. Spain don't always look to get behind a defence which may aid this ageing Croatian defence, but Alvaro Morata showed what he can do when Spain do try to hit him in the box.

It looks a tough game which is going to see the teams try to prod their opponents with long spells of pressure and passing. However I think Spain are the team coming in with a lot more focus on the football rather than Croatia who are urging their fans not to ruin their tournament. That slight lack of focus or distraction might prove critical in this final game in the Group and I do like Spain to win this match at odds against.

Czech Republic v Turkey PickEverything has become clear to the Czech Republic and Turkey going into the final round of games in the Euro 2016 Group D. They both need the three points if they are going to make it through to the Second Round and the Turkey need for a significant win should make this an entertaining game for the neutrals to watch.

You have to think Turkey are going to show a lot more than they have in losses to Croatia and Spain, and they should have chances against a Czech Republic team they beat in the Qualifiers. The fact that the Czech Republic struggle for clean sheets should help Turkey try and score their first goal in the Euro 2016 Finals and either team scoring will force the other team to come forward.

The draw is no good to any of these nations and that should also mean we see an open game that produces at least three goals.

Historically this fixture has done that with at least three goals scored in 7 of their 9 previous games, although it also has to be remembered that the exceptions have come in the last 3 games. However there is so much on the line for both teams with the three points being imperative that I can see plenty of chances for both during the course of the ninety minutes.

Even a 2-0 lead for either team shouldn't prevent spaces opening up in the final twenty minutes as fatigue and chasing the game sets in. Backing at least three goals to be shared out at odds against looks a big price to me and that is what I am expecting in this one.

Wednesday 22nd June
Hungary v Portugal PickAll eyes in Portugal are going to be on Cristiano Ronaldo as they look for their star player to finally spark in Euro 2016 after two frustrating outings. Missing his penalty against Austria which would have turned a goalless draw into a win has left Portugal in a very difficult spot in the Group, but they do know a win will be enough to perhaps even win the section.

That will depend if they can win by a margin bigger than Iceland, who are no givens to beat Austria, and so Portugal know where they stand going into the game.

To be fair to Portugal, they haven't been all that bad in their first two games and on another night they would have won both of those games. The negativity around Cristiano Ronaldo has to be a concern, but he is the kind of player that can quickly rediscover his form and I am looking for something special from him.

Portugal do have to be careful though.

Hungary have shown they can be an effective defensive unit and they have some talented players in the wide areas that will threaten on the counter attack. My concern for Hungary is that they are in a funny position in the Group and might not know whether they want to defend deep or attack Portugal.

A draw wouldn't be the worst result for Hungary who are officially through to the Second Round even as one of the best third place finishers at worst. The point would likely be enough to top the Group, while an Iceland failure to beat Austria means Hungary are in the top two at worst so perhaps the 'nothing to lose' mentality will aid them.

However Portugal look like a team that could give someone a bit of a going over if they can take some of the chances they have been creating. They might not win too many competitive games easily, but I think Portugal win this one by a couple of goals and find a way to win this Group.

Iceland v Austria PickOn paper it might not sound the most exciting of games, but there could be plenty of spaces opening up as this match wears on with one of Iceland or Austria likely chasing the game.

For Austria matters couldn't be any simpler as they try to show the rest of Europe why there was so much hype in their squad going into the Euro 2016 Finals. After picking up just a single point from two games, Austria have to show why many expected them to be an attacking force in the Finals and come forward to score the goals to win the game.

A draw will mean an early exit for Austria so they have a very simple permutation if they want to make it through to the Second Round. A win will be enough regardless of what happens in the other Group game although their position in the Group can only be either second or third.

On the other side of the pitch, Iceland might feel a draw is enough to see them through with the way the other Groups have shaped up, but they haven't looked a team that will want to 'park the bus'. Yes they try and defend properly, but Iceland haven't struck me as a team that won't give away chances so it would be a surprise if they risk their place in the Second Round on earning a clean sheet in this one.

It does look a tough match to call, but Iceland might be trying to pick themselves up from two points dropped late in the game against Hungary. That coupled with the fact that I have been expecting a lot more from Austria and am not going to base my judgement on their first two games means I fancy the 'dark horses' to at least reach the Second Round with a victory.

I wouldn't be surprised if we see goals on the day too, but simply backing Austria to win is my call.

Italy v Republic of Ireland PickThere is little doubt that Antonio Conte will rotate his players, especially now Italy have a big Second Round clash with Spain to come on Monday. He won't want any suspensions and the older players, particularly the Juventus defence and goalkeeper, might need that additional time to recover from two tough games.

Defensively Italy have been excellent as they have used players who are well aware of what is expected of them at the back and they are marshalled perfectly by Gianluigi Buffon. However there could be an issue with new faces in those positions for this final Group game and that is where the Republic of Ireland have to look to take advantage.

The situation is clear for the Irish who have to win this game to help them through to the Second Round. Anything less would see them out of the Euro 2016 Finals in which the other nations from the United Kingdom and Ireland have made it through to the Knock Out Stage.

I am not sure how the Republic of Ireland will deal with the pressure of having to push the tempo and they have to be careful against the counter attacking quality Italy have shown in the tournament. Even a changed forward line will look to exploit any gaps Ireland will leave if they begin to chase the game and that has to be a concern for the Republic of Ireland while preparing for this game.

However the changed Italy team might not be as strong defensively without some of their more recognised back line and the Irish have to use the set pieces to make something happen in this one. I do think the Republic of Ireland will have their chances to beat this Italian team they face as Italy don't score that many goals when playing their full team.

They will give the Republic of Ireland some chances and, while Italy should have players motivated to show they are good enough to start in the coming matches, I am going to back them to avoid defeat in this one.

Sweden v Belgium PickThis is the end of Zlatan Ibrahimovic's international career so you can imagine the ego he has will mean he won't want to go away quietly. Unfortunately this isn't a vintage Sweden team and the struggles to create too many chances in their first couple of games has to be a concern for a team that needs to win this one.

All the pressure is on Sweden, but they have not really looked good enough in this tournament and now face a Belgium team who would have restored some confidence in their last game. They looked much better in front of goal in the win over the Republic of Ireland and Belgium can bide their time in this one knowing the spaces will open up as Sweden begin to chase the game.

Finishing second in the Group might open up the draw for Belgium thanks to the likes of England and Spain blowing their last games in the Group. The top half in which the Runner Up of Group E will be playing looks much weaker than the bottom half so the motivation for Belgium to play this one properly should make them very dangerous.

The talent level looks to give Belgium a clear edge and being able to play on the counter as Sweden begin to chase the game makes them a worthy favourite. I can't see Belgium losing this one and I think they are going to hand Sweden another defeat and maybe not provide the fairytale ending to his international career that Ibrahimovic would want.

A win here might also give Belgium the momentum to travel very far in this tournament, although they could face a Second Round clash with Portugal to open the draw. For now they can concentrate on winning this game and I will back Belgium to do that.

MY PICKS: Romania @ 2.20 Paddy Power (2 Units)
France @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Russia-Wales Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.50 William Hill (2 Units)
Slovakia-England Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.38 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Germany Win to Nil @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Poland @ 1.95 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Spain @ 2.05 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Czech Republic-Turkey Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.38 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Portugal - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)
Austria @ 2.15 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Republic of Ireland + 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Belgium @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Group Stage Match Day 3 Update: 5-7, - 3.92 Units
Group Stage Match Day 2 Final: 7-5, + 6.82 Units
Group Stage Match Day 1 Final: 4-8, - 8.20 Units