There are first legs and reverse matches in the World Cup playoffs this weekend but the biggest fixture is the friendly that brings together England and Germany at Wembley on Friday night. On the same evening Wales will get a flavour of what might have been as they play against France away from home in a friendly. The fixture could have been a meeting in the World Cup next summer but Wales have not qualified.
The most famous match in the history of English football was between England and West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final. I’m still not convinced England’s third and crucial goal was over the line but in subsequent fixtures England have paid the price for getting the rub of the green in that huge match. Sadly this week’s match is looking like England’s second string against the current world champions who traditionally aren’t that bothered about winning matches of this nature.
Managers and players often talk about the spirit in the camp and pride of playing for the shirt. So it seems odd that a full team of England players have withdrawn from the squad for a variety of reasons. The truth is that when push comes to shove matches in the Premier League and Champions League are more important than international friendlies, even against Germany. The value of playing the reserves against Germany is questionable. The outcome will have nil significance for the World Cup.
Betting on international friendlies is fraught with danger. Sven Goran Eriksson made numerous changes as England manager and often it was a totally different side that finished the match compared with the starting line-up. Motivation is another factor. England’s best players compete in high intensity matches for their clubs and the level is bound to drop for a non-competitive match. The betting on cards window of opportunity has now been closed because the spread firms have reacted.
In the early days of spread betting you could buy and sell outcomes for the first. An associate realised there are very few bookings and dismissals in international friendlies. The spread firms were several steps behind so blindly he would go low on cards in these matches. He made hay while the sun shone but now the bookings quotes have contracted and the value has gone. At some stage buying bookings could be the bet and an England v Germany match could apply. The match outcome is too difficult to call due to the unknown factors. The fence sitters can back the draw.
The final of Euro 2016 in Paris could quite easily have been between France and Wales. The hosts qualified but Wales lost to the eventual champions, Portugal, in their last four tie. At the time the Welsh national team were on a massive crest of a wave but things went pear shaped in World Cup qualifying. Losing Gareth Bale for part of the campaign was a huge blow and any side would miss one of the best players in the world. Without their talisman and best player Wales came up short.
France are genuine contenders for the World Cup because they have a number of world class players and quality in all areas of the pitch. The World Cup picture will be clearer after the playoffs but France would be the ante-post bet to lift the trophy in Russia next summer. Motivation and team selection will be key against Wales who might have a point to prove so can record an unlikely victory in France. There won’t be many bookings but that ship of selling cards has sailed.