Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.
In The Mixer is FST’s weekly column where we catch up with our team of football betting experts and get their opinion on the hot topic of the week.
The UEFA Nations League finals take place in the Netherlands this week, with semi-finals across Wednesday and Thursday before the final on Sunday. The Dutch are joined by Croatia, Italy and Spain as they fight over the trophy, with the hosts seen as the favourites to win it.
Ahead of the semis we’ve called in a group of experts to pick out their Nations League winners and you can see their selections below.
All our prices quoted can be found at bet365, where new customers can get £30 in free bets to use on this week’s football when signing up below and placing a £10 bet below:
Hosts backed for glory
Netherlands were runners-up in the inaugural edition of the Nations League back in 2019 and I fancy them to go a step further on home soil this time around.
The Dutch took champions Argentina to penalties in the quarter-finals of the Qatar World Cup at the end of last year and excelled in the group phase of the Nations League, winning five and drawing one of their six games.
With home advantage, they should topple a Croatia team missing Josko Gvardiol and get the better of either Spain or Italy – who are both in transitional phases – in the final.
While none of the four teams that remain in the Nations League look to be standout favourites, the Netherlands could go all the way for the first time.
Oranje, who were runners-up in the inaugural Nations League in 2019, were only beaten by eventual World Cup champions Argentina on penalties last winter.
They will have home advantage against Croatia, who will be without Josko Gvardiol. That should give them the upper hand, and they should have too much for either Spain or Italy in the final. Italy are regrouping under Roberto Mancini after a tough 12 months, while Spain are yet to find their feet under Luis de la Fuente.
There are question marks hanging over all four contenders but the Netherlands are worth backing to make the most of home advantage. Their World Cup campaign ended with a penalty-shootout defeat to winners Argentina and they have lost only one of their last 22 internationals in 90 minutes.
Italy should come through the other semi-final as Spain’s squad looks a work in progress but five of the Azzurri’s players were involved in Inter’s Champions League final defeat to Manchester City so they may not be at their sharpest.
Another trophy for Italy?
Croatia have fared best of the final four at the last two World Cups and I was leaning towards them until Josko Gvardiol pulled out. I can still see them beating hosts Netherlands but Gvardiol is such a rock at the heart of their defence that I just worry for them against either Spain or Italy.
Of the pair Italy have the more experienced squad and there is also no ambiguity of how they will play under Roberto Mancini whereas Spain are still adapting to Luis de la Fuente’s methods. With that in mind, the Azzurri are the most appealing option.
Playing in Rotterdam ought to be of some aid to Netherlands in their semi-final showdown with Croatia and even more so if they make the title decider, but that is well factored into their tag as 2-1 favourites.
The Spain-Italy semi-final looks like the tie to focus on in pursuit of outright value and the Azzurri could be a touch big at 3-1 given La Roja’s recent struggles.
Spain won only one of their four matches at last year’s World Cup and they were also beaten 2-0 by Scotland at Hampden Park when last seen in Euro qualifying in March.
With Barcelona playmaker Pedri not in the squad due to injury and there still being no obvious focal point to their attack, goals are an issue and Italy could punish those frailties.
Other sides not to be written off
I am not overly convinced any of the four teams are the real deal and all four lack that clinical finisher that could make the difference in tight games. With that in mind, Spain’s ability to dominate possession whoever they play might just be telling.
The 2-0 defeat in Scotland does not look good but the World Cup’s “passing for the sake of it” failure might be the bigger wake-up call needed to help Luis de la Fuente stamp his mark on the squad and find an end product. There’s no-one to be feared.
The Nations League finals look quite open, with Italy yet to fully convince following their failure to make the 2022 World Cup. The Netherlands and Spain head into the tournament as the favourites, but both are adjusting to managerial changes made after departing Qatar.
That opens the door for outsiders Croatia, a side who fancy themselves to hold any team at bay. While the absence of Josko Gvardiol isn’t ideal, this could be a breakout tournament for Dinamo Zagreb defender Josip Sutalo.
Dinamo goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic is known for his penalty shootout heroics, while their midfield options are as impressive as ever.
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