This Friday sees a handful international friendlies being played across the world, which will give us a glimpse of some of the countries who will be travelling to Brazil in a few weeks time to participate in the World Cup. I strongly advise against betting on friendlies but since there is a lack of competitive football on show today, the only hope for you betting enthusiasts is to place money on the unpredictable. So let’s see what there is to offer…
Spain vs Bolivia
The Spanish have seemed unsettled in their three most recent friendlies. Marginal wins against Equatorial Guinea and Italy sandwiched a 1-0 loss to 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa. Spain arguably played one of their strongest possible line-ups against Italy in March (only missing Xabi Alonso and Xavi as key players) and still seemed to under-perform, even though they boast a good defensive record. Opponents Bolivia won’t find themselves at the World Cup tournament this year and thus have a lot less to risk in terms of injury to key players. The South Americans are composed of large majority of players from the regional league, with only main striker Marcelo Moreno making his club appearances outside the country, in Brazil for Cruziero. Bolivia had a rough time in the CONMEBOL qualification region and recorded their last competitive win in the shock 4-1 victory against Uruguay in 2012. Although Spain will undoubtedly win, expect Bolivia to play with more freedom and grab a goal or two against the reigning world champions.
Spain to win and Both Teams To Score – 11/5
Austria vs Iceland
Two teams in contrasting runs of form go head-to-head in a game that doesn’t particularly matter for either of them. Austria are unbeaten in four of their last five matches, conceding only three during that time to Uruguay and Sweden respectively. On the other side of matters, Iceland have not won since October 2013 and have scored only one goal this year… against Wales. Both nations won’t have an impact on the proceedings in Brazil, but Iceland came closest to qualifying, losing their play-off against Croatia 2-0. With Austria being a full 18 places ahead of their European counterparts in the world rankings, the safest bet would be to back the home side, but I doubt there will be many goals.
Austria to win – 8/13
England vs Peru
In the last fixture before Roy’s lads attempt to take on the world with their new-found pessimism, Peru visit Wembley in what could prove to be a tricky encounter. England will be desperate for victory as a morale booster following disappointing showings in their last three friendlies. Despite winning against Denmark, the Three Lions were far from impressive and home defeats to Chile and Germany could be an indicator of how tough life will be in Brazil come June. Saying that, Peru have lost four of their last six games, but they have been against fairly strong opposition in the form of Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia and Venezuela. The Peruvians do like to score goals though, striking first in their last three matches. A player that might be familiar to the English audience is Claudio Pizarro; former Chelsea flop and current Bayern Munich striker, he is still going strong at the ripe old age of 35 (update: he has bizarrely been dropped in order to make way for younger players). With England inevitably going to make a cock-up somewhere along the line, put money on both teams to score.
Here’s an interesting fact though. According to statistics recorded in 2001, there are around 4000 Peru-born citizens in the UK. Fancy that…
BTTS – 6/4
The treble will win you £64 with a £5 bet if you happen to bet with Coral. I suppose that isn’t too bad…
No player likes to be told by their club that they’re no longer wanted and effectively unemployed for the foreseeable future. They sit down in the gaffer’s office for a so-called ‘meeting’ where he politely/rudely tells them that they are surplus to requirement because they are too old, not fitting in or simply not good enough. Some players immediately bounce back from this rejection and sign for a team in the lower division or, in some instances, a club of the same calibre they were recently dismissed from. With so many players of reasonable quality being released from Premier League sides this season, The Pig Bladder Project has brought it upon itself to design a 23-man squad where all the best Premier League no-man’s landers (yes, that is a technical term) can be included. Hopefully, all these players will be signed in due course and won’t be forced to go down the same route as Michael Johnson and Adriano.
Choosing this squad proved to be quite difficult with an array of declining talent (yet still half decent players) on offer, especially in the form of centre backs and central midfielders. Some internationals had to be dropped in order to make way for regular club starters and vice versa. Notable absentees include Johnny Heitinga, George McCartney, Mahamadou Diarra, Johnathan Parr, Robert Koren, Zoltan Gera, Nicklas Bendtner, Marouane Chamakh, Park Chu-Young and Guly Do Prado. This bunch of lowly lads would no doubt be managed by David Moyes following his release from Manchester United last month.
Please note: these players were designated as released as of the 24th May 2014. It has not officially been stated that they have signed a new contract or joined another club.
- Julian Speroni (Crystal Palace)
- Mark Schwarzer (Chelsea)
- Costel Pantilimon (Manchester City)
Julian Speroni must be wondering how he has not been awarded a new contract already on a silver plate surrounded by applauding locals. The Argentinian shot stopper was voted Player Of The Season for his heroics in goal and Pulis’ side rocketed up the table as a result of his performances. As well as him, Pantilimon will count himself unlucky that City no longer wish for him to be Joe Hart’s understudy following three clean sheets in as many games at the start of the campaign. He even took over the number one position midway through the season while Hart was suffering from a lack of form. Finally, Mark Schwarzer is still going strong at the grand old age of 41, recording clean sheets for Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final and a vital top-of-the-table clash against Liverpool. But with the inevitable return of Thibaut Courtois, Schwarzer will not be needed next season at the West London outfit.
- Steven Reid (West Bromwich Albion)
- Danny Gabbidon (Crystal Palace)
- Joleon Lescott (Manchester City)
- Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United)
- Diego Lugano (West Bromwich Albion)
- Liam Ridgewell (West Bromwich Albion)
- Ashley Cole (Chelsea)
- John Arne Riise (Fulham)
Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole are shock inclusions in the squad following their releases from Chelsea and United. The latter will be hoping for a big move abroad or perhaps a contract extension, but it’s hard to know with a player such as Cole. Steven Reid is the only recognised right back and is part of a West Brom trio in defence, including Uruguay international (who is set to play at the World Cup) Diego Lugano and consistent starter Liam Ridgewell, who recorded 33 appearances this season. Joleon Lescott was unlikely to be offered a new deal by Manchester City and will probably be replaced by a young, foreign superstar whilst experienced Danny Gabbidon should receive plenty of offers from the Championship, having kept four clean sheets in his last six games for Crystal Palace. Champions League winner John Arne Riise completes the defence following Fulham’s relegation from the Premier League.
- Damien Duff (Fulham)
- Matthew Etherington (Stoke City)
- Joe Cole (West Ham United)
- Georgios Karagkounis (Fulham)
- Steve Sidwell (Fulham)
- Kagisho Dikgacoi (Crystal Palace)
- Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
- Gareth Barry (Manchester City)
England internationals are prominent in the midfield. Frank Lampard hasn’t officially signed an extension with Chelsea and will be going to the World Cup as a free agent if his contract issues aren’t resolved. Gareth Barry has fallen out of favour with Roy Hodgson but had a fairly impressive season on loan with Everton, whilst Joe Cole’s return to West Ham wasn’t as successful as his time at Upton Park a decade ago. Fulham stars in the squad include ancient (but still) Greek captain Georgios Karagkounis and former Chelsea man Steve Sidwell. Damien Duff was injured in an FA Cup match against Sheffield United in February but will get into the starting XI of the Dream Team as the only right midfielder. Finally, irregular starter Matthew Etherington takes his place in the squad alongside tough-tackling South African Kagisho Dikgacoi.
- Samuel Eto’o (Chelsea)
- Federico Macheda (Manchester United)
- Shola Ameobi (Newcastle United)
- Matty Fryatt (Hull City)
Samuel Eto’o decided to end his Chelsea career with a bang by hitting out at boss Jose Mourinho several times after the manager’s discrepancies about his age. The Cameroon striker will be the main attraction of his team at the World Cup and has proved he is still a natural goalscorer, netting 12 times in 34 appearances. Federico Macheda was a massive flop while at Manchester United but is slowly turning his career around following an impressive loan spell at Birmingham, where he was top scorer for the Championship side. Shola Ameobi’s 14 years at Newcastle came to end following his release and Matty Fryatt should be happy with his contribution to Hull this season, having helped The Tigers reach the final of the FA Cup (which he started).
Without further ado, here is the starting XI of the free agents dream team lining up in the incredibly mainstream 4-2-3-1 formation. This team is available to any club at the price of just £0 and a shed load of cash in wages. Not too shabby, right?
To see a list of all the players released by Premier League sides at the end of the 2013/2014 season, click here.