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International Football Tips: Things could get Messi for Sweden

Lionel Messi has scored 12 goals in his last nine games for Argentina

"Sweden's defence is shaky, key midfielders like Seb Larsson aren't on great form, and there is too much reliance on Ibrahimovic."

Back Argentina to win at 2.226/5

Wednesday evening is jam-packed with exciting international clashes, and Kevin Hatchard has been scouring the fixtures for the best bets.

Sweden vs Argentina, Wed 19:30 BST, Live on Betfair Live Video
Match Odds: Sweden 3.7511/4, Argentina 2.186/5, the draw 3.45n/a
This mouth-watering match brings together two of global football's top talents.

In the yellow corner is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has scored 23 goals in 28 games for Paris Saint-Germain, and netted all four goals (including an overhead kick from outside the box) in Sweden's recent 4-2 win over England.

In the blue corner is Lionel Messi - you may have heard of him, he's the guy who scored 91 goals in 2012. In 2013 alone the mini-magician has already banged in eight in five appearances for Barcelona, and it's worth bearing in mind that his 91-goal haul included 12 in nine appearances for the Albiceleste.

It's too simplistic to say the presence of these two attacking leviathans will guarantee plenty of goals in this game, but there is further evidence to support the assertion. Sweden's last two games were the aforementioned 4-2 win over England and an absurd 4-4 draw in Germany. Sweden are likely to field Jonas Olsson in central defence, and while he is immensely strong in the air, he is vulnerable against the acceleration of nippy forwards like Messi and his possible partner Sergio Aguero.

It's difficult to assess Argentina based on recent friendlies because they have often played weakened sides, such as in both of their clashes with Brazil. If we look at Argentina's competitive form, we can see they are top of the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying group by three points, having won six of nine matches. In those games, Argentina have scored an average of more than two goals per match.

Coach Alejandro Sabella is expected to field a strong side, and I think the South Americans may come out on top. Sweden's defence is shaky, key midfielders like Seb Larsson aren't on great form, and there is too much reliance on Ibrahimovic. It's worth considering that England held a 2-1 lead in Stockholm with 13 minutes left before Zlatan banged in three stunning goals.

Recommended Bets
Back Argentina to win at 2.226/5

Back Over 2.5 Goals at 2.021/1


France vs Germany, Wed 20:00 BST
Match Odds: France 2.8415/8, Germany 2.747/4, the draw 3.45n/a
France have made an encouraging start to the Didier Deschamps era, albeit with one or two bumps along the way. Les Bleus have taken seven points from three World Cup qualifiers (including a 1-1 draw in Spain), and they won 2-1 in Italy in their most recent friendly. It's worth noting that France haven't conceded more than one goal in any of their six matches under Deschamps.

France have an excellent record against Germany - they haven't lost to them since 1987, and they haven't lost a home game against them since 1937. The last time the two teams met (February 2012), France won 2-1 in Bremen.

Germany aren't just fighting against history, but against a long injury list. Sparkling Borussia Dortmund duo Mario Gotze and Marco Reus are both sidelined, while Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose are also out.

Germany drew 0-0 in the Netherlands in their most recent friendly, and I envisage a similarly tight affair in this one. Given France's excellent record against Germany and their encouraging recent results, I think it's worth backing them -0 on the Asian Handicap at 2.01n/a. This pays out for a home win, and returns your stake if it's a draw. With France defending well and Germany's firepower lessened by injury, Under 2.5 Goals looks attractive at 1.8810/11.

Recommended Bets
Back France -0 on the Asian Handicap at 2.01n/a

Back Under 2.5 Goals at 1.8810/11


Netherlands vs Italy, Wed 19:30 BST
Match Odds: Netherlands 2.265/4, Italy 3.613/5, the draw 3.45n/a
The odds for this game intrigue me, because I can't quite see why the Dutch are so short for the win. Louis van Gaal has left Maarten Stekelenburg, Rafa Van Der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben out of the squad. Ibrahim Afellay is injured, while his Schalke team-mate Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is on poor form. The Oranje will lean heavily on Robin Van Persie, who is having an outstanding season for Manchester United.

Italy are missing players too (Giovinco, Chiellini, Marchisio) but they are likely to field a more experienced line-up than the Dutch, with Andrea Pirlo working his magic in midfield. The new AC Milan forward line of Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy could both start, and they could sorely test a Dutch defence that is promising but far from streetwise.

If you're in a conservative mood you could back Italy Draw No Bet or +0 on the Asian handicap at 2.35/4, but I think the outright odds of 3.613/5 are too good to ignore.

Recommended Bet
Back Italy to win at 3.613/5

Belgium vs Slovakia, Wed 19:45 BST

Match Odds: Belgium 1.558/15, Slovakia 7.413/2, the draw 4.216/5

Belgium have injury problems ahead of this game, with Everton star Marouane Fellaini and Arsenal defender Thomas Vermaelen both struggling, and skipper Vincent Kompany definitely out.

Belgium lost their last friendly 2-1 in Romania, but their form before that game was outstanding. The Red Devils beat the Netherlands, Wales, Serbia and Scotland last year, and have lost just two of their last ten games. Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke is playing superbly in a dreadful club side, and if he plays he could make a big impact.

Slovakia were swept aside 3-0 by the Czech Republic in their last friendly, and that followed a 1-0 home defeat to Greece in World Cup qualifying. They are capable of good results away from home (they won friendlies in Denmark and Turkey last year), but I suspect Belgium will have too much firepower for them.

Recommended Bet: Back Belgium -1.0 on the Asian Handicap at 2.021/1

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05 February 2013

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