Republic of Ireland v Ukraine
Wednesday June 8, 19.45
Live On RTE & Premier Sports
Weekend blues hang over Dublin
The players of the Republic of Ireland and Ukraine will not have started this week thinking about Wednesday's showdown at the Aviva Stadium.
For Stephen Kenny's Ireland side, there's still the lingering sense of frustration arising from a dreadful defeat in Armenia which has damaged the good vibes around their group just when it seemed they were gaining momentum.
Comparisons with 2021 nightmares against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan are unfortunate for the Irish manager and it has again raised questions about the direction of his side.
Still, while that loss was difficult to take, the depth of feeling would pale in comparison to those felt by Ukraine after they were very unlucky in Sunday's winner takes all World Cup playoff with Wales in Cardiff.
Despite playing well, their emotional campaign to reach Qatar has ended in failure and after pouring their heart and soul into it for obvious reasons, a Nations League game just three days later is quite the comedown.
On form, Ukraine are performing at a much higher level than their hosts but Ireland have been trading as favourites since the market opened, a state of play reflected by the expectation that manager Oleksandr Petrakov would rest legs.
He confirmed it post-Cardiff. "I do not plan to call any players in," he said, "We will have squad rotation. The guys who played here will not play on Wednesday.
This means that the starting XI will be devoid of leading lights such as Manchester City's Oleksandr Zinchenko and West Ham's Andriy Yarmolenko. It remains to be seen if they will held in reserve on the bench.
Yarmolenko was distraught after his own goal and it will a challenge for the guests to rouse their spirits so turning to the second string is sensible. Yet it reflects why Ireland are heading the market in spite of an abject showing in Armenia.
First half angle
There will be different factors at play in Dublin which might suit Kenny's side.
It won't be 33 degrees, so that will suit their favoured high tempo approach. Armenia defended deeper than anticipated at the weekend, and so the game proceeded with Ireland passing the ball around in front of them. Ukraine should show more ambition, yet it might allow Ireland more space to roam and they won't be worried about conserving energy in the conditions.
Several members of Kenny's squad - most notably his preferred attacker Callum Robinson - were returning from a month out (or more) as they play in Championship or League One. They might just have needed the minutes. Robinson was sluggish.
Ireland had more of the play in the first half and possibly could have gone in ahead before wilting. Kenny may seek to freshen the team up, with the inclusion of Derby's Jason Knight an option to give them energy breaking from deep between the lines.
There will be a healthy contingent of Ukrainian fans present and there will be attempts to generate a feelgood vibe, but the home players might be able to feed off it too with ticket sales suggesting a big turnout.
While the Ukrainian side will include a high number of home based squad members who have been training together for some time, removing leadership figures from the team will require adjustment and Ireland should be looking for a strong start to capitalise on their unease.
A niggling suspicion lingers about their ability to see the game out (Ireland are nine competitive games without a win at home dating back to 2019) and Ukraine may be tempted to throw on stronger players as the game progresses.
What's more tempting as a bet is Ireland to lead at the interval. In a game that is quite difficult to call with the variables arising from the lead-up, the 3.1511/5 on this may be the way to go.
The aforementioned Knight can come to the fore in the alternate recommendation. His flexibility means he can operate wide in 3-4-3 or in the hole behind the strikers in a 3-4-1-2 and he has a knack for finding good positions. Chiedozie Ogbene was recommended in the goal or assist market in Armenia and he wasted two good first half chances before sending in the most dangerous crosses in a late rally. Knight should put himself in the action too and 7/2 about a goal or assist is worth a speculative play.
Put that Knight bet in with the Evens on Both Teams to Score and the 19/20 about a goal being registered in both halves and there's a 8.76 play.