After reaching their first ever European Championships Wales impressively topped Group B with wins against Russia and Slovakia. Northern Ireland, meanwhile, have come through via the back door after a narrow defeat from the World Champions in their final game combined with their earlier win over Ukraine proved enough.
The last time Northern Ireland beat Wales was more than 62 years ago and Wales will start this one as strong favourites. They’ve won eight of their last 11 competitive matches against lower ranked sides while keeping seven clean sheets and with six wins to nil. Their success has largely been built around their defence and eight of those matches had fewer than three goals.
It’s a similar story for Northern Ireland, who are even more reliant on their defence without a star like Bale to give them an option in attack. 21 of their last 26 games have had fewer than three goals as they’ve conceded just 20 times, including only once to both Poland and Germany. They’ll hope not to face as much pressure in this match as Germany put on them and against slightly lesser teams they’ve more than held their own in recent years. Since 2013 they’ve gone W6-D6-L5 against teams we had ranked 21st-80th, despite all those teams being ranked above them at the time. 14 of those 17 had fewer than three goals while 10 were goalless at half-time.
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So goals should be at a premium and given the trends from recent major tournament knockout matches that looks likely to be exacerbated with the prize of a quarter-final place on the line. Since 2002 there have been 81 knockout games at World Cups and European Championships and they’ve averaged just 1.84 goals per game with almost a quarter (19/81) finishing goalless.
Gareth Bale scored seven of Wales’ 11 goals in qualifying and has netted in all three of their games so far. However, if Northern Ireland can stop the Real Madrid star they’ll feel they have a chance of causing an upset. 37% of the 78 opening knockout matches at World and Euro Championships since 1990 have finished all-square and that increases to 10 of 23 when the higher ranked team was outside our world’s top 10 at the time. Furthermore, those 23 matches averaged just 1.65 goals per game as 18 had fewer than three goals, 11 had fewer than two and six ended goalless.
As such we prefer the 3.1 on the draw and the 2.3 for Under 1.5 Goals. At 6.5 for a nil-nil that also looks worth covering, along with the 2.2 for that score at half-time, in a match that could easily go all the way to penalties.
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