International fortnights can bring unique challenges for players and managers, but also for the dedicated sports bettor, who might be used to putting his stake on club football, and finds that a lot of things true for the Premier League, La Liga, or the Bundesliga, are no longer true when watching national teams play against each other. We take a look at four key changes in international football that will affect your betting strategy.
1. The players don't often play together
Modern footballers are animals attuned to game after game of club football. It goes almost without saying that sportsmen are creatures of routine, given the repeated motions needed in order to be successful at a chosen game. Footballers often manifest this in superstitions, like leaving the dressing room last, or in long-lasting friendships with other players.
When out of their comfort zone and on the road with their national team, players can often seem ill-at-ease. One of the reasons for this is that everything is slightly different: the team-mates, manager, medical staff and even the training drills. This has led at times to run-ins between managers, with Liverpool's Brendan Rodgers criticising England's Roy Hodgson for not giving Daniel Sturridge two days to recover between games, something that would happen at Anfield.
In the "good old days" of the early 20th Century, before footballers were paid astronomical sums, it was entirely possible that a young player in a European top division might have previously worked in a factory, or as a miner, for example. These days, footballers are more removed from everyday reality than ever, and so struggle all the more to cope with things we mortals have to work around every day.
Some players, and you could make an argument this includes England's captain and striker Wayne Rooney, look frustrated by their team-mates at international level, as if wishing that the others were able to understand better what he was trying to do. In the past, this led to flashpoints with superstars like Hristo Stoichkov, who was used to players at Barcelona's level, but played internationally for Bulgaria.
Other players, for example those suffering from problems at their clubs, such as Manchester United's Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea and Real Madrid's much-criticised Welsh wizard Gareth Bale, seem to relish international football as a kind of refuge, where they can star. Bale in particular gives off the impression of loving nothing better than playing in a red shirt.
2. Home advantage much more important
Being cooped up in a hotel room is not ideal preparation for international football. In the Tour de France, Team Sky has always attempted to minimise the changes inherent in hotel life, by bringing its own beds and a team of chefs. Not all national football teams do this - and if you are, for example, a team like Spain, travelling to a smaller and less-advanced nation such as, hypothetically, Moldova, you might find the team hotel is not up to Madrid levels of luxury.
When you add this to the occasional problems where home fans stay up all night and drunkenly chant outside the away side's hotel to keep the players awake, and the even bigger challenge of pitches that are, in some nations, worse than any the players will play on for their clubs, you have in a nutshell a major headache for top players.
This is why a smaller nation playing at home almost always believes it has a chance against a bigger one - and it's why you shouldn't be shy about putting a deposit on one of these minnows getting a result against the sharks of European football.
3. ...Which can lead to freak results
In the most recent Euro 2016 Qualifying cycle, Slovakia beat Spain at home, in what was seen as a massive shock given the relative strength of the Spanish squad, while Iceland beat both Turkey and the Netherlands in Reykjavik, results that sent bettors back to their coupons, some of them with glee.
None of these results would happen in the club game, but at international level the gap in quality doesn't always tell, especially when good players have flown several thousand kilometres to play on an unforgiving pitch against fired-up local opposition. That's why as a bettor, you should prepare for results that go against form and overall team ability.
4. Knowledge of many leagues is important
European Championship and World Cup Qualifiers are when we see players from the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga play against opponents who may, since the end of the Cold War and the expansion of UEFA in the early 1990s, come from any number of locations. Estonia has players plying their trade in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Poland, for example.
What this means, as usual, is that as a bettor you can improve your chances of scooping a good return by knowing a little about all of the players in both teams. You don't need an encyclopaedic knowledge of Armenian football, but it would help if you knew who was picked in a squad, who was likely to score or be influential, and how well a team tends to perform at home or away.
This can help you to be a winner at international football betting.
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