Portugal v North Macedonia
Tuesday 29 March, 19:45
Live on Sky Sports Action
The Home Nations all have international friendlies on Tuesday night but as someone who likes to find cards angles, I much prefer to focus on one of the competitive matches taking place.
So it’s off to Porto where a place in the World Cup finals is at stake.
Having won in Germany during the group stage, North Macedonia upset Italy last Thursday so they’ll be confident of completing a stunning hat-trick and reaching Qatar 2022.
Their recent success – they also qualified for last summer’s European Championships – has come at a price, namely poor discipline.
They’ve been one of Europe’s dirtiest teams in recent qualifying campaigns and they arrive here having collected 25 yellow cards in 11 qualifiers thus far.
Go back further and they’ve actually received 30+ booking points in 18 of their last 31 competitive internationals.
Over 2.5 cards for the visitors here is at 10/11, something which may well land given the referee is Anthony Taylor.
The English official has a strong record for cards in continental fixtures. He’s shown at least four cards in six of his last nine internationals, a run which includes dishing out three to Macedonians at this very stage in Euro 2020 qualifying.
If you consider that data sample a little small, I’ll throw in the fact that at club level, Taylor has shown 5+ cards in 20 of his last 27 UEFA appointments.
While 10/11 looks fair enough, I believe there’s better value to be had in the player ‘shown a card’ market where Tihomir Kostadinov looks big at 13/5.
The midfielder has been booked in seven of his last 10 internationals and if you go back a little further you find he was carded by Taylor in that Euro 2020 play-off win over Georgia.
He was suspended for the Italy win but is expected to return here, albeit there has to be a danger that boss Blagoja Milevski stays loyal to those who did the business in Palermo.
That said, even Milevski would admit his side were slightly fortunate, conceding large amounts of possession and withstanding more than 30 shots by the hosts. They will aim for more control here and that may well mean changes in the middle of the park.
If he does start, Kostadinov will likely be asked to play more of a holding role than the one he is used to at club level and that will bring its own problems in terms of trying to contain the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva in his area of the pitch.
As a back-up option, let’s mention right-back Stefan Ristovski, who is 23/10 for a card.
The skipper has been carded in six of his last 19 competitive internationals, including four of the last eight, and looks sure to be kept busy by the likes of Diogo Jota.
He’s a former Sporting Lisbon player so several of the Portuguese squad know his strengths and weaknesses which could make things awkward for him.