Our writer previews the UEFA 2018 Russia World Cup Qualifiers.
Press pause on the big leagues in Europe as another international break disrupts domestic action. These nations are only one qualifying match into their journey to Russia 2018 and with some groups bound to be decided by the smallest of margins, there is absolutely no room for error. Let’s take a look at the best bets across UEFA’s weekend of qualifying action.
Friday 7 October
France 1/8 | Draw 13/2 | Bulgaria 22/1
Les Bleus began their World Cup qualifying campaign with a goalless draw against Belarus in Borisov. Didier Deschamps’ side applied considerable pressure but were unable to make a breakthrough against their resilient opponents. With closest group rivals, the Netherlands, also sharing the spoils, the French have no reason to panic. Bulgaria survived a huge scare against Luxembourg, eventually prevailing 4-3 with a dramatic late winner from substitute Aleksandar Tonev. Bulgaria were the only side in Group A to collect three points from their opening fixture. Nevertheless, backing the home win at 1/8 is the bet to take.
Saturday 8 October
Armenia 26/10 | Draw 43/20 | Romania 11/10
Armenia were without skipper Henrikh Mkhitaryan as they were comfortably beaten 1-0 by Denmark in their first outing. Mkhitaryan is still struggling to recover from a thigh injury sustained for the national team in a friendly with the Czech Republic. Romania drew 1-1 with Montenegro in a match that only came to life after 85 minutes. Romania went ahead but conceded two minutes later. In more late drama, Nicolae Stanciu put a penalty well over the crossbar in the seventh minute of injury time. The away win seems a good value bet at 11/10.
England 1/100 | Draw 14/1 | Malta 60/1
Sam Allardyce began his England tenure with a 1-0 win in Slovakia, before promptly being fired from the role for being caught offering advice on how to bypass FA player-transfer rules. Gareth Southgate takes charge of the Three Lions for this home match against Malta, given the position on a caretaker basis after success with the England U21s. Malta haven’t won a match since a friendly with Lithuania back in June 2015. They were thrashed 5-1 by Scotland in their opening match and it seems likely that they’ll succumb by a similar scoreline here. Taking England to win on the (-1) Handicap pays 1/14.
Germany 2/9 | Draw 5/1 | Czech Republic 10/1
Germany made the perfect start to the defence of their World Cup title with a 3-0 win against Norway in Oslo. Thomas Muller bagged a brace while Joshua Kimmich scored his first goal for his country. It was Manuel Neuer’s first match in charge of Germany following Bastian Schweinsteiger’s retirement from international football. The Czech Republic are struggling with injuries to key personnel prior to this match. They drew 0-0 with Northern Ireland to begin their campaign, Filip Novak’s shocking close range miss denying the Czech Republic three points. Germany to win at 2/9 is the tip.
Poland 21/20 | Draw 22/10 | Denmark 26/10
Poland made the quarter-finals at Euro 2016 and almost made a winning start to their World Cup qualifying campaign with goals from Bartosz Kapustka and Robert Lewandowski against Kazakhstan. However, their opponents clawed their way back with two quick-fire second half goals. Denmark got three points from their first match with a comfortable 1-0 victory over Armenia with a first-half goal from Christian Eriksen in Copenhagen. The Tottenham midfielder finished a superb move in a match that Denmark dominated. This looks a close match and I’m tipping Both Teams To Score at 19/20.
Scotland 9/20 | Draw 3/1 | Lithuania 6/1
Robert Snodgrass netted a hat-trick as Scotland demolished Malta 5-1 in their opening fixture. It was a much-needed boost for Gordon Strachan’s side, who missed out on Euro 2016 qualification. However, Scotland didn’t have it all their own way. It was a tight first half that ended 1-1 and two second-half red cards really buried Malta. Lithuania were unable to prevent a late fightback from Slovenia and drew their opening fixture 2-2. Lithuania scored two goals in three minutes just after the half-hour mark, only to concede twice as the second-half wore on. Scotland should have enough to pick up the home win at 9/20.
Slovenia 29/20 | Draw 19/10 | Slovakia 43/20
Slovenia came from two goals back to share the spoils in their opening fixture with Lithuania. Bostjan Cesar headed the equaliser in the third minute of injury time after Rene Krhin sparked the comeback with a goal in the 77th minute. Slovakia eventually lost 1-0 to England in a scrappy match that was only decided by a very late goal from Adam Lallana. Slovakia seemed to have little to offer going forward and would have been satisfied with a point from the match. This could be an equally drab encounter and I’m tipping Under 2.5 Goals at 9/20.
Sunday 9 October
Wales 3/10 | Draw 17/4 | Georgia 19/2
Wales will need to navigate a tough away fixture in Austria before they enjoy home comforts against Georgia. Gareth Bale starred as Wales began their World Cup qualifying campaign with a 4-0 win against Moldova. The Real Madrid forward scored twice in the second half to ensure a comfortable victory. Georgia will visit the Republic of Ireland before facing a formidable Welsh side that went all the way to the semi-finals at Euro 2016. This should be a fairly easy victory for Wales; back the home win.
Finland 17/4 | Draw 26/10 | Croatia 13/20
Finland drew their opening fixture 1-1 with Kosovo as all of the sides in Group I shared the spoils. It was Kosovo’s first ever World Cup qualifier and Finland would have been disappointed not to collect all three points from the match. They will pay a visit to Iceland before hosting Croatia in another important match. Croatia drew 1-1 with Turkey in their opening match and will travel away to Kosovo in midweek. Croatia are certainly the stronger side and should have enough quality to secure the win in Finland.
Albania 13/2 | Draw 33/10 | Spain 4/10
Albania eventually collected all three points from their weather-interrupted match with Macedonia. The game was abandoned after 76 minutes at 1-1 due to heavy rain and a waterlogged pitch, and was scheduled to be completed the next afternoon. Bekim Balaj scored in the closing stages for Albania to win 2-1. They will face Liechtenstein before this difficult test against Spain. La Roja ran Liechtenstein ragged in an 8-0 victory with doubles from Diego Costa, David Silva and Alvaro Morata. Spain will need to navigate an important match with Italy before travelling to Albania. However, Spain should still get up for the away win.
Macedonia 10/1 | Draw 4/1 | Italy 3/10
Macedonia conceded late to lose their rain-affected opening match with Albania and host Israel in midweek before this clash with Italy. The Italians saw off Israel 3-1 in the first match of their World Cup qualifying campaign with goals from Graziano Pelle, Antonio Candreva and Ciro Immobile. Giorgio Chiellini was sent off in the 55th minute but it made little difference to the result. Italy’s focus will undoubtedly be on their midweek clash with Spain. Macedonia will probably not provide the strongest of opponents and the Italy win must be backed.
TREBLE @ 5/1
Romania Win 11/10
Scotland Win 9/20
Poland vs Denmark Both Teams To Score 19/20
Written by Rick John Henry @Hollywoodbets