Our writer previews a few selected 2018 UEFA World Cup Qualifiers.
The international break can be seen as a disruption to many die-hard supporters of club football, but from a punters point of view, it's another way to make money. There are some exciting UEFA World Cup qualifiers on show and enticing odds on offer.
Friday 24 March
Italy 2/9 | Draw 17/4 | Albania 25/2
Italy will be looking to maintain their unbeaten record in Group G when they take on Albania on Friday. This will be the Azzurri’s second home game, having drawn 1-1 against Spain in Turin in October last year. Giampiero Ventura’s men have won all three of their away matches, beating Israel, Macedonia and Liechtenstein. Italy have scored 11 goals, with most of them coming from Ciro Immobile (4) and Andrea Belotti (3). The duo have been in stunning goalscoring form for their clubs, with Immobile netting 17 times for Lazio while Torino’s Belotti is the Serie A top goalscorer on 22.
Albania, who are a point behind Italy in third place, have beaten minnows Liechtenstein and Macedonia, but have struggled against tough opposition. The Eagles were beaten on home soil by Spain and Israel, shipping five goals without reply. The Azzurri should prove too strong here. Back them to Win to Nil at 11/20.
Spain 1/11 | Draw 15/2 | Israel 25/1
Spain will look to maintain their place at the summit of Group G when they host Israel at El Molinon. Julen Lopetegui's men are unbeaten in their qualifiers, recording comfortable wins against Liechtenstein, Albania and Macedonia, while earning a 1-1 against Italy in Turin. Spain have scored 15 goals in the group while conceding just once. Diego Costa and Vitolo are the joint top scorers for La Roja with three goals each.
Israel are riding a three-game winning streak, after losing 3-1 at home to Italy in their Group G opener. The Blue and Whites will be hoping to cause an upset against Lopetegui's men, but they’ve failed to beat La Roja in four meetings, suffering three defeats. Spain are tipped to win on the Half-time/Full-time Double at 4/10.
Rep. of Ireland 27/20 | Draw 2/1 | Wales 9/4
The Republic of Ireland will host Wales on Friday in what looks a cracking game of football. Martin O'Neill’s Green Army lead the Group D standings after an unbeaten four-match start to the qualifying campaign. After drawing 2-2 away to Serbia in their opening match, the Boys in Green picked up wins against Georgia, Moldova and Austria.
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Wales, who are four points behind the Irish in third place, will face a difficult test to get their qualifying campaign back on track. The Dragons won their group opener 4-0 at home to Moldova and earned a commendable 2-2 away to Austria. But back-to-back draws at home to Georgia and Serbia, both winnable games, have put Chris Coleman’s side in an awkward position. With Gareth Bale, who is the group’s top scorer with four goals, in their ranks, Wales always have a chance of victory. Back them on the Win/Draw Double Chance at 11/20.
Saturday 25 March
Sweden 5/10 | Draw 28/10 | Belarus 57/10
Sweden have impressed in all four of their 2018 World Cup qualifiers thus far, without retired icon Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Janne Andersson’s side secured victories over Luxembourg and Bulgaria, earned a commendable 1-1 draw at home to Netherlands and suffered a narrow 2-1 loss away to France. Even that defeat was ill deserved and accompanied by plenty of encouraging signs. The last time the Swedes were in action, they thrashed Slovakia 6-0 in a friendly match in January.
Sweden are third in Group A standings, level with Netherlands on seven points and three behind leaders France. Belarus are yet to win a qualifier from four matches, picking up two points. The White Wings have managed to avoid defeat at home, holding France to a goalless draw and were denied victory against Luxembourg by an 85th-minute equaliser. However, they’ve lost on both of their travels. Sweden are tipped to win confidently.
Switzerland 1/8 | Draw 15/2 | Latvia 14/1
Switzerland will look to move a step closer to qualifying for the 2018 World Cup when they host minnows Latvia. Vladimir Petkovic’s side lead the Group B standings, having won all four of their qualifiers. A 2-0 victory over European champions Portugal followed with wins over Hungary, Andorra and Faroe Islands.
Latvia are languishing in fifth place after three consecutive defeats against Faroe Islands, Hungary and Portugal. Switzerland are unbeaten in three meetings with Latvia, winning twice. Back the Swiss to extend their winning streak.
Portugal 1/4 | Draw 17/4 | Hungary 10/1
European champions Portugal will entertain Hungary at the Estadio da Luz. After losing 2-0 away to Switzerland in their opening qualifier, Fernando Santos’ side recorded comfortable wins against Andorra, Faroe Islands and Latvia, scoring 16 goals while conceding just once. Cristiano Ronaldo will be looking to add to his tally of five goals and fire his team to victory. Portugal are second in Group B, three points behind leaders Switzerland and only two ahead of Hungary.
The Hungarians have won their last two qualifiers, beating Latvia 2-0 and Andorra 4-0. Prior to that, they played to a goalless draw away to Faroe Islands and suffered a 3-2 home defeat against Switzerland. Portugal are tipped to win on the (-1) Handicap at 8/10.
Belgium 3/10 | Draw 4/1 | Greece 9/1
Group H leaders Belgium are firm favourites against Greece on Saturday. Coached by Roberto Martinez and assisted by Thierry Henry, the Red Devils are truly head and shoulders above their opponents in the group, having won all four of their qualifiers convincingly. They’ve scored a remarkable 21 goals while conceding just once.
Belgium are confident of victory every time they go on the field, but Greece will be no pushovers. The Greeks remain unbeaten in Group H in their qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup. After comfortable wins against Gibraltar, Cyprus and Estonia, Michael Skibbe’s side were held at home to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Greece have done well thus far but I think Belgium will have too much class for them. Take them to win on the Halftime/Fulltime Double at 8/10.
Bulgaria 47/10 | Draw 29/10 | Netherlands 11/20
Netherlands take on Bulgaria in a Group A qualifier in Sofia on Saturday. After missing out on Euro 2016, the Dutch will be desperate to qualify for Russia 2018, which will be their fourth consecutive trip to the World Cup.
Danny Blind’s side have picked up seven points from their opening four qualifiers. They are second in Group A, level with Sweden and three points behind leaders France. Bulgaria have struggled against strong opposition, suffering heavy defeats against France and Sweden. Netherlands are tipped to come away with maximum points.
Luxembourg 30/1 | Draw 11/1 | France 1/25
Group A leaders France are overwhelming favourites as they face minnows Luxembourg. The Red Lions have been the whipping boys in the group, picking up just one point from their opening four qualifiers. France are unbeaten in Group A after four games, winning three times and drawing once.
After being held to a goalless draw away to Belarus in their opening game, Les Bleus thumped Bulgaria 4-1 and edged out Sweden 2-1 in Paris, before grinding out a 1-0 win over Netherlands in Amsterdam. A lot of criticism has been heaped on Paul Pogba in a Manchester United shirt, but he’s been world class for his country, scoring in back-to-back games. With Blaise Matuidi and N'Golo Kante alongside him in midfield, Didier Deschamps allows Pogba freedom to produce his magic. With very little value on France, take Over 2.5 Goals at 3/10.
Sunday 26 March
England 1/8 | Draw 7/1 | Lithuania 22/1
England will host Lithuania in a Group F qualifier at Wembley Stadium on Sunday. The Three Lions are unbeaten in Group F after four games, winning three times and drawing once. Gareth Southgate has made a few shock calls in selecting his squad, snubbing Theo Walcott, Wayne Rooney, Danny Drinkwater and Jack Wilshere for James Ward-Prowse, Jake Livermore, Nathan Redmond and veteran striker Jermain Defoe.
It’s a good thing they’re playing against Lithuania, who were thrashed 4-0 away to Slovakia in their last qualifier. Back the Halftime Draw and Fulltime Win for England at 51/20.
TREBLE @ 31/10
Sweden Win 5/10
Belgium Win HT/FT 8/10
Netherlands Win 11/20
Written by Chadley Nagel @Hollywoodbets