So – the last leg in the 14 month qualifying process. 8 teams now playoff for the final four places, and it has thrown up some very interesting ties!
Sweden face Denmark in a Scandinavian derby – that could well be a feisty one, but a low scorer with neither wanting to lose. Bosnia face Ireland – the Balkan nation really came home strong in the last few games when wins were a must to gain 3rd place in the group. Ukraine face Slovenia – Slovenia are unpredictable, but with Konoplyanka, Yarmolenko and Seleznyov leading the line Ukraine are certainly the hot favourites. Lastly – Norway play Hungary in another likely tight game. Neither concede many, while goals come at a premium. Baring a late 4-3 loss to Greece in what ended up as a dead rubber, Hungary scored and conceded less than a goal per game!
Let’s start with Thursday’s tie:
Norway vs Hungary (1945 KO)
Norway were very close to getting through automatically, but blew it at the last after a loss to Italy which gave Croatia 2nd spot – while a draw against Azerbaijan sealed their fate a few games ago. They are a strong side, with no real big name stars, but a team ethos that has got them this far. Josh King and Alex Tettey scored 5 of their 13 goals between them.
Hungary are a low scoring team, but strong defensively. 7 under 2.5’s in their last 10 away games, 6 in their last 10 overall. They scored 11 in 10 games, and conceded 9. This could easily be a 0-0 – and with that in mind I’m going with Norway Clean Sheet @ 1/1, with a correct score of 0-0 @ 6/1
Bosnia vs Rep of Ireland (Friday, 1945 KO)
Bosnia really picked up the pace in the final few games. They needed wins to ensure they got into the playoffs ahead of Israel and Cyprus – and after a 2-0 win over Wales had it in the bag. They have had 7 over 2.5’s in their last 10 games, but at international level it is meaningless as there are so many poor opponents that are easily beaten by 5 goals. However in the group stage there were 5 BTTS games for them, and 4 of those went over 2.5 as well including games against Belgium, Israel and Cyprus.
Ireland’s group was a little hard to get this sort of bet in – with teams like Georgia and Gibraltar, as well as Germany and Poland – the games were either massively un-even or very close, resulting in 4 BTTS and 2 of those went over 2.5 as well. Both are strong attacking sides who should score – Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibesavic are the two main threats from Bosnia, while Mirajem Pjanic is a huge talent in midfield. Ireland have a good attacking side – Robbie Keane (who supported Bosnia as a boy, and always dreamed of playing for them) and Shane Long being Ireland’s two big threats.
BTTS + Over 2.5 Goals @ 2/1 is my top bet for this game. If you cannot get this market both BTTS and Over 2.5 goals as separate markets are both over Evens. Bosnia have just hit 1/1 in the win market, and for me that is a good bet too.
Ukraine vs Slovenia (Saturday, 1700 KO)
Ukraine are a very good side, and had a very tough group with Spain and Slovakia both qualifying ahead of them. Slovenia on the other hand had a tough group too, with England and Switzerland – both of whom they scored against in both ties, beating the Swiss 1-0 in the process but also losing 3-2 to both, and 3-1 to England.
The first leg is key for Ukraine – as Slovenia are poor away from home, losing 8 of their last 10 and only scoring in 3 – and baring England and Switzerland they have had a couple of challenging friendlies but nothing more. With Seleznyov, Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka leading the line, I can see a dominant performance and at least 2 goals – so my top bet is Over 1.5 Team Goals @ 1/1 for Ukraine
Sweden vs Denmark (Saturday, 1945 KO)
The last game of the weekend, and perhaps the most intriguing. The fiercest of rivals, Denmark vs Sweden should be a very close fought game with the possibility of a lot of cards. Corner markets would have been good to see before writing this, but with lines not drawn up yet I can’t wait any longer.
Ibrahimovic may be the difference, as Denmark have struggled to score away from home. I think one goal will settle this, as you find a lot of first legs’ are mainly both teams trying not to make mistakes as messing it up badly in this tie will screw them over for the next. Draw @ 12/5 is a high priced bet – and even with the away form of Denmark, it’s tempting. This could easily be another 0-0, also priced around 6/1.
Form-book out the window – with it being a derby. I am going with my gut on BTTS @ 11/10, draw & Under 2.5 @ 5/2 also a good bet.
Those are my four tips for these games – I might pop a piece up on some of the freindlies if there is value but with a lot of chopping and changing with squads to try out new players it is hard to call on those.