With Euro 2016 behind us, attention turns to Russia 2018 – and between us and it, is 10 games of often boring qualifying. It should be more interesting than the last set of Euro qualifying, as the top 2 from each group plus 5 3rd placed sides – meaning it was pretty meaningless as about 85% of teams we expected to qualify, qualified!
This time, the top team from each group qualifies automatically, and the 8 best 2nd placed sides go into playoff! There is an interesting tie in all 9 groups – and a few groups where there are three or more sides that will fancy their chances!
In Group A, you have Holland and France – the Dutch having failed to qualify for Euro 2016. In B, Portugal and Switzerland – Portugal winning the Euro’s this summer. In C, Germany have been given an easy route through, the Czech Republic their hardest foe. In D, you have Wales, Austria, Ireland and Serbia – the latter a team that has all the quality but never quite managed to get their act together. In E, Romania, Denmark and Poland make for an interesting set of teams. In F, England only have to overcome Slovakia and Scotland in Allardyce’ first stint in-charge of the Three Lions. Spain and Italy are the two big dogs in Group G, while Belgium and Bosnia are in H. The final Group, I – includes Croatia, Ukraine, Turkey and Iceland – the most interesting group!
Over Sunday, Monday and Tuesday we have the first set of games, and for me there are 7 of note that represent great value:
Kazakhstan vs Poland: Poland Win to Nil @ 6/5 (Group E, 17:00 KO)
Poland had a decent tournament at Euro 2016, and looked very solid defensively. One thing I have learned over the last 4 years is that in Qualifying processes – threat is a big thing – and the likes of Kazakhstan shouldn’t have the weaponry to worry the likes of Poland. With the likes of Piszczek and Glik in their back four, they should keep the Kazakhs at bay, and with Lewandowski and Milik leading the line – have more than enough to break them down.
Norway vs Germany: Germany -1 Goal Handicap @ 6/5 (Group C, 19:45 KO)
Again, as above – threat is huge. Germany have been a little iffy at the back over the last year or so, but very good going forward. There is no need for me to reel off a load of names – we know what Germany can do, and after a difficult group for the Euro 2016 qualifying, they will be pleased to have a more manageable group, and against a decent Norway side I can see a 2-0 win.
Slovakia vs England: England Win @ 1/1 (Group F, 17:00 KO)
England start against a team they played off the park, but did not quite manage to beat in Euro 2016. With Allardyce in, I can see the new manager affect working, and with players knowing that they are no longer picked on reputation, it may see an increase in form from those who have been given another chance.
Sterling has looked a different player, Drinkwater should be given a proper chance to shine and the likes of Antonio will hopefully be given a shot. Allardyce always sets up a solid defence, and given the pick of the best England can offer – I have great confidence that they should win this one!
Georgia vs Austria: Austria Win to Nil @ 15/8 (Group D, 17:00 KO)
Austria won 9 and drew 1 of their 10 Euro 2016 Qualifying games, but when it came to the tournament itself, fell apart like a jigsaw! Alaba wasn’t his best, Junuzovic got injured early on and they buckled under the pressure! Georgia on the other hand scored 10 in the last qualifying campaign, but most of those were against Gibraltar. Austria conceded just 5 goals in the same qualifying process – the likes of Fuchs and Glik making for a top defence!
Israel vs Italy: Italy Win to Nil @ 13/10 (Group G, 19:45 KO)
Italy are a very good defensive unit – the likes of Chiellini, Buffon, Bonucci and Barzagli have been at the forefront of a strong backline for many years. With Spain in their Group, Italy must make a good start, and with their attacking players hit and miss, the key is their defence. Israel are a half decent side, but have lost 7 of their last 10 games and against the better sides really struggle.
Belarus vs France: France Win to Nil @ 21/20 (Group A, 19:45 KO)
Despite losing in the final of Euro 2016, France will go into this next qualifying process full of confidence, and with an out of form Holland, and Sweden the only decent teams in their group, they will be favourites to win the group. Against Belarus in the first game, I can’t see them having too many problems in winning and keeping a clean sheet.
Cyprus vs Belgium: Belgium -1 Goal Handicap @ 1/1 (Group H, 19:45 KO)
Belgium lost 2-0 to a tough Spain side, and for me the media and fans overreacted a little. New manager, new ideas and facing a terrific Spain side – it was always going to be tough. Against Cyprus, it will be a test of Martinez and the squads’ ability to break down a team likely to try and get a 0-0. I fancy them to win and win well!
My preferred four-fold from that will be posted this evening!
Best of luck!