2018 World Cup Qualifiers (UEFA) Preview

UEFA World Cup qualifiers are just around the corner with some mouth-watering fixtures taking place.
UEFA World Cup qualifiers are just around the corner with some mouth-watering fixtures taking place.
Sunday 4 September

28/10 Slovakia | Draw 22/10 | England 21/20 (18:00)

Sam Allardyce will begin his reign as England manager on Sunday with his first match in charge coming away in Slovakia. The two sides met in the European Championships this year and shared the spoils in a goalless draw. Although it’s tempting to take a glance at Group F and think it’s tougher than it looks, it’s likely that England will steamroll through the group to set up another massive disappointment in Russia. At Euro 2016, Slovakia sat deep to frustrate a possession-rich English side. They’ll set up the same way but I’m backing the Three Lions to get the goal and win at 21/20.

Monday 5 September

1/50 Spain | 14/1 | Liechtenstein 43/1 (20:45)

Spain were dumped out of the European Championship 2-0 by Italy, the side that will almost certainly be the biggest threat to La Roja winning Group G and avoiding an awkward playoff to participate in the World Cup. Prior to the Round of 16 exit, Spain had lost their last group match to Croatia and so come into this fixture on the back of two losses. Liechtenstein is a tiny country that will have even smaller ambitions coming into this match. They simply won’t have enough to get any result from this. Take Spain to win by more than one goal on the handicap at 1/10.

39/10 Israel | 24/10 | Italy 15/20 (20:45)

It’s likely to be a straight shootout between Italy and Spain to top Group G and as such, every single fixture will be of utmost importance for both sides. Any mistakes could prove very costly with a tricky playoff awaiting the side who finishes second. Italy punched above their weight at Euro 2016 under Antonio Conte, who fashioned a strong team dynamic from a dearth of real quality in comparison to Italian sides of old. Israel will be no pushovers at home in Italian manager Giampiero Ventura’s first match in charge. It’s been 46 years since these two nations have met on the pitch; I’m tipping this to end in favour of Italy at 15/20.

19/10 Serbia | 22/10 | Republic of Ireland 3/1 (20:45)

The Republic of Ireland did the nation proud at Euro 2016, qualifying as one of the best third-placed sides from Group E and setting up a Round of 16 encounter with hosts France. Despite an early Robbie Brady penalty, the Republic of Ireland were beaten 2-1 but did not sell themselves short. Serbia failed to qualify for the European Championship but have a useful squad with particular quality in defence. Serbia will be extremely difficult to break down at home and could find the back of the net through young, pacy midfield options. Back the home side at a valuable 19/10.

6/10 Croatia | 26/10 | Turkey 5/1 (20:45)

Croatia were probably good enough to win European Championship had the side not run into eventual winners Portugal’s parked bus in the Round of 16. Unable to breach the Portuguese defence for 90 minutes, Croatia were caught out in extra-time as Ricardo Quaresma sent Portugal through to the quarter-finals. Croatia and Turkey met at Euro 2016 in the group stages with Croatia claiming a 1-0 win with a fantastic strike from Luka Modric. Croatia are unbeaten in 90 minutes since a 2-0 loss to Norway almost a year ago. The home win at 6/10 is the tip.

Tuesday 6 September

7/1 Belarus | 33/10 | France 4/10 (20:45)

Belarus missed out on Euro 2016 following a poor qualifying campaign in which they won only three matches. They won’t be expected to be in contention for a place in the World Cup either with the presence of France, Sweden and the Netherlands in their group. France went all the way to the final as hosts of the European Championship and probably should have beaten Portugal on the night. Nothing seemed to go right for France in the final but their young squad packed with talent will certainly be a force at the World Cup, should the qualifying campaign go to plan. I expect the French to pick up the away win at 4/10.

24/10 Sweden | 22/10 | Netherlands 23/20 (20:45)

Sweden were, quite frankly, rubbish at the European Championship and haven’t been any sort of force for perhaps the last five years. A draw against the Republic of Ireland in a match where Sweden didn’t have a shot on target and were saved by an own goal was followed by two 1-0 losses to Italy and Belgium. Without Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the ranks, I expect Sweden to struggle. The Netherlands failed to make Euro 2016 after their qualifying campaign was derailed but the Dutch will not accept similar in their bid for a place at the World Cup. Back the Netherlands to pick up the away win at 23/20.

15/10 Switzerland | 2/1 | Portugal 39/20 (20:45)

Switzerland are specialists at doing just enough to be there or thereabouts when it comes to major tournaments. They squeaked through Euro 2016 qualification in second behind England in an easy group, before narrowly making the Round of 16 to meet Poland. Despite losing on penalties, Switzerland would have been pleased with their campaign. Portugal are the European champions yet something doesn’t sit right with that fact. In normal circumstances before the European tournament expansion, Portugal wouldn’t have made it out of the group stages. With Ronaldo sidelined with injury, this could prove a tough day on the road for Portugal. Backing Switzerland to win or draw on the Double Chance at 7/20 is the tip.

15/20 Czech Rep. | 24/10 | Northern Ireland 4/1 (20:45)

The Czech Republic had an awful Euro 2016 despite a strong qualifying campaign in which they topped their group with ease. At the tournament, the Czechs picked up only one point and were beaten by both Spain and Turkey. They’ll be intent on a better showing at the World Cup and will first need to navigate a group in which their main threat is Germany. Nevertheless, picking up points against the other nations in what is overall a weak group will be important. Northern Ireland were fantastic in the lead-up to Euro 2016 and managed to get out of the group stages as one of the best third-placed finishers. They ultimately lost to Wales in the Round of 16, but will be confident of springing an upset or two in this group. I’m suggesting taking a chance in this one and backing Northern Ireland to get up for a shock win at 4/1.

11/2 Norway | 32/10 | Germany 9/20 (20:45)

Norway failed to qualify for the European Championships and will have their work cut out for them in making the World Cup in 2018. Norway simply don’t have the quality necessary to unseat the likes of Germany, Czech Republic and Northern Ireland in this group. The reigning world champions failed to really get going at the European Championship save for a 3-0 win over Slovakia in the Round of 16. Germany beat Ukraine rather comfortably if not convincingly, before drawing 0-0 with Poland and scraping a 1-0 win over Northern Ireland in a match in which they had a plethora of chances. Germany then disposed of Italy on penalties before losing 2-0 to France in the semi-final. They take this match, and this group, with ease. Back Germany at 9/20.

So what are the best bets to take from the opening round of World Cup qualifiers? I’m a big fan of value trebles and there’s definitely some bets making appeal among the away sides. Although it can be a risk to back sides on the road, England (21/20) into Italy (15/20) into Netherlands (23/20) pays 6/1.

TREBLE @ 6/1
England Win 21/20
Italy Win 15/20
Netherlands Win 23/20

Written by Rick John Henry