UEFA World Cup Qualifiers: Update and Final Round Preview
We’re now down to the real crunch period in terms of World Cup qualifying matches across the globe. As far as the UEFA European section is concerned, we’ve seen our first qualifiers confirmed with Belgium making it out of their section following a 2-1 win away to Greece but much remains undecided going into the final round of matches.
Following September’s ties, all sides will play their final two group games at the start of October with some nations progressing directly to Russia 2018, while others will face elimination and the remaining teams head to the play offs.
There’s all to play for across the continent but how do the bookies read this ahead of those crucial clashes?
In this group, France lead the way but the 1998 World Cup winners should have all but booked their place on the plane to Russia. An unforeseen 0-0 home draw with Luxembourg means that Didier Deschamps’ team now lead the section by just one point from Sweden with the Netherlands and Bulgaria just about in contention behind them.
Sweden now host Luxembourg and despite their opponents’ brave display against the French, the Swedes are hot favourites to win that one at best odds of 1/25 with Betway and Sun Bets when the sides meet on October 7.
The crucial game here involves France and their trip to Bulgaria on the same day. Remember that the Bulgarians retain hopes of qualification themselves so while the French are hot favourites at a top price of 2/5 with Betway and 32Red to win this tie, it’s likely to be a tough encounter for Deschamps’ side.
Switzerland and Portugal have dominated this section to the extent that the remaining four countries have already been eliminated. The only question remaining therefore is who will top the group and qualify automatically for Russia next summer?
The Swiss are top and need four points to be sure of staying there but the group is likely to be decided when Vladimir Petkovic’s side travel to face rivals Portugal for the final match in Group B.
The showdown takes place on October 10 and with both teams playing their ninth qualifying match prior to that date, odds are not out just yet but it’s likely to be a tight market for the probable decider.
Germany have been absolutely dominant here and their superior goal difference means that they really need just one point from their remaining two matches to be certain of topping the group. Next up for Joachim Low’s side is a trip to second placed Northern Ireland and the Germans are hot favourites to win that at best odds of 1/3 with Betway.
Northern Ireland can finish no worse than second so it’s just a question of sorting out the top two places and with Germany winning all eight of their qualifiers to date, this would seem like a formality.
This is one of the more open sections with four teams retaining hopes of progressing to Russia in 2018. Serbia lead the way at the top of Group D with 18 points and one more win will be enough for them to seal that position and win the section.
Next up for the Serbs is a tough away trip to fourth placed Austria and we have a tight market for that game. MarathonBet are currently providing all the best prices for this tie with Serbia favourites at 39/25, the draw at 58/25 and a win for the Austrians at 51/25.
Meanwhile, Wales lie in second place, four points behind the leaders and Chris Coleman’s side are favourites at 5/6 with Betway to beat Georgia in their next fixture. In third are the Republic of Ireland who face what looks to be an easy tie against Moldova next up. Martin O’Neill’s side are best priced at 1/8 with Betway here.
Clearly that fixture between Austria and Serbia will prove crucial but in the final round of matches, Wales versus the Republic of Ireland is another crunch tie.
This is another open section and with two games left to play, three sides remain in with a chance of topping the group. Poland currently lead the way with a three point advantage over Montenegro and Denmark and the Poles could cement that first place in their next fixture, away to struggling Armenia.
Poland look nailed on for that one at a best price of 2/7 with Betway for the win while Montenegro host Denmark in what is effectively an eliminator. This is another tight market but the bookies are giving the Danes the advantage at best odds of 5/4 with 32Red while the home side are the outside punt at 119/50 with MarathonBet.
In Group F England have the advantage and Gareth Southgate’s men only need two draws at worst to top the section and make it through to the tournament in Russia. The first of their remaining games takes place on October 5 and is against a Slovenian side who held the leaders to a 0-0 draw in the opening round of games.
At Wembley however, England are expected to win with a best price of 4/11 coming from Betway and MarathonBet. Slovenia, Slovakia and Scotland can all still qualify from this group and the first key game in this respect comes on October 5 once again when Scotland host Slovakia in Glasgow.
Gordon Strachan’s Scotland are the favourites for that match at 77/50 with MarathonBet while the Slovakians are back at 9/4 with MarathonBet once again.
Spain are unbeaten in this section and have won seven of their eight matches going into the final round of games. One more victory will be enough for Julen Lopetegui’s side to finish on top of Group G and that win should come next time around when they host Albania. The bookmakers feel this is a certainty with Sun Bets offering a typical win price for Spain of 1/12.
Victory for Spain in that match is likely to eliminate the Albanians at the same time, leaving Italy needing just a point to finish in second place. The Italians face Macedonia on October 5 and once again are red hot favourites with MarathonBet offering an industry best price of just 3/40.
This is the section from which Belgium have already qualified so it’s between three teams for the runners up spot. Bosnia and Herzegovina plus Greece and Cyprus are the countries involved and while the Bosnians host Belgium, it could be a case of Winner Takes All as Cyprus play Greece in Nicosia.
The two sides have been closely matched in this section but Greece are clear favourites for the win at a top price of 4/6 with Paddy Power. However, second place is in Bosnia’s hands but they will need to beat Belgium and that’s a big ask.
The final section for European nations sees the tightest group of all and any one of four sides can still win this one. Croatia currently lead the way on 16 points but are only ahead of Iceland by virtue of a superior goal difference.
Behind the top two, Turkey and Ukraine are locked on 14 points so clearly we’ve got some very crucial fixtures coming up. Iceland will finish with a home game against lowly Kosovo so assuming they will coast that one, the side will need a positive result when they travel to Turkey on October 6. The bookies have Turkey as the favourites however at a best of 23/25 with MarathonBet while the same bookmakers are quoting 17/5 on an Icelandic victory.
Leaders Croatia host Finland on the same night and are highly fancied at a top price of 9/50 with MarathonBet to take the points there. It could however come down to Ukraine v Croatia on October 9 in what looks to be the most intriguing of all the UEFA qualifying groups.
As the games draw closer, more bookmakers will publish their odds but this is a good time to have a look at what’s available and take some value from an ante post bet. It’s crunch time in Europe but who will prevail and get on that plane for the World Cup in Russia next summer?