UEFA World Cup Qualifiers: Down to the Business End
We’ve arrived at the second international break of the new European football season but more importantly, it’s the final round of World Cup qualifiers for UEFA countries. Over the next few days, we will know who is progressing directly to Russia 2018, who has been eliminated and who progresses to the tense round of play offs.
There are many important games ahead so let’s get straight on and assess the markets.
France lead the way in Group A with just a narrow, one point lead over second place Sweden. They remain in pole position but progression would have been so much easier for Didier Deschamps’ men had they not drawn 0-0 at home with lowly Luxembourg last time out.
Next up for the 1998 World Cup winners is a tricky trip to Bulgaria on Saturday where they are favourites at 2/9 with SkyBet but the Bulgarians are fourth and are not entirely out of the running. Meanwhile, Sweden are at home to Luxembourg and really should take the points despite their opponents having held the French last month.
The Swedes are at a best of 1/20 with 188Bet to win that one and while they, along with France should finish in the top two places, the order is very much up for grabs in one of Europe’s tightest groups.
Switzerland and Portugal have dominated this group to the extent that the remaining four sides are already eliminated. The question again is who will finish first and qualify automatically and who will face an anxious wait to see if they are in the second round.
The answer to that is likely to come on October 10 when Portugal host Switzerland in Lisbon. Prior to that, the Swiss are at home to Hungary on Saturday October 7 and are at 1/3 with Stan James to take all three points. On the same day, Portugal have miserly best odds of 1/33 to beat Andorra and when those games are complete, markets will open for the Portugal v Switzerland showdown.
Here we have another section where only two teams remain in contention while the rest have been eliminated. In theory, Northern Ireland can still win the group but Germany have been dominant and are fully expect to secure automatic qualification in the next few days.
The top two actually meet in Belfast on Thursday and while only five points separate them in the table, Germany are hot favourites for the win at a best of 8/25 with MarathonBet.
Northern Ireland, who are on offer at a top price of 12/1 with Winner Sports in that particular game, will likely have to wait until their final match, away to Norway, before securing any more points.
Four teams retain hopes of progressing to Russia from this section and the leaders Serbia are assured of second place at the very least.
Wales and Republic of Ireland are also battling in out while Austria are still mathematically involved, although their chances are slim. Ireland are at a best of 13/100 to win against Moldova on Friday so the key match is Georgia v Wales where the Welsh are more narrow favourites at 4/5 with 10Bet and Stan James. Both sides should win and it would therefore come down to a last day showdown where Wales host the Republic of Ireland at the Cardiff City Stadium on October 9.
This section is between three teams with Poland having a three point advantage over Montenegro and Denmark. All other nations have been eliminated so where are the crucial fixtures going to be?
Poland travel to Armenia on Thursday and are favourites at best odds of 27/100 with MarathonBet. Meanwhile, the clash between Montenegro and Denmark can be seen as an elimination match – lose that and the likelihood is that you will be out of the tournament.
That’s the game to watch and it’s a tight market with Denmark at 9/8 with SportingBet and Montenegro not too far behind at 139/50 with MarathonBet.
It’s all about England in this group and Gareth Southgate’s men can book their flights to Russia if they beat Slovenia at home on Thursday night. They are certainly strong favourites to do so and can currently be backed at a best of 37/100 in the open markets with Sun Bets but even if they fail, an away match against Lithuania waits and England will surely finish as group winners.
Behind them, only one point separates Slovakia, Slovenia and Scotland so Thursday’s round of fixtures will be vital. Scotland v Slovakia is a must win for both sides and we have a tight market here with the Scots as favourites at a best of 6/4 with Sun Bets for the win while Slovakia are out at 9/4 with MarathonBet.
Albania retain a very faint hope of making it through to the second round but in reality this is all about leaders Spain and second placed Italy. The Albanians are a further six points behind and are therefore all but eliminated.
In fact, leaders Spain should deliver that final blow when they play Albania on Friday – they are best priced 9/100 favourites with MarathonBet to take the points there while Italy have similar best odds of 1/11 with SkyBet when they host Macedonia on the same day.
Assuming Spain carry that three point advantage into the final round of fixtures, they will need a point from their trip to Israel on October 9 to secure their passage to Russia.
Here we have the only confirmed qualifiers from the European section with Belgium guaranteed to finish on top after their 2-1 win over Greece last time out. Second place will be between Bosnia and Herzegovina plus Cyprus and the Greeks who are all battling for a possible play off slot.
Crucial to their chances will be Cyprus v Greece which is being played this Saturday. The Greeks are odds on there at a best of 4/7 with Ladbrokes but they need to hope that the Bosnians slip up when they host group winners Belgium. From there, Greece will be in pole position for that second place slot as they host minnows Gibraltar in their final match.
This section is extremely tight with no fewer than four teams in with a genuine chance of making it to Russia 2018. Croatia lead the way on 16 points but only on goal difference from Iceland with both Turkey and Ukraine just two points further behind.
There are plenty of crucial fixtures left but Turkey v Iceland on Friday October 6 is arguably the most critical. Croatia are at a best of just 1/8 with Betway and Winner Sports when they host Finland on the same night so the pressure is on Turkey at 101/100 with MarathonBet and Iceland at 16/5 with William Hill.
The action starts this Thursday in a packed few days of action. We’ve picked the best of the games from round nine, after which the markets will open for the final set of matches so head over to your sportsbook accounts and get involved with some excellent early prices.