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Guide to World Cup Qualifiers


The European section of World Cup qualifiers resume this Thursday (31st Aug) and there is much at stake for the competing home nations.

Each of the five sides will have two key fixtures over the course of the week as the Premier League season takes its first break.

England

The Three Lions can take two major steps towards qualification over the coming fixtures, with Gareth Southgate’s side considered outstanding favourites for both matches according to the bookies.

Despite a shaky 2-2 display against bitter rivals Scotland in June, qualification could be secured by midweek if results go their way.

Odds to qualify: 1/66 (SkyBet)

Malta vs England

If things are to go as expected, Friday night (1st September) should be a walk in the park for England.

Malta are currently bottom of Group F, recording six losses in the six fixtures played so far. England produced an unconvincing 2-0 display when the sides last met. Goals from Dele Alli and Daniel Sturridge sealed a victory for the group leaders.

Despite this, England surely have enough of an attacking threat to see off Malta, despite the retirement of England Captain Wayne Rooney.

England vs Slovakia

If the first fixtures, against Malta and Slovenia for England and Slovakia respectively, go as predicted for the two sides, then fans can expect a top-of-the-table clash in Monday’s (4th September) game. Slovakia have been impressive so far during qualification and, at present, only trail England by two points.

In the corresponding fixture last September, Sam Allardyce’s men recorded a 1-0 victory in his one and only game as England manager. Adam Lallana’s 95th minute winner set England en route to a successful qualification campaign to date.

Slovenia are only three points off the top spot and will be eager to take advantage if any side slip up here.

Northern Ireland

Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland side have had a very successful campaign so far. They currently hold second place behind group favourites, and current World Cup holders, Germany.

With five points separating the top two sides, the Green and White Army will be content finishing runners up to give themselves a chance of World Cup qualification.

Odds to qualify: 4/9 (SkyBet)

San Marino vs Northern Ireland

This is the perfect opportunity for Northern Ireland to put pressure on third placed Czech Republic who trail them by four points.

When O’Neill’s side faced San Marino in October, goals from Steven Davis, Jamie Ward, and a brace from Kyle Lafferty secured a straightforward 4-0 win at Windsor Park.

Despite the fact they’re away from home this time around, a similar scoreline is certainly expected against a side who have conceded 30 goals in the last six fixtures.

Northern Ireland vs Czech Republic

With the Czech Republic facing Germany on Friday night, it’s very likely that the Northern Irish will head into their fixture with a larger advantage than the four points at present.

When the sides met last September, Northern Ireland secured a point in Prague. With Windsor Park expected to be rocking on Monday, O’Neill will feel confident of matching or even bettering the result this time around.

Scotland

Scotland, who have not qualified for the tournament since their 1998 appearance in France, join Group F alongside England, have had a relatively unsuccessful campaign so far compared to their counter parts south of the border.

However, with Gordon Strachan’s side just four points off a playoff place, victories in the next two games are essential if they want to keep their hopes of progression alive.

Odds to qualify: 20/1 (SkyBet)

Lithuania vs Scotland

This fixture could be make or break for Scotland, as it’s surely the more difficult out of the two.

Scotland were expected to beat Lithuania in their corresponding fixture back in October but the 1-1 shocker was one of the early signs of yet more potential misery for the Scots.

In fact, Scotland would have lost the fixture if it wasn’t for a very late equaliser from Crystal Palace midfielder James McArthur. Scotland will be looking to put things right on Friday night in Vilnius.

Lithuania can overtake the Scots on the head-to-head ruling if they’re victorious on home turf.

Scotland vs Malta

Scotland are surely going to be more confident about this fixture at Hampden Park on Tuesday evening.

When the two sides last faced off in Group F, Scotland thrashed Malta 5-1 away from home, with West Ham midfielder Robert Snodgrass scoring an impressive hat trick.

Malta are without doubt the weakest side in the group. If Scotland are triumphant in Lithuania, a follow-up win against the Maltese national team will give them a glimmer of qualification hope, with two games remaining.

Wales

Chris Coleman’s side don’t appear to be repeating the impressive qualification campaign that saw them reach the last European Championships.

Wales are currently four points off group D leaders Serbia, who currently clip the Republic of Ireland on the head-to-head ruling. But if they want to stand a chance of visiting Russia next summer, they’re going to need to conjure up at least four points over their next two fixtures.

Odds to qualify: 6/5 (SkyBet)

Wales vs Austria

This is arguably the Welsh side’s most difficult imminent fixture. A victory against former Swiss international Marcel Koller’s eleven will give Wales breathing space from Austria. The two teams are currently level on eight points.

Wales will feel confident going into the fixture after picking up an impressive point in Vienna in the corresponding game back in October. However, some Welsh fans may have seen the result as two points dropped as they threw away a 2-1 lead to eventually draw the game 2-2.

Moldova vs Wales

Wales will fancy their chances against opponents Moldova, who currently sit rock bottom of the group, one point off Georgia.

Last time around, a double from talisman Gareth Bale inspired the Welsh to a 4-0 victory in Cardiff. On Tuesday night, though in Chișinău, a victory is essential. Any points dropped could potentially scupper their chances of qualification with their rivals looking to benefit.

With many games set to take place this weekend, midweek free bets are going to be available amongst many UK bookmakers. However, with results being unpredictable so far for Britain’s sides, it’ll be difficult to predict the outcome of this week’s matches.

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