Following a breathtaking start to the campaign, domestic football takes a break over the next few days as the 2018 World Cup qualifiers take precedence.
Thursday’s highlight comes from Group A when two of the grand old names of world football, France and the Netherlands meets in Paris. While Les Bleus’ talent stocks are possibly on a par with the best they have ever had, the Oranje are very much a team in transition.
For all of their rivals’ past exploits, it is Sweden who lead the pool and they are in action in Bulgaria. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s international retirement has left the Swedes with even less sparkle but their pragmatism can come in handy in games like this.
10/13 for the away win is a decent price, especially when considering that Bulgaria have not beaten them since 1967 and have failed to score against Thursday’s opponents since 1993.
Portugal and Switzerland will also expect to keep the pressure on each other in Group B against the Faroes and Andorra respectively, while anyone looking at a treble may back Bosnia-Herzegovina, Greece and Belgium to all get the business done in Group H.
The Bosnians’ trip to Cyprus is the hardest game, but the other two should have no issues against Estonia and Gibraltar and a three-fold can be found at 27/25.
Then on Friday, there could be another treble on the cards but this time for the Home Nations. Both England and Scotland go in Group F against Malta and Lithuania respectively and will expect to win, while Slovakia should edge past Slovenia in Trnava at 6/5.
Speaking of that treble and Northern Ireland will be shocked if they do not beat San Marino and a multiple with all three is 17/20.
Also in Group C, Germany’s young side could have a headache in the Czech Republic despite being 20/43 to succeed in Prague and anyone spying an upset may look to Oslo where Norway host Azerbaijan. The Azeris won when these two clashed earlier in qualifying and the Norwegians are not even close to their past standards.
It’s a big call but Azerbaijan are an improving team under Robert Prosinecki and 11/2 looks an exceptional price for an away win.
Group E is also on the agenda on Friday and Poland will be hoping to put things to bed when they travel to Denmark. The Poles won an entertaining clash 3-2 in Warsaw last October and goals could be a feature. Another case of over 3.5 goals can be found at 13/5, while with Robert Lewandowski around, an away win with both scoring could be the answer at 19/4.
Elsewhere in the pool, 5/12 Romania should have no issues at home to Armenia, while Montenegro can take another step towards qualifying for a first ever major tournament when they travel east to Kazakhstan, with them 20/29 to back up the 5-0 victory they claimed in their last meeting.
The highlight of Saturday’s matches and arguably the weekend is Spain’s clash with Italy at the Bernabeu. La Roja are the favourites at 5/6, with the Azzurri 7/2 but the pair played out a draw last year. Another 1-1 is 11/2 and the draw at 12/5 could be the outcome.
More excitement is promised from Group D where the top four can all still make it through to Russia and Wales’ game with Austria could prove especially pertinent. The pair played out a 2-2 draw in Vienna and another entertaining game is expected.
Pool leaders Serbia should also do the business at home to Moldova but the Republic of Ireland could come unstuck away in Georgia. Scotland’s Euro 2016 hopes were hit by a defeat in Tbilisi and Martin O’Neill’s men will see this as one of their toughest remaining games.
The Jvarosnebi are often unpredictable but just like Wales, the Republic have shown they can secure big results, including on their last trip to the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena, and an away win is 20/27.
There’s also Group I action where Croatia should outclass Kosovo, while Iceland will not be afraid of Finland at 1/1 but the game between Ukraine and Turkey is tough to call. The pair both sit on 11 points and know a defeat could end their World Cup hopes.
Having drawn 2-2 in their previous meeting another draw could be the way to go, with the tie 43/20.
Finally we look at Sunday’s action and back to Group A where it appears a more straightforward task this time around. Both France and the Netherlands should succeed against Luxembourg and Bulgaria. However, it promises to be another awkward night for Sweden but they should get over the line in Belarus.
Bosnia-Herzegovina should also make it two from two against Gibraltar, while Estonia will fancy an upset when they welcome Cyprus to Tallinn.
The final game in Group H is likely to see Belgium get one over on Greece but this is by no means guaranteed. The pair played out a 1-1 draw in Brussels but the Red Devils are unlikely to make the same mistakes again.
Finally to Group B and Portugal look like they should scrape though in Hungary and Switzerland should have no issues in Latvia, and look out for a rare win for Faroe Islands when Andorra come to town.
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