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Friday, 22 March 2013

World Cup 2014 Qualifier Picks (March 22)

Domestic football has taken a two week break and that means it is getting the focus back to qualifying for the World Cup to be held in Brazil next Summer. This is usually quite a boring time as far as I am concerned as I have never been overly taken in by international football, particularly when it comes to the qualifying games that seem to produce a number of total mismatches.

That is the case in the first round of games on Friday as England travel to San Marino and it is no surprise that the media have decided to focus on other other elements rather than the game considering England are going to cruise to victory.

Instead, the focus has shifted onto Rio Ferdinand and the decision to withdraw from the squad- those with short memories have been quick to take their shots at Ferdinand, with Stan Collymore being a particularly vocal element.

Those people have tended to dismiss Ferdinand's claims that his fitness is at risk and have tried to put the blame squarely at the feet of Rio being 'bitter' about the terrible way he was treated by England during the John Terry racism incident.

England's management made the decision to back Terry in that incident, most likely because they believed he was the better 'long term' prospect for the national side, but that has proved to be a bad move on their part. Without much indication that it was likely to happen, Roy Hodgson then picked Rio Ferdinand for the squad, only to be later told that his strict fitness regiment designed to ensure he can continue playing at the top level for Manchester United meant Ferdinand could not possibly join up with the squad.

So those that believed Rio was wrong to do this have laughed off the 'fitness regiment' as a poor excuse for Ferdinand to get his own back on the national side and manager that refused to back him against Terry last season... Wrong as far as I am concerned.

Here is a simple reason why Ferdinand's excuse is more than a little legitimate... A simple timeline of events suggests those badgering Rio should get off his case:

First Rio is told he won't be picked for England for 'footballing reasons' (there is a poor excuse covering the real reason a player wasn't picked, the Terry problem, and one that Ferdinand had to accept).

A second key event was Hodgson openly telling people on a tube carriage he was sharing with them that Ferdinand's international future was finished as long as Hodgson was in charge of the national team.

Now I am making a couple of assumptions: I would guess that Rio Ferdinand, who is coming to the end of his contract at Manchester United, would have been told he needs to improve his fitness to get a new contract. Sir Alex Ferguson would want to call on him as much as possible and so a 'fitness regime' is put in place whereby the two week international breaks will be used in a way as to keep Ferdinand's strength and fitness at suitable levels.

Ferdinand accepts this to prolong his club career because he has no real thought of returning to the England fold, despite stating in public that he wouldn't retire from international football, as Hodgson's tube comments are clear.

For a while, there looks to be nothing to suggest Ferdinand will be called up to the England team despite some stellar performances for Manchester United who lead the Premier League. He isn't picked for the Brazil friendly in February so his 'fitness regime' has included playing a number of games and then able to rest and recuperate during the next international break in March. Ferdinand will get off to warmer climates and he will take in a punditry role at the same time as many players would- as he said himself, he would be watching the game anyway so this isn't anything unusual for him.

Suddenly England come calling and everyone is totally caught on the hop that Ferdinand may not be able to play because he has to follow strict instructions to ensure he can help Manchester United win, perhaps, the Double in the final two months of the season.

Personally, I just don't understand where any criticism towards Ferdinand comes from- how about Roy Hodgson assuming everything is hunky-dory with Ferdinand now half the centre backs in the Premier League are out injured/retired from international football? Shouldn't he have phoned someone at Old Trafford to see if there is anything he needs to know about a footballer he has ignored for over twelve months?

Or how about Hodgson not dismissing players' international future on a tube? The criticism of Ferdinand and the story in general is to help get people talking, because the game is uninspiring. I just don't think we would have seen a total over-reaction to what Ferdinand is doing if it was a big qualifier, for example the game with Montenegro coming up. The reason Ferdinand pulled out makes absolute sense to me and I think the blame lies squarely at the feet of Hodgson whose management in this case has left a lot to be desired.

Moldova v Montenegro Pick: England should be comfortable winners in San Marino tonight, so I am guessing there will be a few eyes on this game as Montenegro look to maintain their lead in the Group with the big game between the top two just days away.

England were 0-5 winners in Moldova, but the home nation are certainly no pushovers as they did earn a credible 0-0 draw with Ukraine in their other home game. Moldova are certainly a tough test for a team at home and even the likes of Holland have struggled to put them to the sword here with the England result a real exception to recent performances.

On the other hand, Montenegro have relied on a solid defensive base to push their charge forward in the Group and they have enough attacking threat to think they will find a goal. However, they are not heavy scorers on their travels, despite the six scored in San Marino, and so they will have to rely on their defence which has conceded just 2 goals in 4 qualifiers so far and one that earned a clean sheet while Montenegro won in Ukraine.

With that in mind, I think taking the away team to win to nil may be the best way forward.

San Marino v England Pick: I really think a small unit on San Marino to pull the upset is the call at 66-1... No, clearly not, and I think it would be a surprise if the minnows scored in this one as they didn't against either Montenegro nor Moldova here in the Group so far.

However, just because Montenegro managed six, doesn't mean England will as San Marino have only conceded that total in 1 of their last 18 home games, including against the likes of Sweden and Holland who both managed 5.

I think England will perhaps have one eye looking ahead to the game with Montenegro so backing them to win 0-4 or 0-5 looks a decent shout and gives back a decent price if either score hits.

Northern Ireland v Russia Pick: The snow has been falling in Belfast and there is every chance that this game won't be played until Saturday, but either way it looks a tough ask for Northern Ireland to get a result against the Russian national team which is dominating this Group so far.

A highly credible draw in Portugal has been wasted by Northern Ireland with home draws against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan and it is unlikely that they will be playing at the World Cup thanks to those results. However, a win over Russia would give Northern Ireland some hope and that may also lead to their downfall in this one as far as I am concerned.

The crowd at Windsor Park will be urging Northern Ireland to get forward and I do think Russia will be able to pick them off on the counter, while there is also a chance of a late goal on the counter if the home side are chasing the game.

Much of Russia's success comes at home, so the temperature in Northern Ireland won't affect them in my opinion, while the 0-4 success in Israel shows how dangerous the Russian team can be. With Israel and Portugal sharing a point each in their Group game earlier, Russia should have extra motivation to put Northern Ireland to the sword and I think they win by a couple of goals at least.

Uruguay v Paraguay Pick: Brazil are the hosts of the next World Cup and both Argentina and Uruguay were expected to pick up two of the top four automatic qualifiers in this section without too many worries.

Argentina are doing just that, but Uruguay have struggled and are currently in 5th place, which would mean a Play Off. However, they share 12 points with both Venezuela above them and Chile below and Uruguay could be in the top four by the end of the evening.

This game does mean a lot to them as Uruguay travel to Chile on Tuesday and have picked up 11 of their 12 points in front of their own fans while also scoring plenty of goals. They will look to become the latest to take advantage of Paraguay's poor away form which has seen the latter lose all 5 in this qualifying campaign and all by at least 2 goals.

Paraguay are bottom of the section and are 5 points behind the Play Off positions, but their away form has not inspired many people to think they will catch up. They concede plenty and have only scored twice on their travels so far in this Group and so backing the home side to become the latest to win by at least 2 goals looks the call.

MY PICKS: Montenegro Win to Nil @ 2.63 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
England to win 0-4 or 0-5 @ 3.00 (1 Unit) Back 0-4 at Bet Fred @ 6.00, Back 0-5 at Coral @ 6.00
Russia - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.60 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Uruguay - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Pinnacle (1 Unit)

March Update: 15-18, + 3.60 Units (47 Units Staked, + 7.66% Yield)

February Final14-23, - 2.81 Units (48 Units Staked, - 5.85% Yield)
January Final10-22, - 10.89 Units (45 Units Staked, - 24.2% Yield)
December Final17-24-1, - 0.83 Units (53 Units Staked, - 0.02 % Yield)
November Final8-21, - 8.25 Units (37 Units Staked, - 22.3% Yield)
October Final9-9, + 5.44 Units (27 Units Staked, 20.1% Yield)
September Final17-11, + 21.19 Units (46 Units Staked, 46.1% Yield)
August Final12-13, + 1.29 Units (40 Units Staked, 3.22% Yield)

Season 2012/13+ 5.14 Units (296 Units Staked, + 1.74% Yield)

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