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Sunday, 6 September 2015

Euro 2016 Qualifiers Picks 2015 (September 6-8)

The first round of Euro 2016 Qualifiers were played over the last three days and that has made the picture a lot clearer in the Groups with just three rounds of games left to play. Some nations have booked their places at France for the tournament next summer, while others are on the brink and will see the next three days as a chance to confirm their places for a major international tournament.

Below is my quick recap of the state of play in the nine Qualifying Groups and then I will have picks for the upcoming games to be played from Sunday 6th September until Tuesday 8th September 2015.

Group A- It looked like it was three teams going into two automatic places at the beginning of the fourth round of games, but things have become much murkier for the Netherlands.

A home loss to Iceland means the Netherlands are now relying on a collapse from Iceland and the Czech Republic for them to finish in the top two, while the trip to Turkey on Sunday may decide which of those nations finishes in the Play Off.

Turkey have to be disappointed they conceded a late goal at home against Latvia which left them a point behind Holland, while the Czech Republic scored two late goals to beat Kazakhstan and are very close to qualifying for France 2016.

Iceland need a point to confirm their place and should get that this week, while the Czech Republic will also be through if they win in Latvia and Holland fail to win in Turkey.

Group B- The Welsh fans can 'get excited' according to Chris Coleman after a late winner in Cyprus means Wales are just about to end a long wait to reach a major international tournament. They can confirm their place by beating Israel on Sunday, although a draw would be enough too with a home game against Andorra to come and being 5 points clear of Israel in the section.

Belgium came from behind to beat Bosnia & Herzegovina and that makes them favourites to join Wales as the automatic qualifiers from the section, although they still have a little more work to do.

The Play Off place still looks open as Israel have to play in Wales and Belgium in two of their remaining three places, but both Cyprus and Bosnia will need help and to secure a surprise win or two to close that gap and overtake Israel.

Group C- Spain ended the 100% record that Slovakia had in this section with an easy home win on Saturday and that means the reigning two time defending European Champions will likely clinch their place in France by beating Macedonia and Luxembourg in their next two games.

The big one in the Group this week is Slovakia hosting Ukraine as a win for the home team coupled with a win from Spain will effectively lock up the top two spots in the Group and leave Ukraine awaiting the Play Off draw.

Group D- If Scotland fail to finish in the top three in this section, they will look at the 1-0 loss in Georgia as being the game that cost them. That defeat saw the Republic of Ireland overtake Scotland into 3rd place and now the Scots face Germany at home with a desperate need to earn a surprise bonus point or three.

However, Germany looked very, very good in their 3-1 win over Poland on Friday and they look like they are ready to take control of the Group and put themselves in a position to automatically qualify for France 2016 next month.

A win for Germany in Scotland and an Ireland home loss to Georgia would be enough, but it is unlikely, while Poland can get back to winning ways against the weakest team in the section when Gibraltar visit them and keep control of 2nd place for now.

Group E- England became the first team other than France to book their place at the European Championships next summer as they maintained their 100% record in the Group. Winning their remaining three Group games would be a big achievement for Roy Hodgson, while Wayne Rooney will be looking to set a new record for international goals for an Englishman.

Switzerland came from 0-2 down to beat Slovenia at home on Saturday and that puts them in the driving seat to earn the second of the automatic qualifying spots and the defeat for Slovenia dropped them down to 4th behind Estonia who they play on Tuesday.

The Swiss can guarantee their place in the tournament next summer if they win at Wembley Stadium and the Slovenia-Estonia game ends in a draw.

Group F- Northern Ireland beat the Faroe Islands 1-3 on Friday to put themselves very close to reaching the European Championships, but they are just as close to being put into the Play Offs. A top three place has virtually been wrapped up, but Northern Ireland have a precarious grip on the top two positions, especially if they were to lose to Hungary on Monday.

Hungary earned a draw with Romania and are 4 points behind Northern Ireland, but if they can win in Belfast they might be favoured to finish above Northern Ireland. However, a win for Northern Ireland would mean they qualify as one of the top two teams in the section.

That is a big match, while Romania can virtually wrap up qualification if they win their home game against Greece and Hungary are beaten in Northern Ireland.

Group G- The last couple of Qualifying Groups have seen Austria getting closer to returning to a major international tournament, but they finally look to be on the brink of doing that again with a 7 point lead over Russia and just three games to play. The fact that Austria host Liechtenstein in one of those games means they are very likely to be playing in France next summer without worrying about a Play Off spot.

The Russians will be hoping Austria confirm their place in France by beating Sweden on Tuesday as that would give Russia a chance to overtake Sweden in the second automatic qualifying spot with two games to play that Russia would be favoured to win.

Sweden might have lost in Russia, but they still have their destiny in their own hands and a win over Austria on Tuesday would make them a big favourite to join them as an automatic qualifier with their two remaining games against the weakest teams in this section.

Group H- You have to still favour Croatia and Italy to come out this section with the automatic qualifying berths, but the former blew a big chance to turn the screw when drawing 0-0 in Azerbaijan on Thursday. With Norway two points behind both of these nations, the Croatian team head to Oslo for a very difficult looking match this week.

Italy should be more comfortable hosting Bulgaria and winning that game should mean it is enough knowing they visit Azerbaijan next month, although Italy have to be warned by Croatia's failure to win there.

Bulgaria lost at home to Norway a couple of days ago and are effectively out, while Norway know they need to win against Croatia to have a chance of finishing in the top two knowing they still have to visit Italy in the section.

Wales v Israel Pick: Gareth Bale continues his really impressive form for Wales and he has been a big reason why this team is on the brink of making it to their first major international tournament in a couple of generations.

A tight game in Cyprus looked to be heading for a goalless draw until Bale popped up with a fantastic strike in the final five minutes and that means Wales are a win on Sunday away from booking their place at France for the European Championship.

I don't think Israel are going to come to Wales and roll over as they look to finish in one of the top two positions in the Group, and they have scored in their three away games so far in the Group. However, it also has to be said they have played the three teams below them in the section and have yet to visit Belgium or Wales and Israel were comfortably beaten in Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Wales crushed Israel 0-3 in the away game which means a draw is going to be an acceptable result for Chris Coleman and keep the side in a very strong position in the Group. However, I do think a player like Bale continues to produce the magic for Wales and the home team might be able catch Israel on the counter attack as they are likely to be pushing for a vital three points.

After a tough night, I can see Wales confirming their place in France next summer behind another Gareth Bale inspired victory.

Iceland v Kazakhstan Pick: A two legged defeat to Croatia in the World Cup Qualifying Play Offs meant Iceland were unable to reach their first major international tournament at the event in Brazil last summer. However, that was a clear sign that this Iceland team were improving and they have backed up those performances by getting to within a point of qualifying for France 2016.

Home and away wins over Holland in the Group means Iceland are 8 points clear of the Netherlands in 3rd place and a draw on Sunday will be enough for them to move through to France. Iceland might not be a team with too many recognisable names, but they have come together as a unit and will be very confident they can do enough to make sure of their place in the European Championships at home.

That is because they have already beaten Holland, the Czech Republic and Turkey here in this Group and Iceland have been comfortable winners in each game. Kazakhstan did lead at the Czech Republic on Thursday and have scored in each of their away games in the Group, but Iceland won 0-3 in Astana and I would be surprised if Iceland weren't the victors in this one and becoming the latest nation to confirm their place in France.

Kazakhstan are not a walkover on their travels, but Iceland are confident, have the momentum of a big win in Holland behind them and have scored plenty of goals at home. I think they are likely to win this one by a couple of goals.

Italy v Bulgaria Pick: The Italian national side looks to be going through a bit of a transitional period as they still look good enough to qualify for major international tournaments, but perhaps short of the best teams in Europe.

However, you can't read too much into their Qualifier results as Italy routinely struggled in these kind of matches as they look to do just enough to get through the Group.

Italy look like they are going to do enough to finish in the top two this time around, but they have to beat Bulgaria to put themselves in a position to qualify for France 2016 next month. The visitors might be a little demoralised having lost a vital home game against Norway on Thursday which has effectively ended their chances of even finishing 3rd in the Group and that might make them less of a threat than they might have been if they had won that game.

The last two times Italy have hosted Bulgaria has seen the home team do just enough to win the game, but they have also backed it up with a couple of clean sheets. I think the Italian team will be looking to maintain their defensive shape and try and use that to form the basis of a victory because they don't look like a team that will score too many goals at the moment.

Bulgaria have scored in all three of their away Qualifiers in the Group, but have yet to visit Italy and Croatia and I am not sure how much belief is left in the team after their 0-1 loss to Norway. This will be a tight game, but one I think Italy can win with a clean sheet.

Armenia v Denmark PickThe absence of Christian Eriksen was always going to be difficult for Denmark to overcome, but they would still have expected to have beaten Albania and had all of the play in that match. However, the goalless draw means they need to win here and really hope Albania slip up in their chase if Denmark want to finish in the top two places.

It will be far from easy for them in their visit to Armenia despite the poor Qualifying results that this nation have put together. The extended European Championship looked a good chance for Armenia to challenge for one of the top three positions in the Group, but they have not been able to put it together at all.

Recent home games have been tough for Armenia, although they will be glad to see Christian Eriksen sitting out which looks to be the case for Denmark. It takes away a huge amount of the creativity that Denmark have in their squad, but I can still them work hard and find some openings in this one with Armenia's recent home defensive issues.

Denmark are not a great away team to back though and that would be a concern, but they won here a couple of years ago in the last World Cup Qualifiers and the home team might be a little deflated after a poor Qualifying campaign. Odds on are not the most appealing quotes for Denmark and being without their influential playmaker might mean they take a different approach and look to secure the defensive side of things and hope a single goal is enough.

A small interest in Denmark winning by a single goal margin might be the most reasonable way to back an away win considering the poor away form and the lack of Danish goals.

Poland v Gibraltar PickThere isn't a lot to say about this game as Poland look to remain a step ahead of the Republic of Ireland and Scotland for the second automatic qualifier spot in this Group behind Germany.

The attacking display produced in the limited time Poland had the ball in Germany will encourage them going forward and I think there will be too much for Gibraltar who haven't been disgraced in the Group.

You can already pick Gibraltar to sit back and look to defend in numbers, but Poland managed to break them down effectively in the first game between the nations and I expect they will win again.

The margin is the key and Poland have shown they can put the lesser teams to the sword in this Group more effectively than Scotland and the Republic of Ireland. They have hit eight goals in two games against Georgia, beating them 4-0 both home and away and I think they can win this by six and cover the handicap.

Republic of Ireland v Georgia PickIf Scotland miss out on a top three finish in this Group, they will be able to thank Georgia for that defeat on Friday and I think that win for the Georgians will have focused the Republic of Ireland.

Fortunately for Martin O'Neill, his Ireland team had a relatively easy day in the office on Friday as they won comfortably in Gibraltar and they will be looking to expose any tiredness in the Georgia squad. There is no doubt that Georgia had to dig a lot deeper than Ireland and I do wonder if they have had enough time to recover physically as they get set for a visit to Dublin.

They have struggled against the Republic of Ireland in the past including a 4-0 defeat in Dublin in a friendly in 2013. Six straight losses to Ireland is another mental aspect to overcome as well as the physical issues coming out of a tough game and Georgia may just have a hard time keeping tabs with the home team.

It is vitally important for the Republic of Ireland to win this game and I think they are good enough to do that. I believe they can expose a tiring Georgia team as the game gets into the second half and Ireland can record an important three points by winning this game by more than a single goal.

Scotland v Germany PickScotland were so, so bad in Georgia in the first half and they didn't improve markedly in the second half, especially in the final third which has left them in a difficult place in the Group. Instead of being level with Poland and using this game as a bonus one to gain points, Scotland will be desperate for any kind of result to maintain their chances of finishing in the top three in the Group.

Any kind of performance similar to the one they had in Georgia and Scotland are going to be totally outplayed by Germany. The World Champions were very good against Poland and the 3-1 scoreline didn't flatter them at all with the final score potentially being wider if Germany had shown a little more clinical finishing when the chances came their way.

Of course the away games in international football are much more difficult, but Germany will have the majority of the ball and that possession will tire out Scotland. Of course Scotland have raised their game when playing the better teams in the Group, but they have to pick themselves up from the disappointing performance in Georgia.

When England visited in a friendly, they were clearly the better team and that was a game that Scotland had taken seriously. Now they face a stronger team and one that looks focused on earning their place in France for next summer's European Championship and Germany will be focused knowing a loss could put them in an awkward position.

Scotland have won 5 of their last 6 games at home, but the defeat to England came against the best time to visit in that run. They were also beaten 0-2 by Belgium in the World Cup Qualifiers and I think Germany will match that scoreline on the form they displayed on Friday.

England v Switzerland PickQualifying for the European Championship next summer in France was the first goal that England were expected to achieve and now Roy Hodgson has to put in the work to make sure they do better than they did at the last World Cup. Another Group Stage exit would mean Hodgson is replaced for the next set of World Cup Qualifiers, but England have to feel confident they can have an impact in this tournament.

For the remainder of this Group, Hodgson has admitted he will be looking to experiment with his team as the preparation for Euro 2016 begins. The game against Switzerland is unlikely to be the beginning of that experiment though and I think the squad for the games in October might have a different feel than usual.

While England can relax and perhaps keep their fingers crossed that Wayne Rooney can become the leading England international goalscorer, Switzerland have work to do to make sure they get to France too. They had to dig very deep to beat Slovenia at home on Saturday and I wonder if that has taken something away from the legs with this short turnaround.

Switzerland came back from 0-2 down to beat Slovenia 3-2 at home which puts them in the driving seat to finish 2nd in the Group, but it is not an insurmountable lead with three games left. Slovenia have the head to head advantage, but have six points to make up although their remaining three games look more winnable than Switzerland's.

Estonia would be more of a threat if they didn't have to play in Slovenia and England in two of their remaining three games while the home game against Switzerland is hardly a guaranteed three points.

That should mean that Switzerland can take a risk to get something out of this game and their extra intensity makes them dangerous. Games between these teams at Wembley Stadium have been pretty exciting for the fans in the past and both teams will likely give this a go.

4 of the last 5 games in England between these teams have featured at least three goals and I think the odds against quote on that happening again looks a price worthy of being backed.

Moldova v Montenegro Pick: The abandoned home game against Russia which resulted in a win for the away team means Montenegro are going to need a big performance in their last three games and hope for results to go their way to keep alive the European Championship dream.

They are three points behind Russia with a 0-3 home defeat in the books which means Montenegro likely need to win their last three games and hope Russia fail to win another, or Sweden fail to do the same. It looks a big ask with the fixtures remaining for these three nations and it won't matter if Montenegro fail to win in Moldova.

However, Moldova have taken a backwards step during this Qualifying campaign compared to recent performances and will do well to avoid finishing bottom of the Group. They have lost all three home games in the Group including a stunning 0-1 defeat to Liechtenstein.

Montenegro were stunned 2-5 by Moldova at home in the last World Cup Qualifying Group, but they did win their game in Moldova 0-1 and I think Montenegro are good enough to do that again. They were comfortable 2-0 home winners over Liechtenstein on Saturday so Montenegro haven't given up on chasing down Russia although they would have hoped Sweden could have gotten a result in Moscow on the same day.

At odds against, Montenegro can keep the pressure on the two teams above them by winning this game as they visit a nation who have lost 6 of their last 8 home games.

MY PICKS: Wales @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Iceland - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.90 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Italy Win to Nil @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)
Denmark to Win by One Goal @ 3.75 Betway (1 Unit)
Poland - 5.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Republic of Ireland - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Germany - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
England-Switzerland Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.20 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Montenegro @ 2.05 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

September Update: 5-3, + 3.34 Units (16 Units Staked, + 20.88% Yield)

August Final16-31-1, - 24.34 Units (94 Units Staked, - 25.89% Yield)

Season 2015/16: 16-31-1, - 24.34 Units (94 Units Staked, - 25.89% Yield)
Season 2014/15159-208-5, - 20.22 Units (647 Units Staked, - 3.13% Yield)
Season 2013/14164-185-3, + 15.84 Units (577 Units Staked, + 2.75% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

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