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Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2020 (February 8-17)

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Thursday, 1 September 2016

Weekend Football Picks 2016 (September 1-6)

I am not a fan of the international breaks, especially as it feels this one has come so soon after the Premier League has gotten back underway. However at least the August friendlies have been removed from the calendar and there is plenty of top football to come in September with the European competitions beginning as well as many big games in the Premier League as the Manchester derby will be opening next weekend's slate.

I was thinking of creating two threads for the World Cup Qualifiers taking place this week, but have decided to put them in one as there is only a single Round of fixtures from the UEFA Qualifiers. We do have two Rounds in South America taking place over the next few days, but I will keep this post as the 'Featured Post' on the site through Thursday games and will then place it back there on Sunday once Week 1 of the College Football season is virtually completed by Saturday evening.

One poor week in August cost me the chance of a winning record in the month, but I did make a dent in the numbers in the final week of domestic football of the month.A bit more luck would have seen a much bigger hit on those numbers, but it is far better than the last couple of years when I've been almost 20 Units down by the end of August before getting things turned around.

September has usually been more positive, but last season was a struggle through to December and I am looking to avoid that fate this time around.

Colombia v Venezuela PickThis has been a fixture that Colombia have struggled with in recent matches against Venezuela, but they have a strong home record and deserve to be favourites to win the match.

The last meeting in Colombia was back in 2011 and I do think recent form has put Colombia in a much better place when heading into this fixture. They have been strong at home in World Cup Qualifiers and a lot of their recent wins have come by a couple of goals.

As well as Venezuela have done in the Copa America, they have lost 5 of 6 Qualifiers already and this looks a long shot to break their duck and reach a World Cup Finals for the first time. Venezuela have conceded at least twice in 5 of their last 6 away Qualifiers and that is going to put them under pressure to score the goals to earn points on their travels.

As poor as Colombia's recent games against Venezuela have been, I think they can earn a rare victory against the weakest team in South America and I will back them to win this by a couple of goals.

Ecuador v Brazil PickThe start made by Ecuador to the World Cup Qualifiers meant they had begun to think about automatic Qualification to the Finals in Russia despite a loaded Group containing World Cup regulars in Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil. However they have had a blip in their last 2 Qualifiers and will be looking to get back to winning ways in the next few days.

This might not be the perfect time to face Brazil who are coming in off the high of winning the Olympic Gold Medal for the first time in their history. However it should be noted that this Brazil team is not as strong as some of the others they have had and those stronger teams did not have the best record in World Cup Qualifiers in Ecuador.

Only a controversial decision from the officials prevented Ecuador from beating Brazil at the Copa America this summer, but that does mean Ecuador still have a poor recent record against them. Failing to win their last 2 Qualifiers suggests the team might just have been caught looking ahead far too early and I am not sure they can win this World Cup Qualifier.

On the other hand, I can't see Brazil winning in Ecuador for the first time in the World Cup Qualifiers either and so having a small interest in the draw looks the call. That is a result that won't disappoint either team too much and looks the most likely outcome from this fixture.

Argentina v Uruguay PickArgentina versus Uruguay is one of the fiercest rivalries in South America and both teams will be desperate to earn their fans bragging rights. It is a more meaningful game for Argentina who are trailing Uruguay in the World Cup Qualifier standings, but this has all the makings of a really tight and competitive fixture.

Argentina might have won their last 4 home Qualifiers against Uruguay, but this current Group has seen them struggle for goals despite the healthy array of talent at their disposal. This is also the first game for many of the senior players since the Copa America disappointment and I am also interested to see how the fans react to the returning Lionel Messi who has reversed an international retirement in the last few weeks.

They are facing a very good attacking line up from Uruguay too with both Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani capable of breaching the best defences. That threat makes Uruguay a big danger, but they haven't travelled well in recent Qualifiers and I think I am just edging towards Argentina.

However I think the home team are plenty short and I am not sure they are going to win by the margin the layers believe. Games between Argentina and Uruguay do tend to be tight and I wouldn't be surprised if this is decided by a single goal margin.

I will have a small interest on Argentina winning this by a one goal margin at a big price in the first of two World Cup Qualifiers they play over the next few days.

Paraguay v Chile PickThere was some real pressure building on Juan Antonio Pizzi as manager of Chile as many felt he was underachieving with the squad at his disposal. That is no longer the case as he guided Chile to another Copa America title this past summer and Chile's counter attacking style makes them a very dangerous away team to face.

I am not sure how much Paraguay will want to come onto Chile, a team that has beaten them in 6 of their last 8 games, but they have to know they need to earn as many points at home if they are going to Qualify for the next World Cup Finals. That means the onus is on Paraguay to get forward knowing they have to face the best South American competition away from home over the next thirteen months.

This should make this World Cup Qualifier an entertaining game for the neutrals and Chile have been involved in plenty of high-scoring games already in the Group. Chile are the joint highest scorers after six games, but only the bottom three nations have conceded more and their last 5 away World Cup Qualifiers have all featured at least three goals shared out.

6 of the last 7 Paraguay home World Cup Qualifiers have reached that mark too while 3 of the last 4 fixtures between these nations have ended the same way. Backing goals in this Qualifier looks like it could give us a run and at odds against it has to be worth looking for at least three goals shared out.

Denmark v Armenia Pick: The big news for Armenia, and Manchester United, was the knock suffered by Henrikh Mkhitaryan which means the Armenian Captain will miss this first World Cup Qualifier. This does look an open Group though where Armenia will think they can make some noise as Poland, Romania and Denmark are the top three teams expected to reach the World Cup Finals in Russia in two years time.

Two of those nations did play at Euro 2016, but Denmark were not one of those thanks to some surprisingly poor performances in the Qualifying Group. This side is not as strong as those in the past, but Mkhitaryan being ruled out does mean Denmark should be opening up with three points in the Qualifiers.

Like many international teams, Armenia have become harder to beat on their travels as they make sure they are defending properly and looking to catch teams on the break. Without their Captain it is difficult to see where Armenia will turn to when it comes to creating chances, but they have only lost 2 of 15 away Qualifiers by more than a single goal margin.

I'd be surprised if Denmark are able to do that with plenty of tight games at home and they did have to come from a goal behind to beat Armenia in the Euro 2016 Qualifiers. They are not the team of old that might have been too good for Qualifiers like this, but I think Denmark will win although will back them to do that by the smallest of margins.

Lithuania v Slovenia Pick: In a Group that contains Slovakia and England, who both played in the Euro 2016 Finals, Slovenia are looking to make some noise. However they might know exactly what they are capable of doing after just a single World Cup Qualifier when they visit Lithuania and anything other than the three points will be seen as a blow to their chances of finishing in the top two places in the section.

They did beat Lithuania in the Euro 2016 Qualifiers here, but could only earn a draw at home which is a bit of a concern. However I think Slovenia are going to be able to make it back to back wins here who have lost half of their last 10 home Qualifiers.

It was the away form which cost Slovenia a chance of making it through to France this summer as they were beaten in England, Switzerland and then Ukraine in the Play Offs. They did lead 0-2 at Switzerland before going down to a 3-2 defeat which effectively cost them a top two finish but they can get off a positive start in this Group having won 4 of their last 10 away Qualifiers and usually against the teams they are expected to beat.

I imagine it will be a tight game, but all the money has come in for Slovenia and I think they can make that count with a narrow win here.

Slovakia v England PickSam Allardyce might not have been the first choice for many, but I think England have appointed a manager who will use the strengths of the squad. For many years England have entered tournaments believing they are better than many nations and can outplay them, but Allardyce will give England a solid base and make them hard to beat which is the best way for this nation to start winning games in major tournaments again.

The Qualifiers look like they could give Allardyce a few problems to deal with as England play Slovakia, Slovenia and Scotland. Two of those teams have reached major international tournaments in recent years, while Scotland will always want to get the better of the Auld Enemy.

Getting off to a good start in the Group is important for England who are under pressure after a really disappointing end to Euro 2016 when stunned by Iceland. They did play Slovakia in the Group at the Finals which ended in a draw, but England had more of the play in that one and they will have a stronger eleven than the one Roy Hodgson used and was criticised for.

Slovakia can't be underestimated having made the Euro 2016 Finals while they did beat Spain here and draw with Ukraine in the Qualifiers. There is some attacking talent here led by Marek Hamsik, but I do give England the edge.

However I am not expecting England to win this one easily at what has been a tough venue to visit for teams. Even if England are leading, Sam Allardyce is unlikely to want his team to push too many men forward looking for a killer goal, but instead make sure gaps at the backs are filled in and England can defend out the lead.

I was tempted by England at odds against, but I think they are more likely to simply win by a one goal margin if they get into that position. Therefore I will back England to win by that margin as Allardyce makes a positive start to his new career as manager of the national team.

Malta v Scotland PickThere have been plenty of heartbreaking ways Scotland have either exited major international tournaments or missed out on the Finals, but the 1-0 defeat to Georgia in the last set of Qualifiers would have hurt. If Scotland had won in Georgia like the three sides that finished above them had done, they would have made the Play Offs rather than the Republic of Ireland.

This Group doesn't look as difficult as the Euro 2016 Qualifying Group did on paper, but the three teams Seeded above Scotland have all reached major international tournaments in recent years. That experience means Scotland are the fourth favourites in the section even if the layers believe they have a better chance than Slovenia.

The key for Scotland is getting off to a strong start as they play Malta and Lithuania before the trip to Slovakia. Win both of those and a draw in Slovakia would not be a bad result, but drop points and Scotland are already playing catch up in a Group where the three teams Seeded above them will be expecting to win all four games against Malta and Lithuania.

Malta might not be the big international name, but they can be tough to beat and they will make life difficult for Scotland. Croatia and Italy will back up those claims having secured narrow 0-1 wins at Malta in the Euro 2016 Qualifiers and while Malta have lost 9 of their last 10 Qualifiers at home, 6 of those have come by a single goal margin.

With Scotland struggling away from home in the Qualifiers of recent years and losing in Georgia, I can't imagine them winning this one with any sense of comfort. However I do believe Scotland will earn a narrow win here and I will back them to win this one by a single goal margin.

Georgia v Austria PickThere is no doubting how disappointing Austria were at the Euro 2016 tournament having been given the big build heading into that tournament. Now we have two ways in which Austria can go and that is either learn from their experiences and come back stronger in the World Cup in Russia or fall back to the pack in a difficult Qualifying Group and once again miss out.

I do think we will learn more about where Austria are heading after just this single Qualifier when they head to Georgia. As much as Georgia impressed in their 0-1 friendly win in Spain in June, this is a nation that has lost 7 of their last 11 home Qualifiers and who are not likely to challenge for a World Cup berth from the section.

There are much bigger tests ahead for Austria when they face Serbia, Wales and the Republic of Ireland in this Group, but they can restore some confidence by winning here. Austria won all 5 away Qualifiers in the Euro 2016 Qualifying Group including wins in Russia, Montenegro and Sweden and that should suggest they are good enough to win here in Georgia.

The home team will make life difficult for them and this will be a tight match, but I think Austria can earn the three points and begin restoring a shattered reputation.

Belarus v France PickHaving the chance to win a major international tournament on home soil is a once in a generation moment for players so it is no surprise that France will have been disappointed they fell short in the Final. They had the better chances in the defeat to Portugal, but this is still a young squad and the experiences could see them win a bigger prize in two years time.

France are a clear favourite in this Qualifying Group despite the 'big name' nations Sweden and Netherlands also taking part. I think both of those nations are in a transitional period of their history and France will be expected to win the Group.

They can't drop silly points though as they look to make a statement that the Euro 2016 Final defeat will not cost them in this World Cup Qualifying Group. The 1-3 win in Italy in a friendly last week will have given France confidence, but they won't underestimate Belarus who took four points off of them in the Euro 2012 Qualifiers.

It was France who won both games handily when they were in the same 2014 World Cup Qualifying Group though and Belarus have slipped from the level they were producing back in 2011. Spain might only have beaten them 0-1 here in the last Qualifying campaign, but both Ukraine and Slovakia were comfortable winners in Belarus and I think France have too many goals to be contained by them.

I can see France needing time to work out how to break down Belarus, but that should lead to more chances being created late on as Belarus perhaps chase an equaliser. France won 5 of their last 7 away friendly games and have scored at least twice in 4 of those while hitting three goals 3 times.

After a bit of battle, I look for the France quality to shine through as they put three points on the board before facing tougher tests in Bulgaria and Netherlands next month. I will back the French to win this one while covering the Asian Handicap.

Bosnia and Herzegovina v Estonia PickIt was a slow start to the Euro 2016 Qualifiers which cost Bosnia and Herzegovina an automatic place at the Finals, but they would have still expected to beat the Republic of Ireland in the Play Off Round. They can't afford a slow start to this Group if Bosnia and Herzegovina want to make it to back to back World Cup Finals and challenge Belgium for an automatic place in Russia rather than going back to the Play Offs where they have suffered enough heartache.

This does represent a very good chance to get off to a positive start against an Estonia team who have lost 8 of their last 10 away Qualifiers. Estonia have picked up a grand total of 17 points in their last two Qualifying Groups and are not expected to challenge for a top two place in the Group, but Bosnia and Herzegovina have to make sure they pick up the three points to give them a boost in confidence.

In all honesty Bosnia and Herzegovina have been strong at home in recent years when it comes to the Qualifiers and they have won 11 of their last 16 home Qualifiers. 9 of those 11 wins have come by at least two goals and Estonia have lost 6 of their 8 away Qualifier defeats by that same margin.

If Bosnia and Herzegovina can come out focused, I will expect them to win this one by a couple of goals and I will back them on the Asian Handicap to do that.

Cyprus v Belgium PickThere are one or two managers in football that I can't understand seem to land on their feet despite poor successes which are subsequently overrated. One of those is Roberto Martinez, who I simply don't rate very highly at all.

How has Martinez managed to wangle his way into the Belgium national job after failing at Everton and relegating Wigan Athletic in his final season at the helm there?? I am guessing Martinez is one of those characters with all the buzzwords that impress those who make the decisions to appoint managers and they clearly buy the BS he is selling.

Remember he went in to Bill Kenwright's office at Everton and promised to take The Toffees into the Champions League and it was clearly lapped up by the Chairman. I wonder if Martinez has promised to take Belgium to World Cup and European Championship glory in the next four years, although I fear this appointment may cost a solid squad any real chance of success.

I could be wrong, but the fans were clearly unimpressed when booing off Belgium after a 0-2 home loss to Spain in a friendly last week. That makes this a really important game for Belgium as they begin the World Cup Qualifiers in a really weak looking section where Greece are the third Seed despite finishing below the Faroe Islands in the Euro 2016 Qualifying Group.

With the talent Belgium have in the forward areas, you have to think they will continue to score goals, but I do fear that the lack of defensive work Martinez does will cost them. Marc Wilmots was accused of playing his Belgium team with the handbrake on and you have to think Martinez will loosen that, but coming up the best sides might be when he is found out.

There aren't many of those in this Group and facing a Cyprus side who have lost 6 of 10 home Qualifiers is a good place to start. I am sure the home team will give Belgium some awkward moments, but this is a Cyprus team that has failed to score against Wales, Belgium, Albania, Switzerland and Slovenia in the last two Qualifying campaigns in home games.

Eventually someone should provide the magic touch for Belgium to score at least once in this one and that might be enough to win the game. While Belgium might be a team I oppose in two years in Russia, I will back them this week to win their first World Cup Qualifier thanks to a rare Martinez clean sheet at the other end.

Faroe Islands v Hungary PickThere is a saying that you will hear plenty of times if you catch any of the international football on television this week and that is that there are 'no easy games' any more. That is true to an extent with the bigger nations perhaps not winning by the wide margins of yesteryear, but they are still usually too good for some of the smaller nations that make up the UEFA family.

The Faroe Islands have been one of those smaller nations forever and they are in the Group to simply try and surprise a couple of the bigger nations they face. One of those will be Hungary who made the Euro 2016 Finals, but I think it will be tough for the Faroe Islands to upset them.

They did play in the Euro 2016 Qualifiers and Faroe Islands dominated possession in their home game with Hungary. That will make them dangerous if they can do that again, although Hungary did win the shot count in the 0-1 victory and I can see a similar result in this one.

Hungary's last 7 away Qualifier wins have come with a clean sheet and they have won their last 4 by the same 0-1 scoreline. At odds against I think they can win to nil in this one against a Faroe Islands team who have failed to score in half of their last 8 home Qualifiers.

Uruguay v Paraguay PickGames in South America are very rarely straight-forward unless there are game changing incidents like red cards or penalties. The games involving Uruguay and Paraguay have been very competitive recently and there isn't much between these teams, but home advantage should be key for Uruguay.

So far it is the home form that is keeping Uruguay amongst the leading contenders in South America and a win this week will give them a little breathing room to those teams outside of the top five.

They won't have it easy agains Paraguay who have drawn the last 3 games with Uruguay by the same 1-1 scoreline. The win over Chile will have given Paraguay a boost in confidence, but 2 away wins from 15 Qualifiers is not a good run and both of those came against Venezuela.

Paraguay have also lost 7 of their last 11 away World Cup Qualifiers and I think Uruguay might just have enough in them to take home advantage and use that to earn them three points. It will likely come by the narrowest of margins and having a small interest in Uruguay winning by a single goal margin looks the call.

Venezuela v Argentina PickThis might be a fixture that Argentina have dominated through their history, but no one of Venezuelan heritage will forget October 11th 2011 when their team not only avoided defeat for the first time against Argentina, but actually beat them 1-0 in the World Cup Qualifier.

Argentina might be missing both Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero for this one and that does take away some significant attacking talent. Whether that is enough for Venezuela to take something from the game I am not so sure, but I also think they can make this a competitive match and give their fans something to cheer.

I can't imagine Argentina will risk Messi, who himself said he was not sure if he would be fit enough for this game, but this is a team that has won at Colombia and Chile already in the World Cup Qualifiers. That is impressive and they are playing a Venezuela team that have lost 3 in a row at home already in the Qualifiers and a nation that basically expects to be beaten by Argentina.

Only twice since October 2004 have Argentina won an away Qualifier by more than a single goal margin although Venezuela tend to be beaten with some relative comfort. The absence of the likes of Messi and Aguero might mean Argentina don't have the goals to win this by more than a single goal margin and I will have a small interest on that happening.

Brazil v Colombia PickAll of the games in South America and the Qualifiers tend to be very close and you will rarely see teams win their games easily and cover big handicaps.

One of those nations that can tend to fly is Brazil with the attacking intent they usually show and they do have big wins over Peru and Venezuela in the Group. However they have failed to beat Uruguay and there are plenty of big games to come for Brazil at home which are going to test that attacking talent to the maximum.

The first of those coming to Brazil are Colombia and they are not a team that tends to lose heavily.

Colombia have lost 13 of their 35 away World Cup Qualifiers, but take away the losses to Uruguay and only 4 of those have come by more than a single goal margin  (3 defeats to Uruguay by more than a singe goal margin in that time). They have managed to earn draws in their last 2 World Cup Qualifiers in Brazil and I was tempted to back them to avoid defeat in this one too.

However I do feel this Brazil side might have earned plenty of confidence in recent weeks thanks to the success at the Olympic Games. The 0-3 win at Ecuador was a little flattering, but Brazil might have just enough to get past Colombia too and I will back them to win by the narrowest of margins. If Colombia are as wasteful in front of goal as they were against Venezuela then it will be difficult for them to make it 3 straight away Qualifiers in Brazil earning draws, and this game should be tight and competitive throughout.

Peru v Ecuador PickThere are five South American World Cup Qualifiers in this round of games and Peru versus Ecuador is the last of those to kick off. However I also think it might produce the most goals with plenty on the line for both Peru and Ecuador in relation to the rest of the World Cup Qualifiers.

For Peru they are simply in a position where they need to win to have any chance of clawing back a big deficit to Brazil who are currently in 5th place. Anything other than a win and Peru will see their wait for another World Cup Finals appearance reach at least forty years.

The fast start by Ecuador where they won their first 4 World Cup Qualifiers has been forgotten as they have earned 1 point from their last 4 games. They need to arrest the slide which might see them move out of the top four at the end of this round of games and the pressure will be on Ecuador if that is the case.

Ecuador have made it through to the World Cup Finals in three of the last four editions so have some experience to call upon while they reached the Quarter Final in the Copa America this summer.

With the issues in both squads, there might be a fair few chances in this one. They shared out four goals in the Copa America match a couple of months ago and goals have been produced when Peru and Ecuador meet one another. 3 of the last 5 Peru home World Cup Qualifiers and 3 of the last 4 Ecuador away Qualifiers have seen at least three goals scored in those games and I will back that to happen at odds against.

MY PICKS: Colombia - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.77 Bet365 (2 Units)
Ecuador-Brazil Draw @ 3.25 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Argentina to Win by One Goal @ 3.50 William Hill (1 Unit)
Paraguay-Chile Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Denmark to Win by One Goal @ 3.60 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Slovenia @ 2.05 Bet Fred (2 Units)
England to Win by One Goal @ 3.60 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
Scotland to Win by One Goal @ 3.40 William Hill (1 Unit)
Austria @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)
France - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.97 Bet365 (2 Units)
Bosnia and Herzegovina - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.87 Bet365 (2 Units)
Belgium Win to Nil @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Hungary Win to Nil @ 2.20 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Uruguay to Win by One Goal @ 3.40 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Argentina to Win by One Goal @ 3.40 William Hill (1 Unit)
Brazil to Win by One Goal @ 3.40 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Peru-Ecuador Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.25 Paddy Power (2 Units)

August Final31-38-2, - 9 Units (124 Units Staked, - 7.26% Yield)

Season 2015/16133-174-2, + 0.89 Units (669 Units Staked, + 0% 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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