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Thursday, 23 March 2017

World Cup Qualifier Picks 2017 (March 23-28)

The final international break of the season gives all domestic clubs the chance to take a breath, keep their fingers crossed that the players return without any injuries and then get ready for the big push over the final two months of the season.

That is when the big trophies are handed out and when other clubs learn their fate as to which Division they will be playing in next season, but first we have to get through the two week gap between games.

I've made my disdain for the internationals clear over the last couple of years and the 'excitement' of seeing the likes of England take on the likes of Lithuania can be hard to contain at times. There is going to be a new 'Nations Cup' in operation in the next eighteen months which is supposed to improve the quality of these breaks, but for now we have to make do with a number of mismatches as teams take another step towards the World Cup Finals in Russia which begin in fifteen months time.

There are not many rounds of Qualifiers left before we make up the next World Cup Finals though and so perhaps the intensity of games will pick up, especially those being played in the South American Qualifying Group. There are six nations who will feel they are good enough to be playing in Russia next year, but only four automatic spots and one Play Off spot for those teams.

With six games left, a big name nation looks set to miss out and so every game has taken on a new importance with two of those six games being played in the next few days. The European Qualifiers seem to be a little more 'boring' with the big nations taking on overmatched opponents, although there are at least a couple of really open looking Groups that will keep fans interested.

The World Cup Qualifiers will be played over the next few days and I will put up any picks from those games in this one thread. That will cover both rounds of games in the South American Qualifiers as well as all the European Qualifiers which are played from Friday through to Sunday.

Colombia v Bolivia Pick: This is a really important World Cup Qualifier for Colombia who can't afford to drop more points if they do want to finish in the top five of a tough section. That is the very least they would have expected when these Qualifiers began, but it does look like one of the bigger nations will miss the trip to Russia as the top six teams in South America all battle for their places.

Beating a poor travelling team like Bolivia has to be the least Colombia expect before a vital game in Ecuador next week.

Bolivia can't be underestimated having proven they can provide a shock result on their travels through previous editions of the Qualifiers having earned draws in Brazil and Argentina. They also drew in Chile earlier in this Group, even if that result was changed in the aftermath of an ineligible player being in the Bolivia line up.

Those results are the exception to the usual rule that Bolivia lose on their travels in these Qualifiers having fallen to a defeat in 28 of their last 32 away Qualifiers. They also have a poor record in Colombia having lost their last 6 games played in that country and I do think Colombia will be a little too good for them.

When Bolivia lose, they do tend to lose by a wide margin and I think Colombia can win this one and cover the Asian Handicap.

Paraguay v Ecuador Pick: This is a really important World Cup Qualifier for both Paraguay and Ecuador as the games begin to run out and the Group takes a more permanent shape. Anything other than a win for Paraguay will surely mean their run to the World Cup Finals in Russia is over, while a defeat for Ecuador will make them vulnerable to the three teams who are currently behind them.

However a win for Ecuador will keep the pressure on Chile, Argentina and Colombia below them and give the nation a huge step towards another World Cup Finals appearance. That should encourage them to get forward, but Ecuador have struggled away from home in recent World Cup Qualifiers and have conceded at least twice in 4 straight Qualifiers on their travels.

It should be something that inspires Paraguay who have won all 7 home Qualifiers against Ecuador in the past, but the fact that Ecuador have scored in their last 8 away World Cup Qualifiers makes them dangerous too.

Both teams should have their chances to score and I would be surprised if either is satisfied with a draw which could produce an exciting game. The last 4 World Cup Qualifiers here between these nations have produced at least three goals shared out and the last 3 overall between Paraguay and Ecuador have done the same.

The 1-1 scoreline is a real player, but I think one of these teams pushes forward for the win and I am going to back at least three goals to be shared out at a big price.

Argentina v Chile Pick: Both Argentina and Chile will be hoping they can do enough over their last six games to finish inside the top four of the World Cup Qualifying Group in South America and the winning team in this game will take a big step towards that goal. There is plenty of quality that both Argentina and Chile can call upon which should be good enough to automatically Qualify for the World Cup Finals, but both have had some struggles during this long slog.

Being at home should be an advantage for Argentina, but they have not always capitalised on that. They did, however, crush Colombia in their last World Cup Qualifier here and I think Argentina can back that up with a victory over Chile.

As well as Chile have played in recent Qualifiers to move above Argentina, they have not been as consistent away from home and their last two World Cup Qualifiers in Argentina have ended in routine losses.

The feeling is that something similar will happen here as Argentina exert their quality on a Chile team that might have a hampered and out of confidence Alexis Sanchez in the line up. Chile have lost heavily at Uruguay and Ecuador during this World Cup Qualifying campaign and I will back Argentina to cover the Asian Handicap in a win over them on Thursday.

Venezuela v Peru Pick: These two nations might have regularly become part of the also-rans in the South American World Cup Qualifiers, but this edition might have a different feel for Peru if they can win in Venezuela. That would take them onto the brink in cracking the top five places in a tough Qualifying Group, but Peru have struggled in Venezuela as they have lost their last 4 World Cup Qualifiers here.

Those games have been exciting affairs for the neutrals and this one has every chance of going the same way.

Venezuela will attack at home and they do tend to score and concede plenty of goals in front of their own fans. You have to think Peru will play with a little more caution as they know they have something to gain from this fixture, but this is a team who are not as strong on their travels and have been involved in some high-scoring games in recent away Qualifiers.

The last 4 World Cup Qualifiers here may have been won by Venezuela, but all have seen at least three goals shared out. In fact 5 of the last 6 between Venezuela and Peru in World Cup Qualifiers have resulted in goals and this one feels it could go the same way with both teams likely to have their opportunities in front of goal.

It surprises me that the oddsmakers are offering odds against on this game featuring at least three goals and I will back that to happen.

Georgia v Serbia PickThe oddsmakers have set Serbia as an odds on favourite to win in Georgia but it is hard to be that excited about those prices when you think they have won 3 of their last 11 away Qualifiers. The Serbian national team have won at Albania and Moldova in recent away Qualifiers, but Georgia will offer them plenty of problems in this one and I think it might be a close game.

The Serbia win in Albania came thanks to two injury time goals and they are now facing a Georgia team who don't usually collapse in home Qualifiers.

Both Poland and Germany won by at least two goals here in the Euro 2016 Qualifiers, but Georgia were narrowly beaten by the Republic of Ireland and have also suffered narrow home losses to the likes of Spain, Finland and Austria in recent years.

While I do think Serbia can match those teams and earn the win here, I don't think it will be an easy game for them and I do think Georgia will make life difficult. It has to be said when Serbia win away from home in these Qualifiers, they tend to do it by a wide margin, but that might not be the case here.

I am leaning towards Serbia earning a vital three points which can put them in a strong position in the Group, but I will back them to win by a one goal margin for a small interest.

Turkey v Finland Pick: The oddsmakers have set Turkey as a pretty strong favourite to win this Qualifier and you have to think home advantage is going to be telling against Finland. However I think it is going to be far from a straight forward game for Turkey who are under pressure to stay with the three teams above them in the Group with little room for error.

A slow start was overcome in the Euro 2016 Qualifiers but that had a lot to do with the additional places being offered in the Finals of that tournament. Those simply don't exist in the World Cup Qualifiers and the likes of Croatia, Iceland and Ukraine are all going to want to get to Russia having reached the Euro 2016 Finals.

Failing to win home games against Finland and matching what Iceland and Ukraine have already done would be a huge blow for Turkey and I do think they will do enough to earn the three points.

However it should be noted that Finland's 3 defeats in the Group have all come by a single goal margin and that includes in those visits to Iceland and Ukraine. Digging a little deeper into their recent away Qualifiers and you will see Finland have earned a draw in Spain and won in Greece, while also narrowly losing at Euro 2016 participants Northern Ireland and Hungary.

I have every faith Finland make this a tough day in the office for Turkey and I think the home team will have to be patient and wait for the chances to come their way. While I do think Turkey will just about edge the game, I will have a small interest on them winning this one by a single goal margin instead of looking for Turkey to win this while covering the Asian Handicap.

The oddsmakers have got the Asian Handicap at a good line and so backing Turkey to win by a single goal margin looks a decent angle for this Qualifier.

Croatia v Ukraine Pick: Over the last few years you will have regularly seen Croatia tipped as a dark horse to win a major international tournament, but they have yet to really fulfil their promise in the Finals since finishing 3rd in the 1998 World Cup. Last year was another disappointment as they went out with a whimper against Portugal in Euro 2016 despite showing so much promise in the Group.

They are the favourites to progress to the World Cup Finals in Russia next year, but one of the issues that I think Croatia need to resolve is finding a consistent goal scoring threat. They have a lot to like about their play as they reach the final third, but putting the finishing touch on chances is key to Croatia's chances of taking the next step.

It will be tested in this game against Ukraine who have played well in the Group but might be a position based on the fact that three of four Qualifiers have been played at home. The 2-2 draw in Turkey was a very good result and Ukraine have shown they are a tough team to beat in these away Qualifiers with some solid results over the last two campaigns.

Ukraine suffered a narrow loss in Spain, but they have avoided defeat in Slovakia and Slovenia and that toughness can keep them in this important game.

Ultimately I do think Croatia will be a little better on the day with home advantage important for them. It would be a surprise if it is a comfortable win though and I think backing Croatia to win by a single goal margin at minimum stakes might be the best call in this one.

Republic of Ireland v Wales Pick: As we reach the halfway stage of the European World Cup Qualifiers, this Group looks like one that might be a lot clearer by the end of this round of games. The Republic of Ireland have made a really positive start to the Group and a win on Friday night over Wales will put them in a very strong position to make it to Russia next summer.

The pressure does feel like it is on Wales to produce something having played three of their five home Qualifiers and returned just 6 points overall. While they have become harder to beat, teams have learnt that you don't want to give Wales the space to counter attack and that has made it more difficult for them to win games.

That was highlighted in the 1-1 home draw with Georgia as Wales struggled to put together the system that sees them dominate possession and break down opponents. It is likely to be a little more positive from the Republic of Ireland being at home, but Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane have shown a pragmatic approach to games and the draw definitely suits them more than Wales.

Ireland have won 4 home Qualifiers in a row which will give them plenty of confidence, but this is not a team who will score a lot of goals and so opponents always have a chance against them. The injuries won't be used as an excuse for O'Neill or Keane, but it might make the draw even more appealing as it will keep the Republic of Ireland in a very strong position in the Group going into the second half of the Qualifiers.

Wales did play well away from home in the Euro 2016 Qualifying Group, but I don't think there will be a lot between these teams. It is likely to be a tight game that might not feature a lot of goals either, but I think the draw could be the result that suits the home team and it may be the most likely outcome of this one.

Sweden v Belarus PickThe retirement of Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the end of the Euro 2016 tournament means a new era for Sweden, but the players have responded in the right way by producing some solid performances in the World Cup Qualifiers. They are unlikely to catch France in this Group, but Sweden have every chance of finishing above the Netherlands and earning a Play Off spot.

That goal can only be achieved if they win Qualifiers like this one and I do think Sweden will be too good for Belarus when they host them on Saturday.

You can't completely discount Belarus as they have shown they are capable of producing a surprise result or two. They won in Slovakia in the Euro 2016 Qualifiers, which is an impressive result, but defeats to the Netherlands and Bulgaria in this Group won't inspire a lot of confidence.

The side have also 'only' managed a home draw with Luxembourg and Sweden tend to be very tough to beat at home. Sweden crushed Bulgaria 3-0 here and they have won 5 of their last 7 home Qualifiers with all but one of those wins coming by a two goal margin at the least.

At odds against I will look for Sweden to continue that run by asking them to cover the Asian Handicap in a home Qualifier win to keep the pressure on their two main rivals for the World Cup berths in this section.

Belgium v Greece Pick: This game could determine the outcome of this Group with Belgium and Greece leading the way in the section, although Bosnia-Herzegovina will still believe they can finish in the top two in the Group.

The points earned by Greece are off the back of a nice portion of their schedule with none of the wins they have earned unlikely to be matched by the other two big nations in the Group. Three of the next four games for Greece sees them take on Belgium twice and also visit Bosnia-Herzegovina and that might determine whether they are capable of making the top two in the section and a third straight World Cup Finals.

Belgium certainly look like they are going to win the Group and a win on Saturday will put them in firm control of the section. They have been playing very well in the Qualifiers as Roberto Martinez has found a way to get the attacking side of their game working to the point of scoring plenty of goals.

The home wins have been important to the foundation of their Qualifying campaigns over the last few years and Belgium have already hammered both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Estonia at home while scoring at least four goals in each game. They should have most of the attacking play in this one and can beat Greece with something to spare.

Greece have a decent away record in recent Qualifiers, but they were beaten in the Faroe Islands and Northern Ireland in the Euro 2016 Qualifiers and I would expect Belgium to match that. With the goals in the squad, I will look for Belgium to win this one by a couple of goals.

Azerbaijan v Germany Pick: An impressive start to the World Cup Qualifying campaign has to have given the Azerbaijan fans some excitement that they might be able to gate crash the party being hosted by neighbours Russia next summer. It would be a real stunner if Azerbaijan were able to reach the World Cup Finals, but their win over Norway and draw in the Czech Republic will have given them a lot of confidence.

That would have been dented some by the 4-0 loss in Northern Ireland, but an upset of Germany on Sunday would reignite the Azerbaijan belief in achieving a miracle over the next several months.

That upset looks unlikely and I think Germany will prove to be too good in this one as they should be able to pull away for a comfortable win. All 4 Germany wins in the Qualifiers have been very comfortable and it will be difficult for Azerbaijan to contain a team that should have a more familiar look than the one that started the friendly with England last week.

Azerbaijan have to be respected in the fact they have challenged teams when they have visited Baku and they have not been beaten by more than two goals at home since 2011 in a Qualifier. Even the German wins here have both come by a two goal margin in their two visits during the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 Qualifiers.

However Germany have looked very strong in this set of Qualifiers and have won both away Qualifiers played by at least three goals each time. I will back them to reach that margin again in this one, but will back Germany on the Asian Handicap with the option of getting at least half the stakes returned in case of a two goal margin of victory.

England v Lithuania Pick: Most of the play is going to be made by England and they should prove to be too good for a Lithuania team they beat 4-0 in the last set of Qualifiers and who have suffered a 4-0 loss in Slovakia and a 3-0 loss in the Czech Republic in their last couple of away games.

This was a team that were also beaten 4-0 in Switzerland in the last set of Qualifiers and England have won 11 straight home Qualifiers with all of those coming by at least a two goal margin.

England have had a couple of 'poor' results in that time when you think they have 'only' beaten Estonia and Malta by the same 2-0 scoreline, but the majority of the weaker teams they have played have been brushed aside. They have won by at least three goals against the likes of San Marino (twice), Moldova, Montenegro, Lithuania and Scotland.

It should be England who have the chances and the possession to win this one at a canter and I will back them to record a comfortable win on Sunday and cover the Asian Handicap.

Northern Ireland v Norway Pick: A few years ago Northern Ireland would likely have been the underdog when facing Norway in a Qualifier, even in a game that was going to be played at Windsor Park. That is not the case at this time with Northern Ireland playing in the Euro 2016 Finals and looking like a team that has real ambitions of getting through to the World Cup Finals compared with Norway who are looking to earn experience they can use to good effect going forward.

It is a tough game to get a read on because Northern Ireland are not really a team you would associate with a lot of goals. That just means a Norway goal could be enough to avoid a defeat, but Northern Ireland have played well in home Qualifiers and I think they may just do enough to win this one.

Their home form has been strong in the Qualifiers, while Norway have been really poor in their most recent away Qualifiers. The 1-0 loss to Azerbaijan was a terrible result for Norway and it is going to be as tough in this environment where Northern Ireland have thrived.

Northern Ireland do have a terrible home record against Norway down the years, but the teams look to be in much different places now. While Northern Ireland are now a team that does look to make the major tournament Finals, Norway are just struggling to put wins on the board consistently.

It won't be easy for Northern Ireland but I do think they can earn the three points by a narrow margin in this one. I will simply look for the home team to win this one and keep the pressure on those nations chasing 2nd place in the Group.

Bolivia v Argentina PickThis is a very important game for Argentina in their bid to make it to the World Cup Finals in Russia next summer. A tight Group means you can't really afford to drop points in a bid to finish in the top four especially not with games in Uruguay and Ecuador to come later in the Group for Argentina.

Visiting La Paz has been anything but routine for Argentina and it is hard to back them at odds on to win here this time. The side have only won 2 of their 6 away World Cup Qualifiers in the Group and playing in the altitude of Bolivia has proven to be an equaliser for the home team who clearly don't have the talent that other South American sides can call upon.

Bolivia have been able to trouble teams when they have visited here and the fact they have 2 wins to Argentina's 1 over their last 5 World Cup Qualifiers in La Paz indicates this will be a tough game for the away team.

However this is quite a poor Bolivia team who have conceded at least twice in 4 of their last 6 home World Cup Qualifiers. On the other hand they had scored at least twice in 4 consecutive home Qualifiers before the 1-0 win over Paraguay and I do think Bolivia can cause some problems for an Argentina team that have struggled for goals.

Then again, Argentina had scored at least twice in 3 consecutive away World Cup Qualifiers before the 3-0 loss in Brazil, a result which means they have conceded at least twice in 3 consecutive away Qualifiers including in Venezuela and Peru.

This does feel like a game that both teams will have their chances and I am expecting both teams to score. The 1-1 is a clear scoreline that could be a player, but I think there might be enough opportunities for more and backing at least three goals to be shared out at close to odds against is a tempting enough price.

The last time these teams played here it did end 1-1, but the previous 4 World Cup Qualifiers between Bolivia and Argentina in La Paz had produced at least three goals each time.

Ecuador v Colombia Pick: One of the harder teams to get a read on in the South American Qualifying Group has to be Colombia who have shown they are capable of some big results when fully focused. However they have also shown they can struggle under the weight of expectation for a nation that loves their football and the inconsistent results makes them dangerous.

This is a tough away game for Colombia as Ecuador have used their home form as a foundation for success in the Group. Ecuador have scored plenty of goals at home in the World Cup Qualifiers and have won half of their last 4 home World Cup Qualifiers against Colombia.

Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina have been the only teams to beat Colombia at home during the World Cup Qualifiers, but Ecuador have played well at home and can match those teams.

Colombia have only once scored more than one goal in their away World Cup Qualifiers in the Group and that gives Ecuador a real chance of winning this one. This is an Ecuador team who have scored at least twice in every home game in the Qualifiers except for the when they played Group leaders Brazil and I think the home advantage could be key in a narrow win for Ecuador which takes them back into the top four in this Group.

Peru v Uruguay Pick: Nothing has been decided in the South American World Cup Qualifying Group outside of Bolivia and Venezuela being out of contention. The Peru fightback in Venezuela last week has kept them within touching distance of a place in the World Cup Finals next summer, but this is almost a must win game.

While not quite as desperate for the visitors, Uruguay have suffered heavy losses in back to back World Cup Qualifiers which has seen the gap close between them and the nations below them. Uruguay remain 2nd in the Group, but they are just 3 points clear of Chile in 6th place and they need to bounce back immediately, especially as the next two Qualifiers are against Argentina and Paraguay.

This is a tough game for Uruguay considering they have won none of their last 5 away Qualifiers and have lost 3 of those games. They have conceded at least twice in 4 of the games and will be tested by a Peru team who had scored in every home Qualifier, at least twice in 4 of 5, before the 0-2 defeat to Brazil.

Both teams will feel they have enough in the final third to get on the scoreboard in this one and the onus is on Peru to keep pushing forward and try to win the game with the three points imperative for their World Cup hopes. 4 of the 6 Peru home Qualifiers and Uruguay away Qualifiers have produced at least three goals and there looks like a real potential for this game to go the same way.

The last World Cup Qualifier between Peru and Uruguay here did end with three goals shared out and I am going to back goals in this World Cup Qualifier.

MY PICKS: Colombia - 2.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.96 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Paraguay-Ecuador Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.25 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Argentina - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.96 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Venezuela-Peru Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Serbia to Win by One Goal @ 3.40 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
Turkey to Win by One Goal @ 3.40 William Hill (1 Unit)
Croatia to Win by One Goal @ 3.40 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
Republic of Ireland-Wales Draw @ 3.10 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Sweden - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.94 Bet365 (2 Units)
Belgium - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.96 Bet365 (2 Units)
Germany - 2.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet365 (2 Units)
England - 2.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.89 Bet365 (2 Units)
Northern Ireland @ 2.45 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Bolivia-Argentina Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Coral (2 Units)
Ecuador @ 2.15 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Peru-Uruguay Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Bet365 (2 Units)

March Update31-32-3, + 1.50 Units (129 Units Staked, + 1.16% Yield)

February Final31-50, - 29.34 Units (157 Units Staked, - 18.69% Yield)
January Final32-47-1, - 30.88 Units (164 Units Staked, - 18.83% Yield)
December Final38-40, - 7.93 Units (153 Units Staked, - 5.18% Yield)
November Final40-38-3, + 5.76 Units (159 Units Staked, + 3.62% Yield)
October Final29-41-2, - 21.23 Units (139 Units Staked, - 15.27% Yield)
September Final43-28-1, + 35.17 Units (133 Units Staked, + 26.44% Yield)
August Final31-38-2, - 9 Units (124 Units Staked, - 7.26% Yield)
Season 2016/17243-272-9, - 57.45 Units (1029 Units Staked, - 5.58% 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)

1 comment:

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