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Thursday, 5 October 2017

World Cup Qualifier Picks 2017 (October 5-7)

Over the next few days the final World Cup Qualifiers in the Groups around the world are being played before the Play Offs in November will determine which teams are making up the next World Cup Finals.

I am going to split up the picks from the two rounds of fixtures with the picks from the penultimate fixtures placed in this thread for games to be played from Thursday through to Saturday.

The final set of World Cup Qualifiers will be placed in a thread I should have ready to go on Saturday evening which will cover games that are played from Sunday through to the following Wednesday.

I've written a short piece about Manchester United and what has been a strong start to the season which you can read here.


Syria v Australia Pick: Asia have already provided four representatives for the World Cup Finals next summer, but surprisingly Australia were not one of them. They have not played well in the Qualifiers and that means Australia have to negotiate a Play Off in the Asian Qualifiers before facing the team who will end up 4th in the CONCACAF Confederation which may easily be the United States.

It won't be easy for Australia who would have hoped they could have finished in the automatic Qualification spots on offer.

They are facing a team in Syria who are playing with 'house money' which does make them dangerous, but having to deal with a two Legged tie without any home advantage is difficult. Despite having to travel to host home games, Syria are unbeaten in 8 games and they have won 5 of those.

Syria ending up drawing 3 of their 5 'home' Qualifiers in the final Round and it has to be said that Australia's poor away form is why they were unable to finish higher than 3rd in their own Group. Missing out on a top two berth on goal difference can be directly linked to failing to win any of their last 4 away Qualifiers and 3 of those ended in draws.

Draws were what hurt Australia, but a draw here before the home Leg in Sydney next week might not be the worst result for the favourites in this Play Off Qualifier. This does feel like it will be a tight First Leg and the draw has been a big result when these two teams have been playing in the World Cup Qualifiers and that looks a real player here too.

I can't have Australia as odds on to win this First Leg with their away struggles in recent months and the draw does look a big price here. It is certainly worth a small interest.


Armenia v Poland Pick: The 4-0 loss to Denmark last month has just put some pressure on Poland in their bid to finish top of the Group, although they are still in a position of strength. It does mean Poland can't afford to drop more points with a home game against Montenegro to come, and they should have enough to do that in Armenia.

This has proven to be a tough place for Poland to visit over the years with a couple of previous Qualifiers here ending 1-1 and 1-0 to Armenia. They can't have that happen again and this is a Poland team that have looked stronger than the one that would have played here ten years ago.

Armenia have also been guilty of folding in matches recently as shown by the couple of heavy home losses they have had in the Qualifiers. The last fixture saw Armenia go down 1-4 at home against Denmark and they have conceded at least three times in 4 losses in their last 8 home Qualifiers.

The side also conceded four times in a defeat in Montenegro in June and that has to be a concern when considering Poland had scored at least twice in 4 consecutive away Qualifiers before their thumping in Denmark.

Poland are not the easiest side to trust away from home, but they have been better in their last couple of Qualifying campaigns. They look like they have goals in the squad which makes them dangerous and I think they can record a big win in Armenia that will put Poland on the brink of confirming their place in Russia for the World Cup Finals next June.

If Armenia lose heart as they have in heavy home losses to Romania and Denmark, Poland should be able to take advantage and I will look for them to cover a big Asian Handicap.


England v Slovenia Pick: There simply isn't the same level of expectation for England heading towards a major international tournament as there has been over the years and that might work out well for Gareth Southgate. He will be looking for England to finish this Group on a high and try and improve the Ranking which could improve Seeding for the World Cup Finals assuming England will be playing there next summer.

It would need a couple of big upsets for England to miss out from automatic Qualification for the Finals, and in all honesty they should be securing their spot at the end of this round of fixtures.

Slovenia will have something to say about that as they try to at least finish 2nd in the Group and earn a Play Off berth. However this is a team who have not travelled as well as they would have liked and losing back to back games to Slovakia and Scotland by the same 1-0 scoreline has hurt Slovenia.

Now they have to earn some kind of result at Wembley where England have won 13 home Qualifiers and have scored at least twice in each of those wins. With Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford in the form they have displayed for their club sides, it would perhaps be a bigger surprise if England don't reach that number of goals again.

I fully expect England to be too strong for Slovenia in this one and confirm their spot in the World Cup Finals. Slovenia will be hoping they are still alive in the Group depending on what has happened in the game between Scotland and Slovakia being played at the same time, but I don't think they will be able to help themselves in this World Cup Qualifier and I will back England to win by a couple of goals on the evening.


Northern Ireland v Germany Pick: Playing at Windsor Park has become a real challenge for any visiting team and Northern Ireland have used that as the foundation for their performance in the Group. In fact it has been a key to their successes over the last few years which have enhanced the reputation of manager Michael O'Neill who sounds very committed to the national team.

Getting Northern Ireland to the World Cup Finals would be a huge achievement for O'Neill, but it does mean they have to negotiate a Play Off as Germany have dominated this Group. A win will give Northern Ireland an outside chance of finishing above Germany, but the focus has to be to get ready for the Play Off they are likely to face next month.

Northern Ireland have been very good at home which should give Germany a challenge to make it 9 wins out of 9 in the Group. However Germany have won in Czech Republic and Norway already in the section and they have scored plenty of goals which has been factored in by the layers who do make them big favourites to win here.

That is the most likely result, but Northern Ireland's performances have to be respected. They have made it hard for Germany in the two matches against one another over the last sixteen months even if both have resulted in German wins, while you can't forget that Germany were beaten at the Republic of Ireland in the Euro 2016 Qualifiers.

Ultimately I do think Germany will find a way to win here and I think they are worth backing to win by a one goal or two goal margin. They do have the quality to win by a wider margin if at their very best, but I think Northern Ireland have played well enough at home to make this competitive and Germany know a point is enough to win the Group so may not take undue risks.

Backing Germany to win those margins returns just short of odds against and it does feel the most likely outcome from this fixture.


Scotland v Slovakia Pick: England may have moved clear in this Group, but there is plenty to play for for the three teams immediately behind them with a potential Play Off berth on the line.

This is a fixture that could start to determine which of those nations will be likely to finish in 2nd spot in the Group as Scotland host Slovakia in a really important game for both nations.

With Slovenia playing in England, this is the fixture that could see the winning side move into a commanding position in 2nd spot assuming England will beat Slovenia. A Scotland win will give Gordon Strachan's men the confidence to take into Slovenia next week, but anything less than a victory would likely mean Slovakia have virtually assured themselves of 2nd spot with Malta to come at home.

It is a difficult fixture to read because Scotland have been decent at home, but are also under pressure to win the game. They likely need 2 wins to make it into 2nd place over the coming days and pushing too far forward could see Slovakia punish them on the counter attack.

However I can't ignore how strong Scotland have been at home in recent Qualifiers with only Germany having won here over the last couple of Qualifying campaigns. The points dropped against England may hurt Scotland considering they conceded the equaliser deep into injury time, but they will feel they can earn the win here.

I won't back Scotland outright, but will look to back them on the Asian Handicap here. Slovakia have lost both away games at England and Slovenia and I think they will be playing not to lose which may give Scotland the impetus to get on the front foot and find a way to win this one.

It will likely be very close, but I will back Scotland on the Asian Handicap which at least returns half the stake if this fixture finishes in a draw.


Georgia v Wales Pick: The loss of Gareth Bale is a big blow for Chris Coleman and Wales who need at least 4 points over the next few days to earn their place in the Play Offs for the World Cup Finals. Winning the Group looks to be beyond them now, but 2nd place is up for grabs if they can make up for the loss of their one world-class talent.

Coleman's successes as Wales manager have come based on a solid foundation which has made them very difficult to beat. They have remained a tough team to crack during these World Cup Qualifiers as Wales are unbeaten, and they have not conceded a lot of goals.

The problems have been at the other end and that is where losing Bale is a bitter blow, but I think Wales may still have enough to beat Georgia.

Georgia will be respected having drawn with the Republic of Ireland in this Group and beating Scotland in the Euro 2016 Qualifying campaign. However this is a team who have lost to Austria and Serbia and I will be looking for Wales to show enough strength defensively which can lay the foundation for success here.

They will believe they can create chances in Georgia and I think that the Wales price is looking appealing since Bale was ruled out and there was a drift on the price for the away win. They did win both World Cup Qualifiers last month and Wales will be looking to keep their noses in front of the Republic of Ireland before hosting them next week.

It won't be an easy game for Wales, but I am looking for them to have the advantages at both ends of the field that lead to a narrow victory here.


Austria v Serbia Pick: You can only be disappointed with the way Austria have played over the last twelve months which has seen them way short of the three teams above them in the Group. Failing to hit the expectations at the last European Championship seems to have had a negative lingering effect on the squad and Austria have looked way short of what the other top teams in this Group have been able to produce.

There is an outside chance for Austria to finish in the top two, but they need some big upsets to go for them and I simply don't think that is going to happen. Playing spoiler is all Austria have left going for them, but that won't be easy against a Serbia team that have travelled so well in the Group.

The 0-1 win in Dublin last month has put Serbia in complete command of the Group and they are just a win away from guaranteeing their place in Russia next summer. This is a team that have also won in Georgia and Moldova and earned a draw in Wales, and Serbia have to be feeling confident against an Austria team that have underwhelmed since Qualifying for the Euro 2016 Finals.

Austria have been behind in eventual draws with Wales and Georgia here and Republic of Ireland won in Vienna. I think Austria may just struggle to get back into the game with Serbia if they fall behind here considering how the latter have played away from home.

The home team have simply not performed well in this Group and I think Serbia will be the latest to take advantage of their poor levels of confidence.


Turkey v Iceland Pick: With just 2 points separating the top four nations in this Group and only a couple of World Cup Qualifiers still to play, there really isn't much room for mistakes for Croatia, Iceland, Turkey and Ukraine to make if they wish to be playing in Russia next June.

Croatia will head to the Ukraine in a few days time, but in this penultimate round of UEFA World Cup Qualifiers it is Turkey who host Iceland in a big game.

Anything less than a win for Turkey is likely to not be good enough to help them finish in the top two places in the Group, especially as both Turkey and Iceland will be favourites to win their final Group game. With Croatia hosting Finland on Friday, Turkey will know three points are key for them.

That won't be easy to earn, but Turkey have been playing better at home as shown when they beat Croatia 1-0 here last month. They are also facing an Iceland team who have lost half of their away World Cup Qualifiers in this Group and who were surprisingly beaten 1-0 in Finland in their last away Qualifier which may be the result that costs them a top two finish.

I have a lot of respect for how Iceland have developed their football team, but I do think they will struggle to earn a result here. Turkey have played well at home and beat Iceland 1-0 here during the Euro 2016 Qualifying Group and the confidence should be high enough in the squad to earn a similar result.

It will likely be a tight and competitive game that goes down to the wire, but I will back Turkey to earn a vital win which puts them in pole position for at least 2nd place in the Group.


Costa Rica v Honduras Pick: This is far from an easy game for Costa Rica against a desperate Honduras team who have been in better form than their recent results indicate.

Honduras have been difficult to beat and you can't ignore the fact that Costa Rica need just a point to move through to the World Cup Finals. That could mean a more cautious approach from a team who have drawn 2 of their last 3 home World Cup Qualifiers and who have met Honduras in two tight games already in 2017.

Being at home is important for Costa Rica considering Honduras have lost 3 of their last 7 away World Cup Qualifiers. They took a couple of heavy losses in that time, but this Costa Rica team have not shown they are capable of really battering teams at the moment.

Costa Rica have beaten Honduras in their last 2 meetings in the World Cup Qualifiers in Costa Rica and I do think the home team can win this one. I would keep stakes to a minimum when you think of how close the matches between these teams in 2017 have been, especially knowing a draw will suit the home team and likely the away team too.

However I think the fans can urge their team on a little more and I will back Costa Rica to win this one.


Bulgaria v France Pick: There really shouldn't be as much pressure on France as there is at the moment after they somehow failed to beat Luxembourg at home last month. That result has opened the door for Sweden to potentially finish above them in the Group, although both France and Sweden have a very tough away Qualifier still to play.

Sweden's away Qualifier against the Netherlands may determine who finishes higher in the Group in a few days time, but France's difficult trip comes on Saturday as they head to Bulgaria. While Bulgaria are unlikely to finish in the top two places in the Group, they have remained in touch with the leaders thanks to winning all 4 home World Cup Qualifiers they have played in this Group.

That makes Bulgaria a team that deserves respect, especially as France have not scored a lot of away goals. They have 5 in their 4 away Qualifiers in this Group and it does make me feel that the home team are getting too much of a head-start on the Asian Handicap.

Visiting Bulgaria has been very difficult for France over the years with 6 previous visits ending in 5 defeats and a draw. A draw may not be the worst result for France with a home game against Belarus to come, but they will want to avoid the pressurised atmosphere that would bring by finding a way to the three points here.

It will be far from easy and I think Bulgaria deserves full respect for the way they have played in the Group. Even a narrow France win would see Bulgaria return as a winner on the Asian Handicap, but I do think they are good enough to earn a positive result at home and I will back Bulgaria with the start.


Switzerland v Hungary Pick: This Group looks like it will come down to the Portugal vs Switzerland fixture to come next week, but Switzerland will know all the pressure will be on the home team if they can win this one. Overall goal difference is leaning towards Portugal, but a Switzerland win on Saturday will mean they can afford a draw to finish top of the Group.

That is for another day and Switzerland have to be focused on the three points on offer in this penultimate World Cup Qualifier. They are facing a team who are in 3rd place in the Group, but Switzerland and Portugal have been very much clear of the rest of the teams in the section.

Switzerland have won all 4 home World Cup Qualifiers which means they have won 8 home Qualifiers in a row and have kept clean sheets in 7 of those games. Hungary have failed to score in 3 of 4 away Qualifiers in the Group and have lost 3-0 at Portugal and 1-0 at Andorra in their last couple of away Qualifiers.

The last two times Switzerland have hosted Hungary have also led to home wins with clean sheets and the stats are all pointing to Switzerland winning with a clean sheet in this one too.

The defensive foundation has been key for Switzerland through this Group and Hungary have scored almost half of their goals in the Group against bottom placed Latvia. The struggles away from home in front of goal can't be ignored and I will look for Switzerland to win to nil.

MY PICKS: Syria-Australia Draw @ 5.00 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Poland - 1.75 Asian Handicap @ 2.01 Bet365 (2 Units)
England - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Germany to Win by 1 or 2 Goals @ 1.94 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Scotland - 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.06 Bet365 (2 Units)
Wales @ 2.05 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Serbia @ 2.15 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Turkey @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Costa Rica @ 1.80 bet365 (1 Unit)
Bulgaria + 2 Asian Handicap @ 1.77 Bet365 (2 Units)
Switzerland Win to Nil @ 1.86 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

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