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Sunday, 8 October 2017

World Cup Qualifier Picks 2017 (October 8-10)

The second half of the final World Cup Qualifiers before the Play Offs are played next month will begin on Sunday and we are going to know the majority of nations who are playing in Russia next summer by Tuesday evening.

At the moment 13 of the 32 nations that can Qualify for the World Cup Final are known, but by the end of this next three days of Qualifiers that number will have become 22 of the 32 nations that can make it to Russia. The next few days are very important for a number of nations with the Netherlands effectively out of the World Cup, but who could be joined by the likes of Argentina and Chile who can't make it to the Finals.

Teams like France and Portugal, the two Euro 2016 Finalists still have work to do to finish in the automatic Qualification spots, and others like Italy and perhaps Croatia will have to work their way through the Play Offs.

Big games come thick and fast in the coming days and I will add the final World Cup Qualifier Picks in this thread.

Last week I also wrote a short piece about Manchester United which can be read here. It certainly may be more interesting than sitting through another England game to say the least.


Denmark v Romania Pick: The recent form that Denmark have put together has put them in command of 2nd place in the Group and they will be one of those nations that others will look to avoid in the Play Offs for the World Cup Finals. They are unlikely to win the Group with Poland needing just a point to secure top spot, but Denmark have won 4 in a row and they have pulled themselves into this spot with impressive performances.

Crushing Poland 4-0 at home and beating Montenegro 0-1 away shows what Denmark are capable of and I am not expecting them to slip up for 2nd place now. A point will do it for Denmark, but this is a team playing with confidence and scoring plenty of goals and I do think they will prove too good for Romania.

The away team have to be respected having won 3 of their last 4 games, but they are out of contention in the Group which is a disappointment for Romania. Playing away from home has been a big problem for Romania and they have suffered losses at Poland and Montenegro in their last couple of away games in the Group.

I expect Denmark to inflict a third straight defeat on Romania on their travels and I think the goals being scored makes the whole team very dangerous.

They have banged in four goals in each of their last couple of home Qualifiers including that thumping for Poland, and Denmark should prove too motivated and clinical for Romania. I will back Denmark to win and cover the Asian Handicap in their final Group game and then they can look forward to the Play Off draw which will be made in a few days time.


Lithuania v England Pick: The final World Cup Qualifier for both Lithuania and England is played on Sunday and there isn't a lot on the line for the two teams. At least England should have some motivation to try and put some wins on the board and earn a top Seed for the World Cup Finals, while Lithuania will want to produce what could be their biggest win.

It is hard to see Lithuania doing that considering the poor form they have been in in recent months. Before the 1-1 draw with Malta, Lithuania had lost 6 straight games and that includes a thumping at the hands of Scotland at home.

Lithuania were beaten 0-3 by England in the Euro 2016 Qualifying Group too and I do wonder if they are going to be good enough to contain their visitors. The side have conceded at least twice in 6 of their last 8 home Qualifiers and England will have a point to prove after being criticised for their performance in the 1-0 win over Slovenia a few days ago.

Gareth Southgate may make some changes to his starting eleven but England should still be too good for Lithuania. The Scotland win here last month is the benchmark for England and the expectation will be that the latter can at least win this one by a couple of goals.

It's hard to know what line up Southgate will pick and England laboured so much against Slovenia that they are hard to trust. However they should be a couple of levels better than Lithuania and I expect that to show up here with the away side winning with a comfortable margin on the day.


Poland v Montenegro Pick: The defeat in Denmark looks to be only real blip for Poland on the way to the World Cup Finals held in Russia next June and I fully expect them to earn their place in that tournament on Sunday evening.

Poland should have too much for Montenegro who can't afford to bide their time as they have to win and hope Denmark lose if they want to finish 2nd in the Group. It is a big ask for Montenegro just days after losing at home to Denmark which has put them in this poor position in the Group and the Montenegro players may just have lost a bit of heart.

Playing a Poland team who have been dominant at home in the last couple of Qualifying Groups is not ideal for Montenegro despite the solid results the latter have had away from home. Prior to the last fifteen months, Montenegro had not been the best travellers in Qualifiers and I think Poland have the quality in the final third to hurt them in this one.

If Montenegro have any belief, they will have to push forward in search of goals and that should pave the way for Poland to exploit spaces on the counter attack. Poland will also want to avoid any undue pressure by encouraging Montenegro in this one and potentially opening the door for an upset loss that may give Denmark a chance to steal top spot.

I can see Poland looking to dictate things from the off and they have been very good at home in recent Qualifiers. Poland have scored plenty of goals and I will be looking for them to win this one by a couple of goals on the day as they counter attack a Montenegro side who are desperate for a win to keep their World Cup Finals dreams alive.


Slovenia v Scotland Pick: A really poor start to the World Cup Qualifiers saw Gordon Strachan on the brink of leaving his post as manager of Scotland, but they have been very good down the stretch and now hold their destiny in their own hands. However I wouldn't be rushing out to try and purchase Scotland Play Off tickets just yet with one more tough World Cup Qualifier in this Group to come.

They face a Slovenia team who were just minutes away from earning a draw at Wembley Stadium against England and who arguably created the better of the chances through the first hour of that game. Much of the success Slovenia have had in the Group is by being difficult to break down, but the team have not been able to produce a full performance in their away games to be left in a difficult position.

Slovenia now have to win and hope Slovakia fail to beat Malta at home and that will be the only way they can finish 2nd in this Group. A Slovakia win ends their chances and Scotland may hope an early Slovakia game sees the news filter down to the players and perhaps see Slovenia lose some competitive fire.

It is difficult to know how players will respond if they do hear Slovakia are winning but I do think Slovenia will be encouraged by being at home. They will likely come out with more attacking intent knowing a win is the only way they can have a chance of finishing 2nd in the Group and we could see a more entertaining game than the layers may think.

The layers are not expecting goals in this one, but the situation should mean both Slovenia and Scotland have to try and get on the front foot. Slovenia have not conceded a home goal which makes them very dangerous, but they will have to be more positive in this one as they look for the three points, while Scotland will know it's win or bust for them in terms of 2nd place in the Group.

Any goal will open up this game and I do think Slovenia getting forward will give Scotland a chance to counter. While the Slovenia home games have not featured a lot of goals in this Group, all 4 Scotland away games have produced at least three goals shared out even when the layers have not expected it (the price here is same as it was for at least three goals in the Lithuania-Scotland game last month).

I can't see Slovenia giving up even if they were to fall behind and the same can be said for Scotland as two teams attack until the end of the ninety minutes to try and finish 2nd in the section. There should definitely be the spaces to exploit for the teams in the final twenty minutes of this one and I will look for at least three goals to be shared out.


Moldova v Austria PickDead rubbers are familiar at this time of the year in the World Cup Qualifiers as teams play out the final fixtures in this Qualifying campaign. That is the case for Moldova and Austria who look set to finish in 6th and 4th place respectively in the Group.

That does make it harder to get a feel for how teams will approach the fixture, although it is likely that Austria are the superior team in this one. The confidence can't be in a great place considering how poorly this Qualifying section has gone for Austria, but Moldova have really struggled at home where they have lost 8 of 9 Qualifiers now.

Moldova have been beaten by the top three nations in this Group at home and it would be a surprise if they are able to earn another result against Austria after producing a 1-1 draw in Vienna. It does have to be said it is hard to trust Austria considering how they have played in the Group, but they showed they were good enough to win in Georgia and this is an 'easier' place to visit.

I would keep in mind that Austria don't have anything to really play for, but I will back them to finish this campaign on a high after beating Serbia on Friday and look for them to follow it up in Moldova. I will look for Austria to win by a couple of goals on the day by backing them to cover the Asian Handicap.


Serbia v Georgia Pick: All of the expectation is on the shoulders of Serbia as the fans will be looking for a confirmed place at the World Cup Finals at the end of this one. However that can build pressure on the players who may feel they have missed one shot of securing top spot in the Group by losing in Austria.

They are very much the favourites to beat Georgia who were 0-1 losers to Wales at home on Friday, but Serbia can't afford to underestimate a team who have shown considerable toughness in the section already.

Georgia were beaten narrowly in Ireland, but they have drawn in Wales and Austria so they will believe they can offer resistance to Serbia who will be anxious to win the game. That can put pressure on the home team to make the right passes in the final third and Georgia can be given additional respect when noting they only lost 2-1 in Germany in the Euro 2016 Qualifying Group.

This is also a nation who beat Spain 0-1 in a friendly ahead of the Euro 2016 Finals and I think the away team can be backed on the Asian Handicap. Serbia did crush Moldova 3-0 at home, but they are only 2-2-0 at home in the Group and this has the makings of a tight game.

Backing Georgia with the start should return half the stake at the very least.


Ukraine v Croatia Pick: There are a couple of these World Cup Qualifiers on Monday where two teams are playing one another with 2nd place in the Group up for grabs. Like the Wales versus Republic of Ireland game, this is another one where both teams have to think they need to win the fixture if they want to earn a Play Off spot next month.

Another similarity with that other fixture is that one of the teams involved here in the game between Ukraine and Croatia knows that anything less than a win is curtains for them. Where Croatia will look at a point as a potentially being good enough to make the Play Offs, Ukraine know they have to win and that mindset can make a difference.

Ukraine have been a strong team in recent home Qualifiers and that has to give them confidence that they have enough to win this fixture. They are perhaps not as familiar to football fans around Europe as Croatia who have some real talent in the squad, but Ukraine have been playing the better football of late.

Where Ukraine have won 7 of their last 9 home Qualifiers and have won 3 in a row in this Group, Croatia have dropped back to back away Qualifiers in Turkey and Iceland. They were also held to a 1-1 home draw with Finland and I am not sure Croatia will be able to switch things back on.

The draw doesn't look like it will be much good to either nation in all honesty, and that should make this another fun fixture to watch. However goals have been a problem for both teams and I think the first goal could be critical and on current form and with home advantage you have to lean towards Ukraine in getting that.

Backing Ukraine on the Asian Handicap at odds against knowing the stake will be returned in the event of a draw looks a very attractive price. Croatia may have the Luke Modric's and Ivan Perisic's who are familiar to fans, but the team ethic of Ukraine may be enough as it has been for Turkey and Iceland in home wins over Croatia and I will back the hosts to steal 2nd place and consign Croatia to watching the World Cup Finals on television next summer.


Wales v Republic of Ireland Pick: During the build up to this game you may hear about the importance of finishing 2nd in the Group with the assumption being that Serbia will beat Georgia and earn their spot at the World Cup Finals next June.

That means it is a direct fight between Wales and the Republic of Ireland for 2nd place in the section and I do think there has been some information that may have been lost on the fans. There are NINE World Cup Qualifying Groups in the UEFA section, but only EIGHT 2nd placed teams will be competing in the Play Offs next month.

What may have been lost for fans of these two nations is that currently Wales are right on the brink of finishing as the ninth team and a draw might be good enough to finish 2nd in the Group but not enough to earn a Play Off spot. You have to assume that if I know that, Chris Coleman and the management staff are aware of the situation and that makes this a tougher game for Wales than simply attempting to avoid defeat.

It is much easier for Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane who will be telling their players anything less than a win means the World Cup dream has come to an end.

Effectively it is the same situation for Wales where the draw is only going to be good enough if the Ukraine versus Croatia game in another Group also finishes in a draw and with the number of goals scored in that draw being the same or fewer than the number Wales score.

While I am expecting this to be a tense game where neither team can afford to make a mistake, the situation where both teams need to win could actually make it a little more open than the managers would want. The layers are certainly not expecting a lot of goals with Wales missing Gareth Bale and Ireland perhaps not being the most pleasing team to watch.

However the Ireland away Qualifiers have seen 4 of the last 7 finish with three or more goals and this is a game where the teams may have to take risks throughout the contest. The draw is not likely to be a result which suits either team which should mean more attacking intent is produced and Wales did show decent enough quality going forward a few days ago against Georgia, but also some defensive vulnerability.

The situation both teams find themselves in certainly makes it feel like risks will be taken by two teams that are not normally associated with that kind of football. There should be spaces to exploit in the second half, like there were in the Slovenia vs Scotland game on Sunday, and the situation suggests backing at least three goals to be shared out could be much more likely than the layers believe.


France v Belarus PickBarring something as incredible as France's goalless draw with Luxembourg happening again, the home team should comfortably make their way through to the World Cup Finals on Tuesday.

Lightning doesn't usually strike twice in the same place, but France will have to be a little better in front of goal than they were in their 0-1 win in Bulgaria a few days ago.

In all honesty Bulgaria are a decent home team as they have shown over the last fifteen months and the win was a very good result for France. Playing at home against a Belarus team who have struggled on their travels should be a much more comfortable evening for the French and I think they win in dominant style.

Take away the goalless draw with Luxembourg and France have scored 10 goals in their other three home games in the Group. They have scored four times against both the Netherlands and Bulgaria at home and France have the talent to do the same to Belarus.

That is added to by the fact that Belarus have conceded four times in losses at the Netherlands and Sweden and this talented France forward line should be able to take control of this match too. Belarus conceded three times in their 1-3 home defeat to Netherlands at the weekend too and I am looking for France to dominate proceedings and back up their win in Bulgaria.

It is always a challenge for a professional team to hammer others at the international level, but I think a motivated France can score at least four times in a victory on Tuesday at a decent looking price.


Netherlands v Sweden Pick: This was supposed to be the game that would give the Netherlands one last chance to help them move above Sweden into a Play Off spot in the Group. They looked to be doing all they could to make it a possibility, but Sweden's thumping of Luxembourg on Saturday has ended the hopes of the Netherlands.

Barring a win by a seven goal margin for the Netherlands it will be Sweden who have at least a 2nd place finish in the Group.

There is more on the line for Sweden who have a chance to potentially finish above France in the Group if they can win and France fail to beat Belarus at home. That doesn't look a realistic possibility for both things to happen, but football can throw in some strange results and Sweden can have a free shot at winning this game against a demoralised Netherlands.

However I do think Holland will look to be positive earlier and they have played well at home in the Group outside of their defeat to France. Big wins over Bulgaria, Belarus and Luxembourg coupled with the fact Sweden have lost in France and Bulgaria may give the Netherlands the edge in this fixture.

Losing out on a World Cup spot has to hurt the Netherlands and perhaps even see some of the younger players in the squad be given a chance to shine. However I think Dick Advocaat will send out a positive team and I do think they are the superior team to Sweden and can win the head to head against this nation with a victory here following the 1-1 draw in Solna.

I will back the hosts to earn a Pyrrhic victory on Tuesday.


Portugal v Switzerland Pick: There are not many World Cup Qualifiers in the UEFA section with a lot on the line as we complete the initial Group games on Tuesday. That is not the case in Lisbon where Portugal and Switzerland will battle it out for a place in the World Cup Finals in Russia next summer.

Portugal know they have to win if they want to top the Group with the superior goal difference over Switzerland giving them the edge. However the Swiss will head to Lisbon having won 7 of their last 8 away Qualifiers knowing any positive result will be enough to finish ahead of the European Champions and consign them to a place in the Play Offs next month.

It should be a tense evening as Switzerland try to work out whether they should stick or twist knowing a draw is a good enough result for them. This is a nation that have become very good at dealing with the Qualifying campaigns before having more issues in the Finals of those tournaments, while Switzerland have to be respected for being unbeaten in 15 games overall.

However I do also think this Portugal team have the confidence that any European Championship winner would have. They have scored plenty of goals at home with Cristiano Ronaldo leading the way for them and Portugal will feel they can eventually wear down Switzerland here.

I feel the same way and I think Portugal will prove to be a little too good for their visitors on Tuesday. They were beaten in Switzerland, but didn't have Cristiano Ronaldo that day and I think the goals scored since that defeat shows how much stress is going to be on the Switzerland defence.

It wouldn't surprise me if Portugal are able to put an exclamation point on the win late in the game as Switzerland are perhaps caught chasing the game and I will back Portugal to cover the Asian Handicap here.


Brazil v Chile Pick: There has to be some conspiracy theorists out there that have to believe Brazil will have no intention of winning this final World Cup Qualifier against Chile knowing a defeat will only increase the pressure on Argentina to finish in the top five in the South American World Cup Qualifying Group.

However I don't think the players will be concerned about all that and will be giving a full effort to win their last home game in the Qualifiers after drawing a couple of games in a row. There is the issue of Brazil having played in the altitude of Bolivia just a few days ago which may have sapped some energy, but I don't believe the players will lie down for Chile.

There is plenty of pressure on Chile too as they will know a 2-0 loss here puts them in a precarious position, while they have everything to gain by avoiding defeat which would give them a Play Off spot at the very least. Chile have not been at their best away from home in the Group where Chile have gone 2-1-5 so far and I think this is a very tough game for them.

Instead Chile could be looking at the other results in the Group and hoping things have gone their way. A lack of motivation in the Brazil squad is a concern, but this has been the stand out team in the Qualifiers and they are 7-1-0 at home in the Group. I think Brazil can earn another victory here to finish the Qualifiers in the right way and put Chile in a vulnerable spot in the Group where they are hoping other nations have not earned the results to put one of the dark horses for World Cup success out of the tournament before the Finals even begin.


Ecuador v Argentina Pick: It all comes down to one game for Argentina who have been a massive underachiever in the World Cup Qualifiers which means they are on the brink of missing out on the World Cup Finals for the first time since 1970. For a team that has the attacking talent Argentina do and who finished as Runners Up in the last World Cup Finals, it would be an immense disappointment to miss out.

Currently they are outside the top five in the South American Qualifying Group with 5th place offering a team the chance to have a Play Off against New Zealand for a place in Russia next summer. Anything less than a win would mean it is all over for Argentina and the only hope they have is to win in Ecuador on Tuesday.

The home team have already seen their World Cup hopes go up in smoke thanks to losing their last 5 World Cup Qualifiers and that has to be an encouragement for Argentina. However there is a reason Argentina are also outside the top five and that is because they have won just 2 of their last 10 Qualifiers and none of their last 5 away from home.

The draw doesn't look like it will be a good enough result for Argentina with the fixtures other teams have and they have to know it is anything but easy to win here. Ecuador have lost their last couple of home Qualifiers, but they would love to play spoiler to end this Group and Argentina have not had a lot of success in recent Qualifiers here.

Ecuador are unbeaten in 3 home Qualifiers against Argentina and they had won back to back home games against them before the 1-1 draw in the last set of Qualifiers. They will play with nothing to lose, but I also expect Argentina to show a little more composure in the final third which has surprisingly been the weakness of this squad.

I think this could be a rare Argentina game that has more excitement than the majority of their Qualifiers have had. The way Ecuador approach games should mean they give this a good go and Argentina will have to take risks themselves to win the game and ensure a top five finish.

Goals have been a problem for Argentina but they have Lionel Messi and I will look for this game to feature at least three goals shared out.


Trinidad and Tobago v United States Pick: For a little while it looked like the United States may miss out on an automatic place at the World Cup Finals but now they are just a point away from securing a spot in Russia next summer. Facing the weakest team in the Group, albeit away from home, should be good enough for the United States to earn a result that ensures they finish in 3rd place.

At the moment the United States are only 2 points clear of both Honduras and Panama, but the 4-0 win over Panama means they are at least 7 goals clear of the teams below them. That should mean a point is enough for the United States who have not won any of their 4 away World Cup Qualifiers in this final Group and the side have drawn 3 in a row on their travels.

It is hard to think the United States can't at least earn a point here against Trinidad and Tobago who have lost their last 6 Qualifiers overall and have been beaten in 3 of 4 home Qualifiers in the section. However none of those losses have come easily with only Costa Rica winning by more than a single goal margin courtesy of an injury time second goal.

That could happen here, but I am not anticipating Bruce Arians taking risks for the United States late in the game. They should be leading at that point, but once the United States go in front I am expecting them to try and shut down their opponents knowing a draw would still be good enough for them.

Trinidad and Tobago host the United States in a home Qualifier eleven months ago which ended in a goalless draw. They have also hosted the United States in 6 previous home Qualifiers and Trinidad and Tobago have avoided defeat in half of those games, while all 3 losses have come by a single goal margin.

The situation feels like one where backing the home team with the start on the Asian Handicap is the way to go. The United States would be happy for a draw, but I don't see them pushing to win by a clear margin once they get in front and playing in Trinidad and Tobago has been difficult for the likes of Mexico and Costa Rica as well as the United States in recent years.

We are getting more than goal start on the Asian Handicap which means only a big United States win will see this come in as a loss. I think this will be close and I will take the start.

MY PICKS: Denmark - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.03 Bet365 (2 Units)
England - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Poland - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Slovenia-Scotland Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.50 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Austria - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Georgia + 2.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.97 Bet365 (2 Units)
Ukraine 0 Asian Handicap @ 2.01 Bet365 (2 Units)
Wales-Republic of Ireland Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.62 Bet Fred (2 Units)
France Over 3.5 Team Goals @ 2.00 Coral (2 Units)
Netherlands @ 1.86 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Portugal - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Bet365 (2 Units)
Brazil @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Ecuador-Argentina Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Bet365 (2 Units)
Trinidad and Tobago + 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet365 (2 Units)

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