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Thursday, 9 November 2017

World Cup Qualifier Play Off Picks November 2017 (November 9-15)

This is the final international break the fans will have to sit through until March 2018, but there are a few important fixtures to come in the next week with the final World Cup places up for grabs in six Play Off ties.

With the two Legged Play Off ties being played from Thursday 9th November to Wednesday 15th November I will place all picks from those games in this one thread. During that time we also have a couple of rounds of international friendlies with England, Germany, France and Brazil involved in some big fixtures, although I have to say that at this stage of the season players have withdrawn from those squads to make sure they are ready to go for their club teams ahead of a busy period of games.

Before the next round of Premier League fixtures I should have another short piece about Manchester United after what has been a difficult period. That will be posted around the middle of next week and the next set of Premier League/domestic football picks will be out next Friday ahead of the next weekend round of fixtures.

Croatia v Greece Pick: If Croatia could get on the same page off the field, I am convinced on field performances would reach the desired levels where this team could fulfil their potential as a dark horse going into a major international tournament. Recent years have seen Croatia flatter to deceive far too often and there continues to be an upheaval surrounding the national team that makes it hard for them to produce their best.

That has been highlighted in recent weeks as manager Ante Cacic was sacked with just one Qualifier to play and Croatia in a desperate position in the Group. That sacking came amidst criticism from fans and players alike, and Zlatko Dalic came in to guide Croatia to an impressive 0-2 win in Ukraine to ensure a 2nd place finish in the Group.

There is still work for Dalic to do if Croatia are going to earn a place in the World Cup Finals and they have to be comfortable with the draw for the Play Off. That is not a disrespect to opponents Greece, but Croatia will feel they are the stronger team on paper and will believe they should be winning this tie.

Greece have shown they are back to the defensive shape which helped them win the European Championships thirteen years ago and they proved tough to beat in the World Cup Qualifying Group. This is a team that have not conceded a lot of goals and who earned a 1-1 draw in Belgium which may have been better if not reduced to nine men before conceding an 89th minute equaliser.

The goal for this game has been made clear by Greece manager Michael Skibbe who wants to make sure the Second Leg is where this tie will be won. That means Greece are likely to set up in deep numbers to try and contain Croatia and hope to hit them on the break, as they did to Belgium, but the home team in this one are plenty solid themselves.

Scoring goals in Croatia has been difficult for visitors and you can understand why the layers are offering such short odds on two or fewer goals in this one. It would be a real surprise if there is not plenty to play for when they reconvene in the Second Leg, but I also think Croatia are strong enough at home to earn an advantage for that Leg.

It won't come easy and I would be surprised if Croatia have a big lead to take into the Second Leg. Backing them to win to nil looks short enough when you think Greece have been effective away from home in their Qualifiers in the last couple of years, but having a small interest in the Croatians winning by a single goal margin looks a tempting enough price.

Northern Ireland v Switzerland Pick: There are two different mindsets going into the World Cup Qualifier Play Off for Northern Ireland and Switzerland- while Northern Ireland are pleased to have this opportunity to reach the World Cup Finals in Russia, Switzerland have to be disappointed that they missed out on winning their Qualifying Group in the final round of Qualifiers.

Dealing with that disappointment is going to be the key for Switzerland and being able to focus on a team they will feel they are superior to. On paper you would think Switzerland are probably the better team over two Legs, but Northern Ireland have been overachieving over the last three years and they play with the confidence that has been earned in that time.

Germany may have won at Windsor Park, but that was the first home Qualifier Northern Ireland had lost since September 2013 and that has to be respected. Switzerland have a very strong away record in Qualifiers though and that has to be the main reason they are the favourites to win the First Leg.

Winning in Northern Ireland has not been easy though and I do want to side with the home team in some manner. The way Switzerland were sent into the Play Off has to be a concern for their backers as there could be a negative reaction that has set in, especially in the First Leg away from home.

They have to feel that avoiding defeat would give them a great chance of progressing to the World Cup Finals and Northern Ireland are also keen to stay alive for the Second Leg. It may lead to two teams who are remain a little cautious throughout this First Leg and that may end up seeing them producing a tight game.

The layers are all over that by offering a really short price on there being less than two goals scored in the game. However I am still a little surprised that Northern Ireland have been dismissed as much as they have in this one which means they can be backed on the Asian Handicap which will return half the stake as a winner if they do end up with a draw.

The draw is a real player here, but Northern Ireland have performed very well at Windsor Park which is something I want to keep on my side by backing the home team on the Asian Handicap.

Sweden v Italy Pick: Out of the four UEFA Play Off ties that are being played, this one looks to be the one that will generate the most interest around Europe. Both Sweden and Italy are the kind of nations that are associated with major international tournaments and both will feel they should be gracing the fields in Russia next summer.

It does feel like the Italian side are the better one and they were simply unfortunate to be in the same Qualifying Group as Spain, while Sweden overachieved to make the Play Off Round. However Sweden should be afforded full respect at home where they won their last 4 Qualifiers including beating a France team that will go to Russia as one of the favourites to win the World Cup.

To be fair, Sweden were beyond a little fortunate to win that game thanks to a comical error from Huge Lloris deep into injury time, but it does mean the First Leg is where their best chance will come to reach the World Cup Finals. I do think Sweden are a tough team to visit and Italy have regularly been the kind of nation that will do what is necessary to make it through matches.

With a Second Leg to come at home, I am not sure Italy will risk too many men forward when a draw would suit them fine. They are a team that have won 7 of 10 away Qualifiers, but wins over the likes of Macedonia, Israel, Norway and Albania are against weaker teams than the Swedish one they face on Friday. The exceptions at Bulgaria, Croatia and Spain shows that Italy can be challenged by stronger home nations and Sweden fit that category.

I was leaning towards backing Sweden on the Asian Handicap, but a full payout only comes if Sweden win the game. That is harder to see when you think Italy have lost 1 of their last 30 away Qualifiers but I also think the away team will want to make sure they are in a position to win this tie in the Second Leg.

It could mean a more cautious performance from Italy in this First Leg and I will have a small interest in this game to finish in a draw.

Honduras v Australia Pick: There are a couple of inter-Confederation World Cup Play Off ties that also need to be decided before the World Cup Finals draw takes place in early December.

One of those sees the CONCACAF Confederation representative take on the Asian Confederation representative which sees Honduras meet Australia over two Legs. This tie actually is the biggest distance between nations in all of the Play Offs still to be played and much will be decided by how well the players cope with the travel time.

At least Australia can send a squad with a plenty of players involved with European teams to cut the travel time for the First Leg. This is going to be an important tie for Australia who have played poorly on their travels in recent World Cup Qualifiers especially as they would want to remain alive for the Second Leg.

Honduras have played well at home and can't be underestimated having played in back to back World Cup Finals, but this is a team that will offer Australia chances. They won just 2 of 5 home games in the final Qualifying Group and Honduras did not keep a clean sheet in any of those games which will offer Australia encouragement despite being without Tim Cahill and Mathew Leckie in the First Leg.

On the other hand Honduras will be confident considering Australia's failure to win in away games against Thailand, Iraq and Syria in their recent World Cup Qualifiers on their travels. Those nations are not as strong as this underrated Honduras team are and the edge has to be given to the home team in the First Leg.

However I can't ignore the fact that Honduras have conceded in their last 6 home World Cup Qualifiers including against Canada and Trinidad and Tobago. Honduras have scored and conceded in 5 of their last 6 home Qualifiers and Australia have done the same in 4 of their last 5 away Qualifiers.

The layers are not anticipating a lot of goals in this one, but I do think there is every chance both teams can score in this one. Australia could be dangerous on the counter attack against a Honduras team who do concede goals but who will want to earn a lead in the First Leg, while Australia have looked suspect defensively.

At odds against both teams scoring has to be worth backing here and the Second Leg should still see everything to play for.

New Zealand v Peru Pick: On paper it is understandable why Peru are clear favourites to get the better of a New Zealand side that have struggled when asked to compete with teams from outside of the Oceana Confederation. That was shown up in the Confederations Cup as New Zealand ultimately struggled to maintain the levels needed to win games against the better nations out there.

This Play Off tie could have been so much more difficult for New Zealand as it looked like teams like Argentina and Chile could be the potential opponents. That doesn't mean New Zealand are favourites though and they will need to really perform to their highest level and hope Peru underperform if they have any chance to make it through to the World Cup Finals.

Four years ago New Zealand found Mexico too good in both Legs and that has to be the fear for them here. The layers seem to believe it is a high chance that Peru will win both Legs as they odds on to win in New Zealand, but the travel time across for this First Leg might be the biggest obstacle in the way.

Peru have shown they are going to be tough to beat on their travels judging by their performances in the difficult South American Qualifying Group and playing as well as they did there should be enough for the win here. However I think the layers may have underestimated the chance of seeing at least three goals which has been priced up at odds against.

This is a game in which New Zealand have to get forward and put themselves in a positive situation for the Second Leg. That should leave gaps for Peru, while New Zealand have shown they can create chances against better teams when challenging Russia, Mexico and Portugal at the Confederations Cup.

They should be able to create against Peru, but the latter will feel they can get forward and score goals even though Paolo Guerrero is suspended. Before the 0-0 draw in Argentina, Peru had scored twice in 3 away Qualifiers in a row, while they had conceded in 31 away Qualifiers before that draw in Argentina.

Both teams could score in this one and I would not be surprised if the situation of the First Leg leads to a few more openings as New Zealand push for a lead and Peru try and hit them on the counter. At the price backing at least three goals to be shared out looks too big to ignore.

Denmark v Republic of Ireland Pick: This is likely to be the Play Off tie that both Denmark and Republic of Ireland would have been happy to accept prior to the Play Off draw and both teams have to be confident of their chances of progressing.

The key for the Republic of Ireland is going to be making sure the Second Leg back in Dublin is where the tie is won and that means making things difficult for their hosts in the First Leg. That has been a feature of the way the Irish have been set out in away games since Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane took over the reigns of the national team.

It has proven to be an effective tactic as Ireland have produced big wins in Austria and Wales in this Qualifying Group, while they have also earned draws in Poland and Serbia in the last three years. Those are all the kind of results which will give Ireland plenty of confidence to take to Denmark with those nations comparable to the one they will face in this Play Off tie.

Denmark have shown improvement in recent games which has to be respected. In particular the 4-0 win over Poland in September shows what Denmark are capable of when they get everything right, but the Danes are also a team that have been inconsistent in recent home Qualifiers.

The loss to Montenegro and draw with Romania in home Qualifiers in this Group as well as the home draws with Albania and Sweden in the Euro 2016 Qualifiers shows Denmark are not an unbeatable team and makes their odds on quotes look plenty short. Denmark were also knocked out in the Euro 2016 Play Offs while the Republic of Ireland got through that Round against Bosnia-Herzegovina which may give the away team confidence of earning a result over two Legs.

It is a very tight Play Off tie and I don't think there will be a lot between Denmark and Ireland over the two Legs. Denmark probably have the better players on paper, but Ireland are a very effective team that comes together to be greater than the sum of their parts.

With a close tie anticipated, I am not sure Denmark deserve to be a short favourite to win the First Leg and I like backing Ireland with the start on the Asian Handicap. Ireland have shown resilience to suggest they can get something here and wins over Austria and Wales away from home in the Qualifying Group makes them much more appealing to back than the Danes in the First Leg.

The two Legs should be very close and I can't see Ireland losing by more than a single goal margin if they are to lose here, so taking the visitors with the start looks to be the call.

Switzerland v Northern Ireland PickThere was some controversy attached to Switzerland's 0-1 win at Northern Ireland in the First Leg of this Play Off tie, but that shouldn't hide the fact that they had much of the running on the day.

With better composure in the final third Switzerland would have likely won fairly comfortably at Windsor Park and this Second Leg is likely to have a similar feel. I don't imagine Northern Ireland will change their tactics as they try and frustrate Switzerland and catch them on the counter.

That can be the plan for at least the first hour as long as Northern Ireland haven't conceded another goal, but at some point they will have to come out and search for the away goal given up at Windsor Park. That may make things a little easier for Switzerland when it comes to creating chances in the final third.

Goals have been a problem for Northern Ireland away from home having failed to score in 3 of their 5 away Qualifiers in the World Cup Group. That is likely to be a big problem against a Switzerland team who have conceded just 2 goals in 5 home games in their own World Cup Qualifying Group and kept 4 clean sheets in that time.

Backing Switzerland to win to nil could be a good play, but I think it may pay off to back them to win this by a relatively comfortable margin. I believe Switzerland can't keep missing the opportunities they are creating and at some point Northern Ireland will have to commit men forward to try and get back into the tie which could see them picked off when the shape is lost.

I will look for Switzerland to book their World Cup Finals spot while covering the Asian Handicap in this one.

MY PICKS: 09/11 Croatia to Win by One Goal @ 3.30 Stan James (1 Unit)
09/11 Northern Ireland + 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.98 Bet365 (2 Units)
10/11 Sweden-Italy Draw @ 3.20 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
10/11 Honduras-Australia Both Teams to Score @ 2.20 William Hill (2 Units)
11/11 New Zealand-Peru Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.25 Bet Victor (2 Units)
11/11 Republic of Ireland + 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.88 Bet Victor (2 Units)
12/11 Switzerland - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.07 Bet365 (2 Units)

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