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Six nights of World Cup qualifying fixtures kick off on Thursday. For punters, the absence of competitive international football for much of the year can make these games tricky to find some value in. But with a raft of meaningful matches, this final week of group games has the potential to be profitable.
No let up for ruthless world champions
Germany have registered eight wins out of eight in Group C and need only a point from their trip to Belfast to make sure they’ll be travelling east next summer. There is a huge amount of goodwill towards Northern Ireland at the moment, but while odds of 17/2 about a home win seem tempting, the current world champions (11/2 to defend their title) are hard-nosed in fixtures such as these. Ahead of this week’s game, Joachim Low said “Our goal is to win 10 victories. If we concentrate on our strengths, we can succeed”. Germany are 3/10 to win and it’s worth pointing out that the last time they lost a world cup qualifier was in 2001, when England won 5-1 in Munich. Since then they’ve won 14 consecutive qualifiers, scoring at least two or more goals. With that in mind, a Germany win looks like a worthwhile investment, especially as Aaron Hughes, Northern Ireland’s most experienced defender, is struggling with a calf problem.
Kane able to book England’s finals spot
England know a win over Slovenia will stamp their ticket to the World Cup in Russia, but don’t be surprised if Wembley is half full as Gareth Southgate’s squad look to qualify for next year finals with a game to spare. A tube strike could scupper the best-laid plans of fans to soak up the atmosphere under the iconic arch but, whatever happens on the London Underground, the Three Lions are unlikely to suffer any derailment in their attempt to finish top of Group F.
England are 1/50 to win the group, or as guaranteed as delays on the Metropolitan Line on Thursday, and 33/100 to defeat Slovenia. England have won four of five meetings with the Eastern European nation, and it’s inconceivable that Srecko Katanec’s side can win at Wembley. Best bets? Well, Harry Kane just cannot stop scoring – he can boast 13 in his last eight starts – so the 9/10 to net at anytime seems a fair punt, as does the 13/5 to grab the opener.
Scots to miss out
The odds-compilers make it a straight fight between Scotland to finish second to England in Group F, with the two nations meeting at Hampden Park on Thursday. Gordon Strachan’s side are 7/5 to claim a victory that would see them leapfrog Jan Kozak’s men in the standings, but with the Slovakia coach saying “maybe the draw with be enough in Glasgow”, you get the feeling the visitors are going to set themselves up with the ambition of getting just a point. The draw at 21/10 is the standout price, while backing under 2.5 goals, something that’s occurred in five of Scotland last six home games, is also advised.
As you were for Wales and Ireland
Georgia are on an unbeaten run of five matches heading into their Group D home qualifier against Wales in Tbillisi. While the hosts cannot make the plane to Russia next year, they could make things uncomfortable for Chris Coleman’s side. Last year’s European Championship semi-finalists are 1/4 to finish in the top two (and 9/1 to win the section), and while they haven’t found the rhythm that made them such a joy to watch last summer, victories over Austria and Moldova have restored momentum just at the right time. It’s for this reason that I’m taking them to win in the Caucasus at 13/20.
Ireland are 11/5 to qualify for the finals but stodgy performances in four winless group D games in 2017 means they are likely to miss out. Friday’s fixture against Moldova is must-win, but backing Martin O’Neill’s team won’t make you rich. Only one of Ireland’s last seven qualifiers have produced over 3.5 goals.