Soccer Picks For This Weekend's World Cup Qualifiers
World Cup Qualifiers This Weekend
While the action is all but over in the final group stage of African World Cup qualification, Saturday throws up a huge match in Abidjan between the Ivory Coast and Morocco. Separated by just a point in the standings, it is literally a winner-takes-all scenario, although if the Moroccans can jag an away draw, they will heading to Russia and taking part in their first World Cup since the 1998 edition.
Saturday also features the first leg of the European playoff between Denmark and the Republic of Ireland, and the Irish will have their work cut out against a strong Danish team featuring Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Christian Eriksen. The Irish haven't featured in a World Cup since their 2002 campaign, which cruelly ended on penalties at the hands of Spain, while Denmark last featured in the 2010 tournament.
Sunday sees the conclusion of the tie between Croatia and Greece, which is almost over already after the Croatian's 4-1 win in Zagreb, while Northern Ireland travel to Switzerland with a mountain to climb (and there's plenty of them over there) after a controversial penalty gave the Swiss team a 1-0 first-leg advantage. But anything can happen in 90 mins - nothing is ever a certainty in football.
You can bet that fans of each nation will be on the edge of their seats for the whole 90 mins, and if you're looking to place a wager there's a good chance you will be as well. Don't go in blind - take a look at our picks below, followed by our in-depth analysis of all four games and more betting tips to take into the weekend. All odds provided by Bet365.com.
- Ivory Coast vs Morocco: Ivory Coast @ -118
- Denmark vs Ireland: Denmark @ -134
- Switzerland vs Northern Ireland: Switzerland @ -188
- Greece vs Croatia: Greece @ +250
The Fine Print - Our Match Previews
Ivory Coast vs Morocco (Saturday, 12:30pm EST)
Group C favourites Ivory Coast come into their final Third Round CAF qualifying match one point behind first-placed Morocco, although will be the clear favourites to progress to their fourth consecutive World Cup on Saturday afternoon. With a host of stars playing in the top leagues around Europe, and with former Belgian International Marc Wilmots at the helm, Les Elephants will be tough to beat on their home patch.
Mind you, the Moroccans are not short of talent themselves. Medhi Benatia will lead the side once more, and the experience of the 30 year-old will be of vital importance in their attempt to leave Abidjan with at least a point. Benatia is currently on the books at Juventus after stints at Bayern Munich and Roma - not a bad resume - and is one of the main reasons why Morocco have managed to navigate the final round of qualifiers undefeated thus far.
Morocco also have the wood over the Ivory Coast in recent meetings. While the November 2016 match between the sides in Marrakesh ended in a draw, they managed a 1-0 win in the African Cup of Nations in January, sealing Ivory Coast's premature exit from the competition.
Despite the recent history between the two sides, we can't see anything other than a win for the home side in this one. The Ivorians are far too strong and only the pressure of needing a win in front of their home fans could result in the country missing out on the 2018 World Cup. They are our pick at -118.
Denmark vs Ireland (Saturday, 2:45pm EST)
Denmark have been impressive during their qualification campaign, finishing second in their group to a strong Polish side featuring Robert Lewandowski. They were the only side to defeat the Poles - a resounding 4-0 thumping in Copenhagen back in September - and are undefeated in all international fixtures during the last 12 months. Under head coach Age Hareide, the side looks to be replicating the form that took them to the 2010 World Cup.
They face an Irish side made up entirely of players from English football leagues, with the majority coming from the Championship. While they lack the talent of the last Irish side to feature in a World Cup (household names like Damien Duff, Robbie Keane, Roy Keane and Shay Given helped Ireland to the second round back in 2002), you can never discount an Irish football team, especially on the road, where they are undefeated since the 2016 European Championships.
This match will be much closer than the odds suggest. Denmark will likely have the majority of possession, although will be cautious going forward as they cannot afford to concede an away goal. Ireland will be tough to break down, although if anyone can do it it's Christian Eriksen, who may be worth more than the entire Irish team combined given the inflated values of world-class players in the current environment.
Eriksen won't have the likes of Dele Alli and Harry Kane to link up with in this match, although the Danes should still do enough to win narrowly at home in this one. Ireland do have the advantage of a second-leg match at home to come back to, so expect a very defensive looking lineup here. Pick Denmark at -134 and if you're really confident, the one-goal margin is the most likely outcome here.
Switzerland vs Northern Ireland (Sunday, 12pm EST)
If you watched the first leg in Belfast on Thursday afternoon you can't argue that Switzerland were easily the better side and deserved the 1-0 result after a host of close chances, yet they only managed a solitary goal from the penalty spot, and the call was dubious at best. It almost makes the controversial incident in last year's Senegal vs South Africa qualifier, that saw referee Joseph Lamptey banned for life, a reasonable mistake! See below:
In truth, there were several mistakes made by the officials (at least three terrible offside calls) against both teams, but at the end of the day, Switzerland hold a slender 1-0 lead heading into the return leg in Basel, and only a miracle can save the Northern Irish against a side that has now won ten out of eleven matches in World Cup qualification, and their sole loss was in Portugal at the hands of Cristiano Ronaldo's European Champions.
Xherdan Shaqiri, who scored the best goal of the 2016 Euros, was immense for the Swiss and was offered far too much time and space. On another night he may have has a goal or two, and will likely be given more attacking chances against a side that will need to score to have any chance of progression.
As much as we love an underdog, there is no chance of Northern Ireland getting a favourable result here. Their efforts to steal a crucial away goal will eventually lead to a Swiss side full of quality getting the W here. Jump on Switzerland @ -188.
Greece vs Croatia (Sunday, 2:45pm EST)
Croatia have already placed one foot on the plane to Russia with a 4-1 victory in Zagreb on Thursday, and will travel to Piraeus knowing that the Greeks will need to put at least three past them to progress. Judging by their form in the first leg, this shouldn't be a problem, especially if Greece defend as poorly as they did in the first leg, although the Croatians will be wary to be complacent.
The only thing going for the Greeks is their home-ground advantage. With away fans banned from attending matches in opposing countries for this particular tie, 30,000 home fans will cause an extremely intimidating atmosphere for the travelling Croatian outfit. Despite the gulf between the two sides in the first leg, we see the Greek side coming up with a win here, although it is unlikely going to be by a margin that will see them through to the World Cup.
The home side are outsiders in this one, paying +250 for the win, so this is definitely a value pick. Go for Greece at +250.
With the exclusion of the Ivory Coast vs Morocco match, the World Cup Qualifiers are contested over two matches, so there are several different betting options available. You will be able to place a bet on each individual match as you normally would, with all three full-time results (win, loss and draw) available. The odds listed above are based on this line.
Most sportsbooks will also allow you to place a wager on which team will progress to the next round - this will be a simple head-to-head bet with only two outcomes, and is of more use to you if you find it more difficult to determine the individual results of each fixture but are confident of the overall winner. For example, Ireland are long shots to win in Denmark (+500) but offer +125 to progress after both matches are complete.
Make sure you take a look at all of our betting partners and explore the lines on offer. As always, we will keep you up to date with all the latest and provide ongoing support.
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