Who Will Progress? This Week's World Cup Qualifiers Picks
The Fine Print - Final Four Tickets To Russia
Twenty-eight of the thirty-two FIFA World Cup places have now been determined, and the final four will be decided by the end of this week. There are four matches to be played, each a second in a two-leg tie, and all four are on a knife's edge. The nerves were well and truly on display in the opening fixtures with just the one goal being scored across all four matches.
It is sure to be tense and tight for the return leg. There is no such thing as an easy qualifier, and every nation involved will be on the edge of their seat for the entire match.
As part of the betting community, these matches are extremely difficult to pick, which means the chances of a good outlay are increased. Below are our picks (some offer extremely good odds) to help you win big this week. Odds available from Bet365.
*** For these matches, we are selecting the 'To Progress' line, which is based on the team that progresses to the World Cup rather than the 90 minute result.
- Italy vs Sweden: Sweden @ -110
- Ireland vs Denmark: Denmark @ -150
- Australia vs Honduras: Australia @ -225
- Peru vs New Zealand: New Zealand @ +500
Italy vs Sweden (0:1) - Monday, Nov 13
We kick things off with Italy's game against Sweden on Monday afternoon and interestingly it is Sweden with the upper-hand after their 1-0 win in the first leg.
Italy have only missed one World Cup since their debut at the tournament in 1930, so it will be a real shock if the Azzurri do not progress. Ironically, the only tournament they failed to qualify for was the 1958 edition hosted by Sweden. Perhaps it's a bad omen?
Italy were outmuscled in Stockholm and suffered a 1-0 defeat that leaves them perilously close to staying home when the World Cup begins in Russia in June. While the scoreline is by no means fatal, it is the manner of the performance that has all the major media outlets talking. Italy were nervous, and despite finishing the match with 63% of possession only managed one shot on target.
It is set to be no different when the tie moves to Milan on Monday, although this time the pressure will come from the expectation of a nation that will simply not accept anything other than qualification for the World Cup. While it was expected that they may have to head down the playoff route after being grouped alongside a strong Spanish national team, that should have only been a footnote in an otherwise successful campaign.
However it now looks increasingly likely that Sweden will be heading to the World Cup for the first time since 2006, and the chances are boosted by the absence of Marco Verratti from the Italian lineup due to receiving a yellow card in the first leg. The Swedes can advance with a draw in Milan, and if they manage an away goal even a narrow defeat will see them through.
For this reason, we like Sweden in the 'To Progress' market. They offer the same odds as Italy, although we believe they have a reason to be much firmer favourites given their 1-0 advantage. Our pick is Sweden at -110.
Ireland vs Denmark (0:0) - Tuesday, Nov 14
Tuesday's match will determine the final European place for Russia and features Denmark traveling to face Ireland in Dublin. Denmark had a plethora of chances early on in the opening fixture and could have scored several goals, although Ireland did fight their way back in the second half, with Shane Long's late inclusion making a big difference to the side. This one will be close.
The first leg in this fixture was dominated by Denmark, who couldn't quite find a way to score against an Ireland side that started extremely nervy, but gained courage the longer it stayed 0-0.
The Danes had a host of chances early in the match, with Irish goalkeeper Darren Randolph instrumental in keeping the match scoreless. Despite being at home in the second leg, he is expected to busy once more against a strong Danish side.
Irish manager Martin O'Neill has warned that his team must score at least two goals in the return fixture to have any chance of progression, as the away-goal rule will work in favour of Denmark.
In truth, it is hard to see Ireland scoring more than one after failing to really test Kasper Schmeichel in Copenhagen, and it will also be difficult to see Denmark fail to hit the net after creating so many scoring opportunities. Ireland's home form in qualifying was mixed - they only managed to beat Georgia and Moldova at home and failed to take all three points against Wales, Austria and Serbia. They are going to need to win in this game and also keep a clean sheet, which will be a tough ask.
While the 90 minute odds suggest both teams have an even chance of winning, the odds are firmly in Denmark's favour to qualify for the FIFA World Cup 2018 and we agree that they will do so. Jump on Denmark at -150.
Australia vs Honduras (0:0) - Wednesday, Nov 15
It was always going to be difficult for Australia, full of players currently making a living in the cold European leagues, playing against Honduras in hot, humid conditions on a pitch that would certainly not be suited to their possession-based playing style and in front of a raucous away crowd.
Yet the Aussies have proven their mental toughness in harsh conditions all over Asia, and their dominant performance in the first leg should not be as surprising as perhaps it was to many.
There's no doubt that Honduras failed to perform to the standard that saw them defeat Mexico in their final group match, leapfrogging the USA into the playoff position, however the Australians put in an emphatic shift that saw them dominate possession and reduce Honduras to playing on the counter at home. Coach Ange Postecoglou described the performance as 'fantastic' despite the lack of a goal that would have really shifted the tie in their favour.
While Australia are clear favourites to win in Sydney, Postecoglou will need to manage his team selection carefully. Honduras love to play a counter-attacking style of football, and an away goal would change the whole complexion of the tie. An early goal will be crucial for the Australians to prosper, as it would force Honduras to open up and come at the Socceroos.
Australia were able to charter a flight back from Honduras almost immediately after the game, which gives them almost a full extra day of recovery time. This factor alone is enough to make us sure of a win, and you can be too. Back Australia at -225.
Peru vs New Zealand (0:0) - Wednesday, Nov 15
The last place in Russia will be taken by either Peru or New Zealand, and again it will be the home side that goes into this one as the heavy favourite.
The first leg of this match was almost a mirror image of the Denmark against Ireland match - Peru had the majority of possession and bulk of the chances early on in the match, before the New Zealand side began to turn the tide and had opportunities of their own late in the match.
Burnley's Chris Wood was relegated to the substitution bench for the first leg in Wellington, although he managed a cameo role late in the second half and lifted the team immeasurably when he came on. His inclusion will be vital to the return leg, and he could well prove the difference in whether or not the All Whites can obtain the away goal.
Peru, like Australia, will be very wary of the threat Wood and New Zealand will pose on the counter, and will need to manage their tactics carefully to ensure they don't overcommit.
They will also need to manage the pressure of playing in front of their home fans in a match that will determine whether they can play in their first World Cup since 1982. New Zealand might not have the players to match Peru, but they have been there and done it in this style of playoff, and we are picking them to cause the upset of the week.
Go for New Zealand to progress at +500.
Intercontinental Playoffs Betting Tips
The last two matches are both intercontinental playoffs. For those unfamiliar with the format, which is also used annually in the MLS semi-final and final, the two-legged ties feature a rule that grants victory to the side with the most away goals in the event the match finishes level.
If New Zealand manage a 1-1 draw in Peru (after the 0-0 result in Wellington), they would progress, however if the second leg also finishes 0-0, the game would go to extra time and potentially a penalty shootout, similar to Australia's famous playoff qualifier against Uruguay in 2005.
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