The Best Match Of The Group Stages Is At Celtic Park
Contrary to the popular belief when the qualifying process was redesigned, this new format has breathed life into international football and given us a terrific opening to the campaign.
Nowhere is that more evident than in Group D, where Scotland will host the Republic of Ireland in what promises to be a fascinating clash at a raucous Celtic Park on Friday night.
Everything about it – the group situation, the venue, the fact that both are coming into the fixture off the back of valuable draws last time out – is fantastic, and with the Republic knowing that a win will keep them three points ahead of Germany then both are sure to go for the victory. Hold on to your hats.
The Draw Is 3.20
Germany Could Challenge The World Record
In April 2001, Australia beat American Samoa 31-0 in World Cup qualifier, with forward Archie Thompson helping himself to a frankly ludicrous 13 goals (final international record, 28 from 54 caps).
That story is infamous enough that you probably already knew it, but could we see something similar when the world champions take on a Gibraltar side who’ve conceded 17 in three matches in Nuremburg?
Germany enter Friday’s ‘match’ off the back of disappointing results against Poland and the Republic of Ireland. They are out to make a statement and Gibraltar are in the way. This could get messy.
Serbia Try To Get Going Against Denmark
They saved a last gasp draw in Armenia and then saw their clash with Albania abandoned due to a flag-carrying drone entering the pitch, so it is safe to say that things haven’t gone to plan for a talented Serbia side so far.
Bransislav Ivanovic, Nemanja Matic, Dusan Tadic, Lazar Markovic and the rest have the perfect chance to kickstart their campaign when they welcome a low on confidence Denmark to Belgrade on Friday, with the visitors fresh from suffering a last gasp heartbreak at the hands of Cristiano Ronaldo last time out.
Serbia are 2.25 to win in Belgrade
The Ronaldo Show Rolls On
That header in Copenhagen acted as the kiss of life to Portugal’s qualification hopes, and with Ronaldo now fit and firing – and having only failed to score against Kolo Toure and Liverpool in his last 15 matches – then confidence will be high as Armenia come to the Algarve on Friday.
Portugal do have a recent history of shocking home results such as their opening loss to Albania but with Ronaldo in the side that won’t happen this time, will it?
Costa’s Absence Could Be A Blessing In Disguise For Spain
Diego Costa was fit enough to score the winner at Anfield on Saturday but not to join up with the Spain squad for Saturday’s meeting with Belarus and subsequent friendly against Germany.
He won’t admit it, but Vicente del Bosque might see the absence of the Chelsea forward as a blessing in disguise as he looks at other options. He’s called up three uncapped forwards in Jose Callejon, Nolito and Alvaro Morata, and will see the fixtures as another chance for Valencia’s Paco Alcacer – three goals in four internationals – to strengthen his hold on the No. 9 shirt.
Spain are 2.80 to beat Belarus win with a three-goal handicap
Will Anything Exciting Happen At Wembley?
It says a lot about the dreary nature of England’s simple group that the big stories from their campaign so far have been off-field ones surrounding Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge. Sterling is in the squad for the home game with Slovenia on Saturday but will anything exciting actually happen in it?
Wayne Rooney will win his 100th cap and Saido Berahino and Nathaniel Clyne might win their first given the paucity of options upfront and at right-back. England will win, too, but then that’s about it.
Iceland Seek To Keep It Up
Three wins out of three, eight goals scored and none conceded. It has been a stunning start to qualification for Iceland, who go to the Czech Republic after a friendly in Belgium.
The form of two-goal Gylfi Sigurdsson was key to their win over the Dutch last time out, but in the Czechs they’ll face another team with nine points and one that has been no less impressive so far. A win for either and they could almost be in France already.
Iceland are 4.75 to beat the Czechs
Dutch Desperation In Amsterdam
Two defeats from three qualifiers have got the knives out for Guus Hiddink already, with the veteran coach saying he’ll quit as the Netherlands boss if they lose at home to Latvia on Sunday.
Like against Kazakhstan in their last home game they’ll surely find a way to claim the points, but the World Cup semi-finalists look a long way off what they were in the summer, and Hiddink is likely to find a hostile reception in the capital.
Midfield Returns Boost Forwardless Wales
With 11 players absent, no recognised forward and Andy King sent off early in the second half, there was widespread relief in the Principality when Wales held on to beat Cyprus 2-1 in Cardiff last month.
Injuries mean that there’s no forward in the squad taking the daunting trip to face Belgium either, meaning that Gareth Bale is likely to be utilised alone upfront in a side which will at least include the returning Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey, a late scorer in Brussels when Wales claimed a surprise draw 13 months ago.
What the Group B table-toppers would give for a similar result this time.
The Welsh are 3.35 to win or draw in Belgium
Balotelli’s Back, But Pelle Takes Preference
Struggling for goals at Liverpool, Mario Balotelli has nevertheless been recalled to Antonio Conte’s Italy squad for the first time since the World Cup for the clash with Croatia in Milan.
However, just like in the Premier League, the forward might find that it is Southampton’s Graziano Pelle who overshadows him after scoring the winner in the last game in Malta, with Balotelli perhaps having to wait until next week’s friendly with Albania to get onto the pitch.