The international break continues on Sunday with another round of World Cup qualifiers, and top of the bill is a Belgium side that are performing to potential under Roberto Martinez.
The former Everton manager was a surprise choice for the Belgian National job after their exit from Euro 2016, and after an inauspicious start with a 2-0 home defeat to Spain, his team have started to find their feet. Three wins from three World Cup qualifiers have put them comfortably top of group H, but it’s the manner in which they’ve done it that has caught the eye. thirteen goals scored and none conceded has been the perfect start on the road to Russia, and they have a very winnable home game on Sunday against Estonia.
In the same group Bosnia & Herzegovina travel to Greece to take on the joint-leaders of the section, but there are reasons to believe the Greeks occupy a false position at this early stage. They’ve beaten poor sides in Gibraltar, Cyprus and Estonia, and Bosnia will provide a much stiffer test.
Once again we’ll be avoiding most of the short-priced favourites on value grounds, so a rather more competitive fixture between Bulgaria and Belarus in group A is the next port of call. The away side held France to a 0-0 draw in the opening qualifier, and they can prove to be hard to beat again when they visit a struggling Bulgaria.
Belgium v Estonia
First up it’s Belgium, who can be backed at -116 with Ladbrokes to beat a -3 Asian Handicap.
For those not familiar with Asian Handicaps, the bet means that Belgium effectively start with a three-goal deficit. If they win by four or more the bet is landed, and if they win by three goals your stake will be refunded. That may seem like a big ask, but as we regularly see in international football, there is a huge gulf in class between the two sides.
Belgium opened their campaign with a 3-0 road success in Cyprus, with Lukaku on the scoresheet twice and Carrasco adding a late third. They followed that up with an imperious 4-0 home win over Bosnia – arguably their biggest rival in the group. A 6-0 win in Gibraltar followed in which Benteke scored a hat-trick and Hazard notched his second goal in two internationals. A 1-1 friendly draw with the Netherlands was a good warm-up for this match, and one expects it to be one-way traffic from the outset.
Estonia remain one of Europe’s minnows, despite the occasional shock result. Back in 2009 they beat Belgium 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier, but these are two very different teams now. Estonia’s only two victories in the last eleven internationals have come against Andorra and Gibraltar – two of Europe’s regular whipping boys. They’ve suffered a 7-0 friendly defeat to Portugal and a 5-0 World Cup qualification defeat to Bosnia in recent months, as well as being beaten 2-0 at home to Greece.
This is a poor Estonia side and Belgium will have more than enough chances to rack up a high-scoring victory.
Bulgaria v Belarus
Belarus have been on the losing side just twice in their last twelve internationals – beaten by Netherlands and Northern Ireland – but they’ve also pulled off some excellent results. They’ve beaten Republic of Ireland, Norway, Slovakia and Greece in the last year, and are certainly no pushovers. This qualification campaign started superbly with a backs-to-the-wall 0-0 draw against France, but that was followed by a 4-1 defeat to the Netherlands and a disappointing 1-1 home draw with Luxembourg.
However, they face a Bulgarian side that has lost four of it’s last five internationals and conceded three or more goals in each of them. A last-gasp winner gave them a 4-3 win over Luxembourg in this group, but the fact that they conceded three to a very average side tells its own story. Their other recent international results include a 7-2 loss to Japan, a 4-0 defeat to Denmark, a 4-1 loss to France and a 3-0 defeat in Sweden.
By contrast, Belarus have kept 8 clean sheets in the last 12 and are good enough to gain at least a point from this qualifier.
Greece v Bosnia & Herzegovina
The Greeks are three wins from three in this qualification campaign, and are 2nd in group H to Belgium on goal difference. A dismal Euro qualifying effort saw them finish last in their group, even below the Faroe Islands who they lost to twice. Surprise friendly wins over Australia and Netherlands led to three World Cup qualifier wins, but those have come against Estonia, Cyprus and Gibraltar – games that they should expect to win.
Bosnia were humbled 4-1 by Belgium, but have won both other qualifiers comfortably – 5-0 against Estonia, and 2-0 against Cyprus. On inspection they have only been beaten in the 17 internationals by very good teams – Spain, Belgium (twice) and Republic of Ireland in the Euro 2016 qualification play off.
Greece have lost seven of the last ten home internationals – against the likes of Romania, Finland, Faroe Islands, Northern Ireland and Belarus – and Bosnia are a good enough price to take a chance on the away win.
Belgium -3 to beat Estonia
Sunday 13th November, 19:45 GMT
Belarus or Draw
Sunday 13th November, 17:00GMT
Bosnia & Herzegovina to beat Greece
Sunday 13th November, 19:45 GMT