Croatia face Greece in World Cup qualifying on Thursday night.

Croatia to Earn World Cup Play Off Lead Versus Greece

Croatia face Greece in World Cup qualifying on Thursday night.

Four World Cup qualification games take place over the next three days in Europe, and we’re covering each of the all-important games. On Thursday night Northern Ireland play host to Switzerland and Croatia welcome Greece, as the four sides battle it out for a place in Russia 2018.

Croatia finished 2nd in group I behind Iceland, only narrowly taking the play off place ahead of Ukraine by virtue of a 2-0 win there in the final group match. A team that was seriously talked up as dark horses at Euro 2016, Croatia possess huge talent in the likes of Modric, Rakitic and Perisic, yet almost contrived to miss out on the showpiece tournament next summer. As it stands they must overcome a resurgent Greek side which finished 2nd only to Belgium in group H. Greece also edged out a close rival in Bosnia & Herzegovina, finishing two points ahead of that side after winning their final two group matches against Gibraltar and Cyprus.

The other game on Thursday evening sees Switzerland – so impressive in qualification – go up against a Northern Irish side bidding to qualify for their second major tournament in a row. The Swiss won their first nine group B qualification games and finished level pegging with Portugal on 27 points after losing the group decider in the final round of fixtures. The Portuguese took top spot via goal difference, but Switzerland enhanced their reputation throughout. Ireland were second to Germany in group C, but could afford to lose their last two group games having already amassed enough points to finish clear of Czech Republic.

Croatia v Greece

First to the Croatian game, where under 2.5 goals screams out as the best bet of the night at -182   with BetVictor.

Each of Croatia’s last five matches – all World Cup qualifiers – have gone under the 2.5 goal mark. At home it’s been three wins and two draws in the last five competitive games, with the Croatians keeping clean sheets in each of the victories against Kosovo, Ukraine and Iceland.

Each of Greece’s last three fixtures have seen three or more goals, but the prior seven games all fell under 2.5 goals, including a run of four consecutive World Cup qualifying draws. Away from home the Greeks have been very impressive in winning five and drawing two of the last seven on the road, the two stalemates coming in away qualifiers in Belgium and Bosnia.

All of the evidence suggests a tight and low-scoring affair, and one suspects Greece would be more than happy to come away with a hard-earned draw. However, there could be value in backing Croatia to win to nil at  -115   with BetVictor, as they have the quality to unpick a defiant Greek defence.

Croatia would be playing a dangerous game if they go into the second leg in Greece without a lead, and that should propel them towards attacking intent in this home match. They lost away qualifiers in Iceland and Turkey, and the importance of winning this home leg cannot be understated if that selection of world-class players want to take part in next year’s World Cup.

Northern Ireland v Switzerland

Switzerland are favoured by the bookmakers in Northern Ireland, but there is no reason why the home side can’t take at least a draw from the match. Northern Ireland are -132   with 888Sport in the double chance market.

Switzerland began their qualification campaign with a 2-0 win over newly-crowned European champions Portugal last September, and won every game since then against other group contenders – Hungary, Faroe Islands, Latvia and Andorra. It’s hard to gauge the quality of those results, and the Swiss were beaten 2-0 by Portugal in their final group match to miss out on top spot.

Northern Ireland’s took 2nd spot in their group largely by virtue of the four points gained in two matches against Czech Republic. Norway, Azerbaijan and San Marino made up the numbers in group C, and Irish results against those sides bear little relevance to this match against a much stronger rival.

What is relevant is Northern Ireland’s home record, where only Germany (twice) and Croatia have won in the last 14 games – a run stretching back to late 2014. No side will find it easy to get a result here, and Switzerland could well adopt a safety first approach in the knowledge that thy have a second leg at home to come. Another low-scoring game would not be a surprise, and Northern Ireland are fancied to at least keep it level after 90 minutes.

Tips Summary

Croatia v Greece – Under 2.5 goals
Thursday 9th November, 19:45 GMT
Odds:  -182

Croatia to win to Nil
Thursday 9th November, 19:45 GMT
Odds:  -115

Northern Ireland or Draw – Double Chance
Thursday 9th November, 19:45 GMT
Odds:  -132

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