The raft of World Cup qualifiers continues on Friday night in Europe as places at Russia 2018 edge over closer. Much of the focus will fall on England’s group where Gareth Southgate’s men have a chance to pull further clear at the top by beating Malta, and Scotland face a must-win game in Lithuania to stay in contention.
England sit top of group F with 14 points from six matches – four wins and two draws. Two victories during this international break, away at Malta and at home to Slovakia, could all but wrap up qualification for the Three Lions and that is surely the aim for Southgate. Wayne Rooney’s decision to retire from international football removes the desire to ‘shoehorn’ him into the side, and Southgate has already shown that he is prepared to thrust his young stars into the thick of the action. England’s credentials will be under the microscope against Malta, as ever, but the international minnows really should pose few problems for England’s top level professionals.
The more intriguing game in the group on Friday night is Scotland’s away tie in Lithuania. The Scots are back in 4th place in the group with just 8 points, behind Slovakia (12 points) and Slovenia (11 points). Those two nations play each other on Friday night in Slovakia, and if Scotland can take three points it will enable them to close the gap on at least one of those rivals for 2nd position. Manager Gordon Strachan has not shied away from describing this one as a ‘must-win’, and the points will be vital if the Scottish are to stake a claim for a place in Russia next year.
In other matches it’s first v third in group E as Poland visit Denmark, and the visitors look to be slightly underestimated by the bookmakers. The Poles have 16 points from five wins and one draw, and beat Denmark 3-2 when they met last October. Denmark are level on 10 points with Montenegro in the likely battle for 2nd place, but the side which didn’t qualify for Euro 2016 are not at the same level as a strong Poland team.
Lithuania v Scotland
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Those Scottish fans with long memories will recall the ill-fated 1-1 draw with Lithuania back in October – a quite remarkable match. Scotland squandered chance after chance during the game only to fall behind to a Lithuanian counter-attack in the 59th minute. James McArthur’s 89th minute equaliser spared Scottish blushes, but it was a damaging result in a game that they really should have won. 3-0 defeats to both England and Slovakia followed, and Gordon Strachan quickly found his side playing a game of catch-up.
A 1-0 win against Slovenia and a 2-2 draw against England certainly restored some pride among the Scottish ranks, and it falls to Friday night for the squad to make it count. A home tie against Malta follows for Scotland, and six points from this international break is arguably the minimum requirement in terms of qualification.
For Lithuania’s part, this is an attempt to stop a run of three straight qualifying defeats, and four overall. Their other points have been gathered from a draw with Slovenia and a victory over Malta, but they have subsequently been beaten comfortably by Slovakia (twice) and England.
Denmark v Poland
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The Danes finished third in their Euro 2016 qualifying group behind Portugal and Albania, but subsequently lost the play off game to Sweden. They are joint-second in the current standings in qualifying group E, but it should be noted that their 10 points have come from wins over Armenia and Kazakhstan (twice) and a draw with Romania. They have lost both matches against main group rivals, Poland and Montenegro.
The Poles are in pole position thanks to five straight qualifying wins. It really should be six, but they let a 2-0 lead slip in Kazakhstan in the opening qualifier as their hosts fought back for a 2-2 draw. They beat Denmark 3-2 in Poland back in October, but were three goals to the good from a Lewandowski hat-trick before conspiring to let Denmark back in with two goals. A point here from Poland’s perspective will keep Denmark six points adrift with three fixtures to play, while a win would see Poland within touching distance of automatic qualification.
Malta v England
It’s difficult to approach the England game from a betting perspective, so skewed are the odds in favour of the Three Lions, but for those interested in a punt it could be worth getting on Dele Alli to score at anytime at 1.95Bet €100 to win €19519/20Bet £100 to win £195-105Bet $100 to win $1950.95Bet HK$100 to win HK$195-1.05Bet Rp100 to win Rp1950.9500Bet RM100 to win RM195 with Marathonbet.
The Spurs attacker is likely to be one of Gareth Southgate’s first names on the teamsheet, as the England boss looks to cultivate the club partnership he has with Harry Kane. England really should win this game, and although they only managed to beat Malta 2-0 in the reverse fixture at Wembley, it doesn’t necessarily follow that this will be low-scoring as well.
At their best England could put four or five past Malta’s part-timers, and Alli has always shown his poaching instincts when wearing the Three Lion’s shirt.
Scotland to beat Lithuania
Friday 1st September, 19:45 GMT
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Poland or Draw – Double chance
Friday 1st September, 19:45 GMT
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Malta v England – Dele Alli to score at anytime
Friday 1st September, 19:45 GMT
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- Dele Alli
- World Cup Qualifiers