The World Cup qualifiers begin in earnest this weekend, and SBO will bring you our selections across the weekend. For a detailed look at the best bets of the whole weekend, including the huge match between England and Scotland, check out the preview here.
In this particular column, we’ll be looking at some of the other matches taking place on Saturday, one of which is in England and Scotland’s group. Slovakia beat Scotland 3-0 back in October, and followed up with comfortable victories over Lithuania and Malta. They sit second in group F, four points adrift of the Three Lions at the top. Slovakia face an away trip on Saturday evening to Lithuania, where they’ll be hoping to sweep up another three points.
On the same night Norway host the Czech Republic in a tricky match in group C. Germany lead this section with fifteen points after five wins out of five. Northern Ireland fill second berth with 10 points – two ahead of the Czech Republic, who have ground to make up. Their campaign started badly with defeat to Germany and draws with Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan. It’s been turned around with back-to-back wins against Norway and San Marino, but even a play off place in Russia 2018 qualifying is still in the balance. Norway have just three points in the group from a 4-1 win against San Marino, but they’ve lost all four other ties to Germany, Azerbaijan, Czech Republic, and Northern Ireland.
Lithuania v Slovakia
We’re backing away wins in both games, and Slovakia are the first call at -137 with William Hill.
English fans will be very familiar with Slovakia’s players – the three Lions met this side at Euro 2016 as well as landing in the same qualifying group for this World Cup. What we have seen from the Eastern European side is that they are very well organised, and in Napoli’s Marek Hamsik they have the jewel in the crown. Recent friendly defeats to Uganda and Sweden don’t read particularly well – Sweden put six past Slovakia without return – but they bounced back to form in their most recent competitive match which was a 3-1 defeat of Malta. Slovakia are rated the 18th best side in Europe according to the world ELO ratings, while Lithuania are classed as the 40th best side on the continent.
Lithuania have amassed five points from draws with Slovenia and Scotland and a victory over Malta. They’ve been comfortably beaten to nil by both England and Slovakia since then, and will hope that a return to home ground will see them improve on the 4-0 beating they suffered at the hands of Saturday’s opponents back in November. They certainly fayre better in their own country – with a record of 4-3-3 over the last ten matches. Those wins, however, have been over Estonia (twice), Malta and San Marino.
Norway v Czech Republic
The Czech Republic come next, and could be a great punt at +195 with Unibet to claim victory in Norway.
This is a big match for both teams in terms of qualification for Russia 2018. The Czech’s are in a better position but remain two points adrift of Northern Ireland in a battle for second place. Norway are in much more bother, sitting second-bottom of the group with three points. Only San Marino are below them – the minnows predictably rock bottom with zero points from five matches.
The Czech Republic were somewhat disappointing at last year’s European Championships, losing to Spain and Turkey and only snatching a 2-2 draw with Croatia from the jaws of defeat. The World Cup campaign got off to a wobbly start, but they’ll be looking to make it three wins in a row in qualifying and keep up the pressure on Northern Ireland. They’ve won three of the last four competitive away internationals, with the only defeat coming in Germany.
Norway have lost six of their last seven games, and lack any real strength in depth. At least home form has been slightly better, after three wins and two defeats in the last five. Germany and Belarus have won here, while Norway have beaten the lesser lights of San Marino and Finland – the standout result a friendly win against Iceland. However back in a competitive arena, Czech Republic should be too strong and are well worth a punt at some tasty odds.
Slovakia to beat Lithuania
Saturday 10th June, 19:45 GMT
Czech Republic to beat Norway
Saturday 10th June, 19:45 GMT