The International break is back and it starts with a bang as three of the home nations are in action on Thursday night. England need just a point from their last two games to secure top spot in group F and book a place at Russia 2018, and they look likely to get at least that from a Wembley showdown with Slovenia.
In the same group Scotland entertain Slovakia, which to a certain degree, is a shootout for 2nd place. Gordon Strachan’s Scotland would still need to travel to Slovenia and win on Sunday, but the winner of this match will at least have their fate in their own hands. As things stand in group F, England are top with 20 points, Slovakia come next with 15, while Scotland and Slovenia are locked together on 14 points.
Two sides whose fate is very much in their own hands are Germany and Northern Ireland, and they meet in Belfast on the same night. Germany have coasted through group C with 8 wins from 8 games, and the world champions are already assured of their place in the top two. They need just a point from two matches against Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan to be certain of a place at the competition in Russia next year. The Northern Irish are 2nd in the group with 19 points, but are so far ahead that they are assured of at least that position and a play off place. All of this should mean it’s a carnival atmosphere at Windsor Park on Thursday evening, but it would be no great surprise to see the Germans spoil the party.
England v Slovenia
First bet of the night is to back England at 109/1002.09+1091.091.09-0.92 with Bet365 to overcome a -1.5 Asian handicap and secure a comfortable victory over Slovenia.
Comfortable wins are not the staple of England in this qualification campaign, but their record at Wembley remains strong and they are up against a limited Slovenian team. The two teams met in Gareth Southgate’s second game in temporary charge of the national team, and his England were held to a frustrating 0-0 draw in Slovenia. Since then the English have gone on to lead the group, but Slovenia’s only wins have come over Malta and Lithuania.
Defeats away in Slovakia and Scotland – both by 1-0 scorelines – have left Slovenia in a tough position. They can still qualify, but would need to beat Scotland on Sunday and hope that other results fall their way. They would almost certainly require a point from this match at Wembley too, and that salient fact may dictate the way they approach the game.
England will want to get the job done ahead of Sunday’s trip to Lithuania, and recent form suggest they can do so. the Three Lions have won all four home qualifying internationals, including coming from behind in their last Wembley outing to beat Slovakia 2-1. In each of the other three wins at the national stadium against Scotland, Malta and Lithuania, England kept clean sheets and won by at least two goals.
Northern Ireland v Germany
the same bet applies to Germany, where they are fancied to win by at least two goals at 23/251.92-1090.92-1.090.92 with Bet365.
Northern Ireland have had a superb campaign to guarantee second spot with two matches to spare, and the fans will rightly enjoy the night whether they win, lose or draw. They may have been helped by the Czech Republic’s capitulation in the group, but a play off place beckons regardless of results against the world champions on Thursday and away at Norway on Sunday.
There’s some recent history between the two to take into account – they shared a group at Euro 2016, Germany winning 1-0 through a first half goal. The reverse fixture also saw Germany win to nil back in October last year, Northern Ireland going down 2-0 on that occasion. The Germans warmed up for this one with a 6-0 thrashing of Norway, and one suspects they will finish the job in typically ruthless style.
Scotland v Slovakia
Finally we’ll take a chance on Slovakia coming out on top against Scotland and ruining their World Cup dreams at 23/103.30+2302.302.30-0.43 with 188Bet.
Both sides need a result here, although anything less than three points will probably sound the death knell for Scotland. That means they are likely to push for the result, and as Slovakia demonstrated against England, they can be swift on the break.
Back-to-back wins against Malta and Lithuania breathed new life into Scotland’s campaign over the course of the last international break, but only the most ardent patriots will get carried away with those results. It was only as recently as last October that Slovakia comfortably beat the Scottish 3-0 in this group, and that gap in quality has not diminished over the last 12 months.
Slovakia had won three in a row prior to their defeat at Wembley, including away games at Lithuania and Malta. They gave England a scare at Wembley by taking an early lead, and made the Three Lions work hard to come back and win. 2nd place is very much up for grabs for the Slovakians, and a positive result here will all by guarantee it. They host Malta in their final group match – one which they are strongly fancied to win, but it might just be the icing on the cake if they are already clear of both Scotland and Slovenia before kick off.
England -1.5 to beat Slovenia
Thursday 5th October, 19:45 GMT
Eric has been a sports journalist for over 20 years and has travelled the world covering top sporting events for a number of publications. He also has a passion for betting and uses his in-depth knowledge of the sports world to pinpoint outstanding odds and value betting opportunities.
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