Wales have been dealt a huge blow ahead of the two World Cup qualifiers this week, as Gareth Bale has been ruled out with a calf strain. In need of at least four points to stand a realistic chance of finishing 2nd in group D and qualifying for a play off place, the Welsh must do without their stand out player.
On Friday night they face a tricky away game in Georgia, before Monday’s showdown with Republic of Ireland – which could turn into a shootout for 2nd spot in the group behind Serbia. Ireland have a welcome home game against Moldova on Friday evening, a game which should give them the opportunity to get back into a winning stride after four qualifiers without a win. A Welsh defeat and an Irish win would still leave that 2nd spot hanging in the balance so nothing can be won or lost on Friday, but the results may well change the complexion of Monday’s game.
At present Serbia top group D with 18 points. Wales are next with 14, and Ireland are breathing down their necks with 13. Unfortunately for Wales, they must do without Bale as they go in search of a first qualifying win without him since 2013, and a first competitive away win without him since victory in Macedonia in 2009. They come up against a Georgia side which has yet to win in this campaign, but which has drawn 5 of 8 so far and is proving hard to beat.
In other matches on Friday night, Serbia travel to Austria in the same group knowing a win will wrap up top spot, while Spain entertain Albania in their first match since the terrible events over the independence vote for Catalonia.
Georgia v Wales
As much as they need a win, Wales may have to settle for a draw which is priced at +240 with Bet365.
What Wales and Georgia have in common is that they have both drawn five of eight qualifiers so far, but that is where the similarity ends. Wales have won their other three matches in the campaign, while Georgia have lost their other three fixtures. The two played out a 1-1 draw on Welsh soil in the return fixture back in October 2016, and it could be a similar story tonight.
Since Euro 2016 Chris Coleman’s side have drawn three World Cup qualifiers on the road in Serbia, Ireland and Austria, and they won their last away match 2-0 in Moldova. They’ve also been held to draws at home by Georgia and Serbia, but have beaten Austria and Moldova on home soil.
Georgia have been beaten at home in group D by both Austria and Serbia, so there is a chink of light for the Welsh, but the Georgians held Ireland to a 1-1 draw in their last home game and they are a difficult side to break down. Young Ben Woodburn has been tipped to take Bale’s place after impressive performances against Austria and Moldova, but it’s a lot of pressure to put on a 17 year-old to expect him to make an impact here.
On balance a draw is a decent bet at the odds, and Friday’s results will almost certainly set up a final fixture showdown between Ireland and Wales.
Austria v Serbia
There is of course still a chance that one of the above could catch and overtake Serbia at the top of the group, but we’re backing the Serbs to put that beyond doubt by beating Austria at +112 with Marathonbet.
Should they lose this Serbia will still have a second chance to claim top spot by beating Georgia at home on Monday, and just two points over the course of the two games will secure automatic qualification. They are unbeaten so far in the group – won 5, drawn 3 – and they beat Austria 3-2 in the reverse fixture.
The Austrians had a superb campaign to qualify for Euro 2016, but failed to make any impact at the tournament proper. A 0-0 draw with Portugal was their group highlight in France, but defeats to both Iceland and Hungary saw them on the first plane home. This qualification effort has left much to be desired – they’ve managed just two wins and 9 points overall, leaving them too far adrift to have any real hope of qualifying. They’ve won just two of the last nine internationals at home, against Moldova and Malta, but have been beaten in front of their own fans by Ireland, Netherlands and Turkey.
Serbia have won their last two qualifiers on the rod in Georgia and Ireland, and can take three points and wrap up qualification on Friday night.
Spain v Albania
It’s been a tumultuous week in Spain, with the vote for independence in Catalonia causing huge unrest and prompting Pique to offer his resignation from the international side if the Spanish FA desires. One hopes that common sense prevails and that politics can be kept out of sport. Spain have been in good form of late and a big win could be just the ticket to restore a bit of solidarity. They can be backed at -143 with Winner Sports to beat a -2.5 Asian handicap, and that is the third recommended bet for Friday evening.
Spain have won all four home qualifiers in this campaign so far, and remain three points ahead of Italy with two games to go. that means they can’t afford to slip up as they aim to secure top spot and an automatic place at Russia 2018. They beat the Italians 3-0 at home in September, following up a 4-1 home win over Israel, an 8-0 stuffing of Liechtenstein and a 4-0 drubbing of Macedonia.
Albania are third in the group but have no hope of usurping Italy for second place, and will find themselves defending for long periods in Spain. The Spanish allstars are capable of scoring at least three goals and covering the handicap.
Georgia and Wales to Draw
Friday 6th October, 17:00 GMT
Serbia to beat Austria
Friday 6th October, 19:45 GMT
Spain -2.5 to beat Albania
Friday 6th October, 19:45 GMT
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