The World Cup 2018 is fast approaching, and the qualifiers are in full flow with a host of teams vying to book their place for the tournament in Russia. The next batch of European qualifiers commences today with ten fixtures including France, England, and Germany. Here are our the predictions for today’s games:
France vs Sweden
Friday’s only fixture concerning group A is between the two sides at the top of the table, level on points. With two wins and a draw so far in the qualifiers, both have demonstrated their quality on the pitch and have left third-placed Netherlands in the dust. On paper, France are the obvious favourite to win the game but Sweden have exceeded the expectations since the retirement of their captain, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and will be a tough unit to crack.
In terms of momentum, both are coming off two wins in a row, but France have a slight edge due to their 1-0 over Netherlands in the previous fixture. France can expect a resolute Swedish performance, who are aiming to continue the current drive and motivation amongst the squad.
With Kevin Gameiro and Antoine Griezmann up front in a rich vein of form and creative playmakers in the form of Pogba and Payet, France should win this encounter 2-0.
San Marino vs Germany
This is an easy prediction to make. The hosts, San Marino have no points so far in three games while Germany have all nine points from first three matches. San Marino, ranked 201 in FIFA’s ranking, will be no match for the German powerhouse, who are ranked No. 2 in the world.
The Germans have scored eight in three games, and in fact, could have scored a lot more in their last win against Northern Ireland. San Marino will resort to defensive tactics but will not be able to contain the Germans for long.
Die Mannschaft should comfortably cruise to a positive result. Depending on the team that Joachim Low starts with, number of goals can fluctuate. If the strongest lineup or close to the strongest one is played, Germany could end up scoring five times or so. But in any scenario, Germany will triumph by a margin of at least three goals.
Northern Ireland vs Azerbaijan
One of the more surprising stories from the qualifications so far is the unbeaten streak of Azerbaijan so far in three games. Amassing seven points by defeating San Marino and Norway while drawing away at the Czech Republic has resulted in them being called the dark horse of the group.
On the other hand, Northern Ireland are coming off the back of a successful Euro 2016 but followed it up with a disappointing run in the World Cup qualifiers. With just one win against San Marino and a stalemate against the Czech Republic to show for, the pressure is all on Martin O’ Neill’s side this week.
But, Northern Ireland are considered favourites to win this fixture. Although Azerbaijan have been defensively astute so far with three clean sheets and will aim to continue the same, their goal will be breached in this fixture and will find it difficult to take the game to the hosts. Northern Ireland will manage to sneak away a win at Windsor Park.
The Czech Republic vs Norway
Another tricky fixture for Norway, who are up against the Czech Republic away in Prague. The Czech Republic have disappointed in the qualifiers so far, with two draws and a comprehensive defeat at the hands of Germany while Norway have just a solitary win against San Marino to show for.
Although the hosts are favourites for the tie, Norway have the ability to spring a surprise as can be seen in their second half performance against San Marino in an otherwise poor campaign. The Czech Republic seem to have no confidence or momentum since the retirement of five first team players including Petr Cech and will find it tough against Norway as well. A draw would be a reasonable result to predict between these two sides.
Denmark vs Kazakhstan
None of these two sides has impressed much in the three games so far. Denmark, fourth place with three points, showed flashes of their talent by almost making a comeback against group favourites Poland in their 3-2 loss in Warsaw. Kazakhstan, one point and place behind Denmark have drawn against Poland and Romania but were crushed by Montenegro 5-0.
Denmark do have the quality in their squad to perform better and will most likely do so in today’s game, so expect them to grab a win by a margin of just one goal.
Romania vs Poland
The tricky fixture from group E this week is between the group favourites, Poland and Romania. Led from up front by one of the world’s best strikers in Robert Lewandowski, Poland has squeaked past Armenia and Denmark in their previous two encounters. But their defensive performances have been found lacking in each of the three games. They have conceded five goals so far and are relying on their attacking talent for results.
On the other hand, the hosts have conceded just one goal while managing to breach the opposition net six times, five of which were against Armenia itself. Romania have maintained defensive discipline while also showing attacking intent, especially via their striker Bogdan Stancu.
While the hosts are favourites to get a result out of this tie, it is impossible to not take into account the Lewandowski threat. Topping the goal charts with five in three games, and a further 14 to his name for Bayern Munich this season, Lewandowski will be influential again and can be the difference between the two sides. Poland will grab an unlikely and a rather difficult win in this group E fixture.
Armenia vs Montenegro
The surprising league leaders Montenegro are up against bottom placed and points-feeder, Armenia. With a goal difference of +6 and -7 respectively, Montenegro and Armenia are on two other ends of the spectrum and this seems like a straightforward win for Montenegro.
Armenia have barely threatened in front of goal so far, scoring just once while Montenegro have conceded just once. Montenegro are clear favourites for the game and will continue their ascent with another win, although it will likely not be a thrashing.
England vs Scotland
The highlight game of the day and a crucial one too is between the rivals, England and Scotland. Both the squads and their respective managers, Gareth Southgate and Gordon Strachan have to get a result today in order to build some momentum and confidence.
England are unbeaten and top of the group with seven points, but were disappointing in their stalemate against Slovenia and have just moved on from the Sam Allardyce controversy. Scotland, on the other hand, have been impressive only in their opening game against a 9-man Malta. A 1-1 draw against Lithuania and a convincing 3-0 defeat against Slovakia has dampened their hopes and chances.
In order to remain in contention for the qualifying spot, Scotland will have to dig deep and hope that in-form Snodgrass inspires their attacking unit to grab something out of this tie. England have brought back Wayne Rooney to their first XI and will be hoping that their captain has an inspired game similar to the one against Swansea last week.
They will also have the services of Kane up front now that he has recovered from his injury and that should be a decisive difference. England will come out of this encounter unscathed, most likely with a 2-0 win.
Malta vs Slovenia
Another encounter that looks to have a given result is between the bottom-of-the-table team, Malta and Slovenia. Slovenia is two points off the top and have had a moderately good start to the qualifiers. A draw against England and Lithuania and a victory against Slovakia has put them in a good situation with easier games yet to be played while Malta have been nowhere near getting a result in any of the three games. Slovenia will cruise to a win by two goals to nil in this one.
Slovakia vs Lithuania
A game that will be overshadowed by the England-Scotland game but holds massive importance. Lithuania have been largely impressive so far considering they’re ranked 98 in the FIFA rankings. Two draws and a win against 10-man Malta has given them a great start and hope of qualification.
But Marek Hamsik-inspired Slovakia and England are yet to face Lithuania and these two fixtures will determine the reality of their qualification chances. Slovakia have been slow off the block with defeats against England and Slovenia. But the 3-0 win against Scotland has brought some momentum and a delayed start to qualification hopes.
Despite Lithuania being two points and three spots above Slovakia, the hosts should overcome the in-form guests with a slightly nervous victory.Published 11 Nov 2016, 16:25 IST