WILL DYER (@w2Dyer) bagged us a winner on Sunday thanks to Adam Lallana’s late goal. How will he get on when sifting through Monday evening’s World Cup 2018 Qualifiers?
Albania v FYR Macedonia | Monday 19:45
Albania were one of many smaller nations that impressed earlier this summer. Euro 2016 was the Eagles first major tournament and they performed valiantly. They kicked off the Group Stage with a defeat to Switzerland but given that their captain Lorik Cana was sent off after just half an hour, the 1-0 defeat wasn’t at all a bad showing.
Against France in game two they held out until the 90th minute before conceding a quick-fire double to Antoine Griezmann and Dmitri Payet. It wasn’t just a case of backs to the wall though as they themselves managed 9 attempts at goal.
In the final group game, they beat a much-fancied Romania 1-0 with a goal from Armando Sadiku. The Albanian fans were fantastic as well and will surely get behind their team in their droves for this World Cup qualifying campaign.
At the back, Elseid Hysaj and Mergim Mavraj look set for great careers with big European clubs. Lorik Cana retired after Euro 2016 so they have big boots to fill but I’m confident they can do that.
Just two of the 23-man squad ply their trade in their home nation and both are sub goalkeepers. The level of club that the bulk of these players are attached to is pretty good; Napoli, Basel, Koln and Rennes to name but a few.
Conversely the Red Lynxes have only named 17 players. Four of them still play in Macedonia and another five play in weaker leagues like Cyprus and Croatia. Goran Pandev is still their most well-known name but the all-time top-scorer is now 33 and the ex-Lazio striker has only featured at club level 15 times since 2014.
Macedonia hold a W4-D3-L1 record over Albania but I think these two nations are trending in opposite directions so it’s Albania at 4/5 with Bet365.
Finland v Kosovo | Monday 19:45
Kosovo only gained UEFA and FIFA membership in May of this year. Since 1993 they have played a series of random friendlies with the varying levels of access granted to them by football’s governing bodies.
Many Kosovan people have left the region and live in surrounding countries like Albania. Indeed, the aforementioned Lorik Cana was born in Kosovo.
They beat the Faroe Islands earlier this year in a friendly in Germany and they have also tested themselves against nations like Turkey, Oman, Equatorial Guinea and Albania in the last couple of years as well as matches against club sides like Borussia Moenchengladbach and Eintracht Frankfurt.
However, I think this will be a big step up and learning curve for them in their first qualifying campaign. Finland are not at all a good team at the moment but in 2016 they have gone to Italy and Germany and not been hammered and also drew in Belgium.
The average age of the Kosovo midfield corps is just 23 years old too. There are plenty of players at good clubs but it could take a couple of years of International experience before results start to come.
The point I’m trying to make is that friendlies against varying levels of opposition is a complete different kettle of fish to a World Cup qualifying campaign and with the Finnish at home and experienced campaigners like Niklas Moisander and Roman Eremenko in their side they should win this easily.
4/6 is the quote on a home win but I’m going for Finland to win with a bit to spare. The -1 Asian Handicap is 25/19 at 888Sport. Win by 1 and the stake’s refunded. Win by more and it’s a full pay out.
Ukraine v Iceland Tips | Monday 19:45
I thought Ukraine were very disappointing at Euro 2016. They failed to score a single goal over the three group games. Against Germany they were completely outclassed and whilst they dominated a lot of the ball and chances against both Poland and Northern Ireland they lacked the ideas and creativity to make it count.
Iceland on the other hand were the darlings of the continent. The whole nation got behind them and that spirit translated onto the pitch with the Icemen qualifying from Group F in dramatic fashion with a last minute winner from Arnor Traustason. They then went on to do the unthinkable and dump England out in the Round of 16 before playing their part in a 5-2 defeat at the hands of the hosts.
Iceland even won that second half 2-1 against Les Bleus in Saint Denis.
Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka can give anyone a game but Iceland are so well drilled that I expect them to be kept fairly quiet.
One of the main problems for the Yellow-Blue is the lack of a goal-scorer. Going into Euro 2016 they couldn’t call upon any striker with more than 11 goals for his nation and Roman Zozulya, whom they ended up opting for, has never scored double figures in a domestic season.
Stalwart Anatoliy Tymoschuk has now retired and he leaves a pretty big hole in defensive midfield, whilst the experienced Vyacheslav Shevchuk is also 37 so doesn’t make the squad. Ukraine have always been strong defensively but there’s a bit of uncertainty around that at the minute.
Unfortunately, Kolbeinn Sightorsson is out injured but Alfred Finnbogason is well versed in International football these days and Iceland prefer to play with just the one striker anyway.
Iceland have taken down some pretty big nations on their travels recently. They’ve only lost two of their last seven games away from their island home and even more impressive; they have also scored in all of their last 12.
I don’t think Ukraine will win this on Monday night. Iceland +0.5 on the Asian Handicap is 43/40 with Bet365. The same bet as ‘Double Chance’, just more value.