MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) picks out his favourite fancies from Monday night’s World Cup qualifying card.
Faroe Islands v Portugal | Monday 19.45 | Sky Sports 1
European champions Portugal began their road to Russia with a 2-0 reverse in Switzerland without talisman Cristiano Ronaldo last month. But the Selecao bounced back with a CR7-led 6-0 destruction of Andorra in a bad-tempered encounter on Friday night.
Having tipped the Iberians for Euro 2016 glory, I always felt that head coach Fernando Santos – as opposed to Ronaldo – was the most important piece of Portugal’s puzzle and I’m inclined to think the ex-Greece boss is again the key component behind my selection on Monday evening.
Heading into the Euros, Santos insisted his side were committed to a more attacking approach but bar the thrilling 3-3 draw with Hungary, we saw little evidence to suggest his comments were anything but kidology.
After his initial appointment, Santos used 53 players during his first year and put emphasis on structure, organisation and a regimented defensive system. There might be power, pace and energy in the current squad but I remain convinced this team suffers against the lesser lights due to the coach’s cautious attitude.
In nine competitive wins (W9-D5-L1) during Santos’ reign, only two have arrived by a margin of two goals or more, one of which was Friday’s demolition of Andorra. So with the Selecao far from thrilling in the entertainment stakes and with a focus on efficiency, I see value in finding a pro-Faroes angle here.
The north Atlantic underdogs did the double over Greece during Euro 2016 qualification and have since started their road to Russia with four points from a possible six – holding Hungary 0-0 in Torshavn before a 2-0 triumph in Latvia last time out.
The hosts are an improving nation and should they follow the protocol of sitting deep and putting numbers behind the ball, Portugal could toil in their attempts to put a cricket score on Lars Olsen’s group.
Since 2008 the Faroe Islands have only W4-D4-L14 when welcoming continental foes in competitive action but only five (23%) defeats arrived by a margin of three goals or more in that sample.
Considering Portugal’s tendency to just do enough in meaningful matches under Santos, I reckon the 39/40 (Bet365) available on the Faroes +2.25 is well worth following. We’ll make money should the home side avoid a three-goal loss.
Netherlands v France | Monday 19.45 | ITV4
The world and his dog know the Netherlands are deep in transition following a dismal performance during the Euro 2016 qualifiers. As if you needed reminding, the Dutch finished fourth behind Czech Republic, Iceland and Turkey, losing five of their 10 fixtures.
Danny Blind’s been restored for the road to Russia and having picked up four points from a possible six against Sweden (1-1) and Belarus (4-1), the mood and morale in the Oranje camp has improved, if only slightly.
There’s still a dearth of world class quality across the group, especially with captain Arjen Robben absent. Wesley Sneijder provides the experience but the youthful side has struggled with the defensive aspects of the game in the past 12 months and that’s an obvious concern on Monday night.
Holland have conceded in 12 of their last 13 matches and shipped 19 goals in 11 outings as hosts since the 2014 World Cup. Five of their guests have managed to strike at least twice, including their next visitors France.
Les Blues beat the Dutch 3-2 during a friendly international in Amsterdam back in March and should be capable of repeating the feat in October. Didier Deschamps’ have notched two or more goals in 11 of their 14 games during 2016 and impressed when putting Bulgaria away 4-1 on Friday.
Much was made of France’s 0-0 draw in Belarus back in September but Les Blues won the shot count 20-2 that night and considering the same opposition caused the Netherlands plenty of problems just days ago in Rotterdam, the away side look primed to follow suit.
Holland’s 4-1 victory over Belarus wasn’t reflected in the expected goals data with the underdogs actually winning the count 1.38-1.33, suggesting the match was significantly closer than the final result and I just don’t expect France to be so forgiving.
I’ll back Les Blues to win and Over 1.5 Goals at 2/1 (BetStars). Only three of France’s past 55 internationals have ended in 1-0 triumphs whilst only one of the Dutch’s past 24 matches have featured fewer than two goals.
Latvia v Hungary | Monday 19.45 | Sky Sports Red Button
Hungary defied pre-tournament predictions at Euro 2016 by topping Group F and enjoying a run to the Round of 16 before a pummelling by Belgium.
But Bernd Storck’s side haven’t made such a glittery start to World Cup qualifying – drawing in the Faroe Islands before a late goal sunk the side against Switzerland on Friday. Nevertheless, the Magyars are good enough to pocket their first three points here.
Latvia opened their campaign with a sketchy 1-0 victory in Andorra – the minnows actually winning the shot count 8-6 – and that remains their sole success in 14 matches now as last time out they were beaten 2-0 when welcoming the Faroes to Riga.
Hungary (W8-D4-L4 in competitive away games) still believe a top-two finish is within reach and will be aware, winning on Monday night is paramount to keep their World Cup dreams alive.
The visitors are 17/20 (Bet365) to succeed and should do with the Latvians missing a catalogue of recent first-team players.
Belarus v Luxembourg | Monday 19.45 | Sky Sports Red Button
As already mentioned, Belarus gave the Netherlands a much sterner test than the final scoreline suggests but the hosts should finally pick up a victory when they welcome fellow outsiders Luxembourg to Minsk.
The Belarussians drew 0-0 at home to Euro 2016 finalists France despite being distinctly second-best in their opening qualification contest last month and Alyaksandr Khatskevich’s men are reasonable performers on home soil.
Spain are the only side in six to depart Minsk with a win whilst David Silva’s strike is the only goal conceded by the hosts in 450 minutes in front of their own fans.
Luxembourg have suffered eight successive away defeats and were beaten 2-0 here as recently as September 2015 during Euro 2016 qualifying and a similar result wouldn’t be a huge surprise at all.
Only three of Belarus’ last 15 as hosts have featured more than two goals so I’ll back the Belarussians to succeed alongside Under 2.5 Goals at 43/20 (BetStars).