WILL DYER (@w2Dyer) had a profitable first game round in the World Cup qualifiers. Here he returns to the fray to preview three games including a big showdown between Italy and Spain.
Iceland v Finland | Thursday 19:45 | Sky Sports Red Button
The Icemen play their first competitive home game since their 2-2 draw with Latvia in May 2015. They had a quite brilliant summer at Euro 2016 and started off this World Cup qualifying campaign in a similar vein with a well-fought 1-1 draw in Ukraine.
Iceland played nine friendlies in the run up to Euro 2016 and eight of them were away from home. Results were therefore hard to come by but their qualifying campaign indicated towards something better.
Iceland conceded just six goals in 10 Euro qualifying games as home clean sheets were achieved against Holland, Kazakhstan and Turkey. They had already qualified for Euro 2016 when drawing 2-2 with Latvia, so that game should be taken with a pinch of salt.
It is over two years since Finland scored two goals in an international game and that was against the minnows, Faroe Islands. Through a total of 21 games they’ve managed to score just 10 goals.
Iceland have now lost just one of their last 14 home games at Laugardalsvollur in Reykjavik, that was against Sweden in 2014. During that time, they’ve posted a W9-D4-L1 record scoring 22 goals and conceding just eight.
I got Finland wrong against Kosovo last month – the Eagle Owls were second best against Kosovo in the visitors first ever tournament qualifier. They’ve dropped 23 places to 84th in the world according to FIFA’s rankings.
Finland haven’t done anything of note for a while, have not won in any of their last 10 games and seem too reliant on key men Niklas Moisander and Roman Eremenko.
Icelandic football seems to be in a really good place and as a result of Finland’s rut the 7/10 (Skybet) on offer for a home win looks too big. I had toyed with the idea of win ‘to nil’ but Iceland’s defence is questionable at times, making the straight home win look the best bet.
Italy v Spain | Thursday 19:45 | ITV4
Spain looked back to their best in the friendly against Belgium last month and followed that up with a professional demolition job of Liechtenstein, winning 8-0. But La Roja were found out by both Croatia and Italy at Euro 2016.
The Azzurri got revenge for the 4-0 loss to Spain in the Euro 2012 final by beating them 2-0 at the Stade de France in the Round of 16. A first-half goal from Giorgio Chiellini put Italy in a great place and they controlled the game well from there on.
Relinquishing possession was not a problem for the Italians as they didn’t allow Spain too much time in dangerous positions.
Of course, Italy are now under new management since Antonio Conte’s move to Chelsea. Giampiero Ventura has been in management for a whopping 40 years and spent every one of those in Italy.
Managing 18 different clubs, there can be no-one else that knows the Italian nation’s football scene better.
Italy got off to a good start under Ventura winning 3-1 in Israel despite going down to 10 men in the 55th minute. Prior to defeat to France last month they had not lost at home since a 2-1 reverse against Argentina in 2013; 20 games ago.
With that in mind, a home win with the draw as security looks the obvious play.
Italy are actually the underdogs in the betting, which surprised me a little. This means we can back them at odds-against on the +0 Asian Handicap line. The same bet as a punt on the Draw No Bet line but priced at 23/20 with Bet365.
Spain have been tampering with their line-up in recent games – Nolito, Vitolo, Thiago Alcantara and Marco Asensio are all getting a look in. The defence remains the same, similar to Italy, but times are changing in the attacking department.
Diego Costa is in good form for his club but if ever there was a defence that I thought could control him, it would be Italy’s. Spain are not the unbeatable force that they were in the period of 2008-2012.
Kosovo v Croatia | Thursday 19:45 | Sky Sports Red Button
I was quick to dismiss Kosovo in round one of the World Cup qualifiers and that turned out to be a bad move.
The region has always produced good footballers – back in the days of Yugoslavia – but since then they have moved abroad and played for the likes of Serbia, Albania and Montenegro.
Their current squad has five players who ply their trade in the top two tiers of German football, four from the Netherlands, three in Turkey and even a youngster who’s in the Barcelona youth set-up; Labinot Kabashi.
Despite all this I’m still going to oppose the Dardanians.
Croatia looked imperious at times in Euro 2016; knocked-out by the eventual winners Portugal in a penalty shoot-out, they could easily have found themselves in the final in place of Portugal, if a little luckier.
Their midfield trio of Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic and Luka Modric is arguably one of the best in world football and spearheaded by the prolific Mario Mandzukic I feel they should easily surpass their 8/15 quotes for the away win here.
The defence is solid, more hard-working than classy but it’s served them well.
I fancy the Blazers to get going here. A 1-1 draw against Turkey in the first game round was a disappointment but they really deserved to win that game with 17 attempts at goal and the lion’s share of dangerous chances.
I think they’ll win this but I see value in the -1 Asian Handicap at 39/40 with Bet365. Win by one goal and our stake will be refunded, win by more than one and the bet is a winner.