MARK STINCHCOMBE (@MarkStinchcombe) delivers his favourite fancies from Tuesday’s UEFA World Cup qualifying coupon.
Iceland v Ukraine | Tuesday 5th September 2017, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Footballing powerhouses Iceland (what? They reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 knocking out in England and holding eventual champions Portugal in the process) take on Ukraine in Reykjavik in a tightly contested Group I.
Just five points separate first-placed Croatia with 16 points and fourth-ranked Turkey on 11 with just three games to go. Hosts Iceland sit third with 13 points, with Ukraine just a point ahead in second on 12.
Iceland have pretty much continued where they left off after the Euros with wins over Croatia and Turkey at home and holding Ukraine to a draw in Kiev. This follows on from the last qualifying campaign where they defied the odds to finish above Turkey and Holland, beating the Dutch home and away in the process.
It’s substance over style for Heimir Hallgrimsson’s men, who took sole charge after Lars Lagerback stepped down after the Euro’s. They play direct football which is not always pretty but it gets results.
Ukraine are little overrated for me, they had a disastrous Euros where they lost every game without scoring a goal, and have since suffered an embarrassing home defeat in a friendly to Malta.
When these two met last September Ukraine really struggled to break Iceland down and the Strákarnir okkar impressively won the expected goals count 2.17 – 1.45.
With Iceland having not lost a competitive home friendly for over four years and only rated very slight favourites, there is plenty of upside to backing them off a scratch 0 start on the Asian Handicap at 19/20 (Bet365) with home advantage.
This selection works in the exactly the same format as a punt in the Draw No bet market.
Turkey v Croatia | Tuesday 5th September 2017, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Staying with competitive Group I, Turkey were somewhat unlucky in their 2-0 defeat in Ukraine. Both goals were arguably offside and the Turks were denied a probable penalty.
So they’ll be looking to bounce back here and they may have a better chance than first thought, with Croatia’s re-arranged game with Kosovo meaning they only had two days break between matches.
Despite that, I’m content with Croatia being reasonable favourites in Eskişehir given the hosts tendency to give up big chances. They’ve conceded to both Kosovo and Moldova of late.
However, I do like the array of offensive talent on offer for the Turks and their recent appointment of veteran Shakhtar boss amongst others Mircea Lucescu. Not only did he win the Ukrainian title seemingly year after year, he also guided Shakhtar to UEFA Cup success and the quarter-finals of the Champions League, so he knows his way around European football.
If he can get Burak Yilmaz, Arda Turan, Emre Mor, Hakan Calhanoglu, Nuri Sahin etc. to gel, then they’re in with a chance of qualifying with Iceland at home next before finishing up with Finland away.
Croatia have been very miserly, although suffering a 3-0 friendly defeat in Estonia, but certainly know where the back of the net is having stuck nine past Northern Ireland and Kosovo away combined, as well as 20 in the previous campaign.
When these two met last year in a 1-1 draw that didn’t tell the whole story with the expected goals totalling 3.63 and with the goal line set at just 2.0 here, I think there’s plenty of upside backing overs.
Backing Over 2 Goals (77/100 Marathon) will see our stake returned if the game features exactly two goals.