DAN MCCULLOCH (@DanMc1984) shares his betting views on Thursday night’s World Cup qualifying play-off first leg contest between Northern Ireland and Switzerland from Belfast.
Northern Ireland v Switzerland | Thursday 9th November 2017, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Thursday’s World Cup qualifying fixture affords me the opportunity to watch a few West Bromwich Albion players on television without the anger issues that Tony Pulis presence on the touchline causes. Force of habit may still cause me to throw the remote at the television and shout ‘sack him immediately’ but I hope emotions can be kept in check.
In all honesty, Northern Ireland are the kind of side Pulis would be proud of; they are a defensively-minded outfit who frequently outperform their performance data and tend to rely on set pieces to win tight games against decent opposition.
That was certainly the case back in September when they beat Czech Republic 2-0 in a game in which they were dominated in the first-half before two goals from set pieces gave them a lead that they never looked like relinquishing.
They may have scored from their only two efforts on-target and enjoyed just 23% possession but Michael O’Neill did not care one bit as they all but guaranteed their World Cup play-off spot.
I expect a similar type of performance against a Switzerland side that look to be vastly overrated by the bookmakers.
Vladimir Petkovic’s men may have won nine of their 10 qualifying matches but the quality of their opposition needs carefully consideration. Their only win of note against a Cristiano Ronaldo-less Portugal and I do not feel that going winning eight consecutive games against Hungary, Faroe Islands, Latvia and Andorra is that impressive.
I expect both legs to be tight and with that in mind Northern Ireland represent real value at 11/4 with Ladbrokes to be qualify.
A tight first leg in store
Ignoring games against sides I would classify as minnows, neither of these sides have entered too many free-scoring encounters.
Having looked at Northern Ireland’s last 10 genuinely competitive games – Euro 2016 and their World Cup qualifying group stage games against Germany, Norway and Czech Republic – I believe that Under 1.5 Goals in the first leg is still worth backing, even at seemingly skinny odds of 6/4 (Paddy Power).
Five of those games had one goal or fewer and there were just 16 goals across the 10 games.
Similarly, Switzerland’s four Euro 2016 games saw just five goals and whilst both the matches against Portugal saw the net bulge on two occasions, I feel that if there is a first goal on Thursday night, whoever scores it will go into protection mode rather than looking to add to their tally.
First legs in European play-offs for major tournaments are generally tight affairs and there have been just 29 goals in 16 matches going back to the 2010 World Cup qualifiers. Seven of those games have seen an Under 1.5 Goals emerge victorious and given the defensive prowess of both these sides, I have sufficient confidence that this bet can be a winner.
Northern Ireland v Switzerland – Under 1.5 Goals (6/4 Paddy Power)
Northern Ireland v Switzerland – Northern Ireland to qualify (11/4 Ladbrokes)