Poland v Austria | Monday 9th September 2019, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Poland versus Austria certainly jumps off the page as being an attractive international fixture on Monday night. It is first against second in Group G, with the Polish holding a three-point lead at the top of the table, although they did drop their first points of the campaign when going down 2-0 away in Slovenia a few days ago.
Austria hammered Latvia 6-0 to make it three wins in succession, after starting with back-to-back losses, including at home to Poland.
It is probably unfair to say, but this game is possibly more important to Austria than it is Poland. I only say that as Poland wouldn’t necessarily be unhappy if this was to end in a draw, although they’ll of course strive for more at home. Austria are still playing catch-up and there is Slovenia and Israel sitting only one-point behind them, so Poland’s little cushion at the top could be crucial moving forward.
It will therefore be interesting to see how Poland approaches this one, even more so on the back of a defeat. Could we expect a big reaction? Will they go into their shells slightly? Confidence may have been shot slightly after that setback, and Austria are at the other end of the scale having smashed six, albeit over a very weak Latvian outfit.
These are two good teams on the European stage, certainly two nations who would have expected to be in and around the top positions in this respective group. The first meeting saw Poland emerge with a fine 1-0 away victory, but only seven of 27 shots on goal in the entire match actually hit the target, with the only goal arriving with about 20 minutes to go. I can see a similar sort of encounter playing out on Monday.
There should be plenty of respect on show, both acknowledging that they’re probably the two best teams in this group. As mentioned, Poland will be hurting after the losing the other night, but they will be wary of going too gung-ho against good opposition.
Austria aren’t necessarily the strongest of travellers, with their last four away wins coming versus North Macedonia, Northern Ireland, Luxembourg and Moldova over the last couple of years. They aren’t necessarily too trustworthy against the higher calibre of opposition.
Poland haven’t actually been that clever at home of late either, despite winning the last two over Latvia and Israel. It is perhaps unfair to judge them too much on friendlies however, with their recent record is that sphere a little sketchy.
Although the temptation is to go with goals considering these are two decent sides, I’ll go in the other direction. Under 2.5 Goals is the play at 21/25 (Marathon). Normally when the two top teams in the group play off then it can turn quite tight and cagey.
A draw isn’t the worst result for either team in the circumstances, and neither team can be totally trusted given they aren’t the top, top level of the international footballing pyramid. Also, 10 of Poland’s last 12 games has finished U2.5, whilst eight of Austria’s last 11 has done so, too.
Russia v Kazakhstan | Monday 9th September 2019, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Russia were made to come from behind in Scotland on Friday night but managed to secure a fine away victory to ensure they remain competitive with group leaders Belgium. Roberto Martinez’s team lead the way with a perfect 15-points, but Russia are only three points behind on 12.
The Russians therefore know the importance of keeping the points ticking over, although some comfort comes from the fact at worst it looks as if they’ll finish in second. Kazakhstan, Scotland and Cyprus are unlikely to be gate-crashing the top-two party anytime soon, unless Kazakhstan can secure a shock win on Monday.
Kazakhstan got an away point in Cyprus last week, and whilst it isn’t the best result at first glance, you’ve got to remember that any point on the road can’t really be dismissed for a team sitting at 112 in the FIFA rankings. They’ve actually earned some points on the road of late, although draws to Andorra and Latvia is certainly nothing to shout home about. It therefore means a trip to Russia is likely to get in defeat, and the odds certainly reflect that.
This game is therefore all about the Russians and how much of a statement they want to make. They certainly made many headlines in the last World Cup, which they hosted, and rightly so. Since then, they had an OK UEFA Nations League group, despite failing to qualify and only not doing so because of an inferior head-to-head record with Sweden. They’ve won their last four in this group, albeit over poor opposition, but beating San Marino 9-0 must’ve made them feel good.
The approach of Kazakhstan will be interesting in this one. Do they really believe they can qualify out of this group? If they are to stand even a small chance of doing so, they need to be winning this game. Would there therefore be any benefit to sitting back and playing for a draw? Probably not, but you’ve got to expect them to do that, and rely on counter attacks. Russia however are more than used to facing this type of opponent. I just mentioned they hit San Marino for nine only three months ago.
They’ve certainly tough to beat at home. They only lost once in the World Cup inside 90-miuntes, which came at the hands of Uruguay. The other three most recent victories on home soil came against Argentina, Brazil and France, so good teams tend to beat them, but they demolish the rest of them. Turkey and Czech Republic have also been comfortable beaten in much more recent times, as well.
Clearly Russia are going to win this game baring something bizarre, but again we have to find some additional value to make it worthwhile. I fancy Russia to win ‘to nil’ is probably our best hope of achieving that, especially when the price is 3/4 (Betway). They have clean sheets in their last four home internationals, and they looked a little shaky away in Scotland at the back so they’ll want to avoid a similar showing over weaker opponents.
Kazakhstan have actually enjoyed quite a run of scoring in away games, but that run generally stops when facing an opponent of note, such as Belgium and Poland.
Slovenia v Israel | Monday 9th September 2019, 19:45 | Sky Sports
There is one more playful selection I wanted to include in this article and Slovenia versus Israel is where I believe that to be. Firstly, let’s set the scene.
This are in the group containing Poland and Austria, who I mentioned above, so these two nations are essentially looking to break into second spot realistically. They’ll therefore be hoping that Poland can get the win over Austria, and then win their own game to then jump into second position. This would make it game-on in the group.
Slovenia being the home side will feel the pressure is on them to really take it to Israel. It is tough for a nation like Slovenia. A lot of the smaller nations have talented players to act as their talisman, Henrikh Mkhitaryan with Armenia being a good example.
However, on paper the best Slovenian player is Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak. Whilst having a world-class goalkeeper is helpful, it only gets you so far. As such, they’ve not reached a major tournament finals since 2010, but they’ve got half a chance now. Winning their last two has put them back on track.
Israel are also not regular at the summer tournaments, having last reached one at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. They did beat Austria 4-2 at home on the second matchday of this group to make everyone stand up and pay attention, but drawing at home to North Macedonia a few days ago has realistically hurt their prospects.
Israel therefore really need to be winning this game, and whilst they have a chance, their poor away record does inspire much hope. It is 13 defeats from their last 22 games either away or at a neutral venue. They’ve also shipped at least three goals in the last four on their travels, too.
Slovenia however will be on a real high having defeated Poland at home last week. That was a mighty fine effort against the group leaders, but you just wonder if they can now back it up. Consistency can’t be their strong point considering they don’t reach the tournament stage, and a bit like Israel beating Austria at home earlier in the group and then drawing at home to North Macedonia, these sort of teams just aren’t too trustworthy.
You can get around evens on a Slovenian win, but I personally won’t be touching that for the reasons above. I don’t think this is a high stakes sort of game, but there is some little play I’ll have. That is Eran Zahavi Anytime Goalscorer at 9/4 (Bet365).
I must admit, he is a striker I have a lot of time for. Anyone who follows the Chinese Super League will see him banging in the goals for fun on a weekly basis. He already has 24 goals in 21 appearances for Guangzhou R&F, having got 20 and 27 in the two seasons prior. Also, he has scored nine of Israel’s last 11 international goals, which including two hat-tricks.
Slovenia only have three clean sheets in their last 16, although two did come in their last two. Israel are normally good for a goal, and if they get one, then Zahavi is often the man to get it.