WILLIE Duncan (@Willie_Duncan) loves international football and he's here with three bets for Friday night's UEFA qualifiers.
Turkey v Finland | Friday 17:00 | Sky Interactive
If Turkey are going to take their place at World Cup 2018, Fatih Terim’s team are going to have to get their skates on. Turkey have certainly made a sluggish start to the qualification campaign, picking up just five points from their opening four fixtures – and their only win so far came last time out against Kosovo.
Friday’s hosts, therefore, are probably breathing a sigh of relief that they will face Finland in Antalya in their next fixture, for Markku Kanerva’s side are seriously struggling; the Finns have picked up just one point from their opening four games – a 1-1 home draw against Kosovo.
Furthermore, Finland have scored a measly five goals in their last 13 games and failed to find the net at all in all but one of their last 12 defeats.
Terim’s team will be determined to take advantage of the shot-shy visitors and the hosts could be good value at 21/20 with Stan James to win to nil in this crucial qualification match.
Italy v Albania | Friday 19:45 | Sky Interactive
There can be very few sides more reliable in qualification matches than Italy; the four-time World Cup winners have lost just one of their last 55 World Cup qualifiers – a 1-0 defeat against Slovenia in 2004 – and the Azzurri have never been beaten on their own patch in qualifying for the World Cup.
Albania, therefore, are playing for a place in the history books when they pitch up in Palermo on Saturday night and Giovanni Di Biasi, Albania’s Italian boss, will be plotting a famous victory that would be a dagger through the heart of his fellow countrymen.
The 1/4 quotes for the home side to claim a fourth win in five Group A games is indicative of the challenge facing the visitors and it’s certainly not easy to make a case for a team who have scored just five goals in their last eight matches.
However, there could be value in backing a tight clash when these two teams lock horns; Italy were 1-0 winners when these nations last met – in an international friendly back in 2014 – and there have been fewer than three goals scored in all but three of the last 13 games that the Azzurri have played on home soil.
Marathon Bet’s 23/25 quote for the trend to continue, therefore, could represent value for punters ahead of Friday’s fixture.
Croatia v Ukraine | Friday 19:45 | Sky Interactive
Croatia once boasted a brilliant home record in qualifying for major tournaments, but the shine was somewhat eroded by defeats against Scotland (yes, really) and Belgium in Zagreb in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
Ante Cacic’s men, too, were held to a 1-1 draw against Turkey in their opening home tie of this qualification campaign before settling their nerves with a comfortable 2-0 triumph against Iceland in the Croatian capital back in November.
Ukraine were truly awful at Euro 2016; they played three, lost three and didn’t even manage a goal – but Andriy Shevchenko’s side will come into this clash in confident mood, for they have avoided defeat in five fixtures since suffering that humiliating exit in France last summer, winning each of their last three fixtures.
Croatia have kept a clean sheet in eight of their last nine victories, while Ukraine have shut out their opponents in seven of their last nine wins; defences on top in this tie, then, looks like a real possibility.
With both sides in a rich vein of form, though, better value could well lie in backing goals at both ends at 6/4 with William Hill.
Turkey v Finland – Turkey to win to nil (21/20 Stan James)
Italy v Albania – Under 2.5 Goals (23/25 Marathon Bet)
Croatia v Ukraine – Both Teams To Score (6/4 William Hill)