INTERNATIONAL football obsessive Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) delivers his favourite fancies from Friday's UEFA World Cup qualifying coupon.
San Marino v Northern Ireland | Friday 1st September 2017, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Europe’s worst side, San Marino, welcome Northern Ireland on Friday night and with the Irish as short as 1/100 to claim victory, a routine away win is almost guaranteed here.
Michael O’Neill’s men have only bagged two triumphs in five away trips but their overall World Cup qualification results (W4-D0-L2) remain strong. Strong enough to put Norn Iron in a fantastic position to secure a play-off berth.
With Germany playing Czech Republic, Northern Ireland could easily extend their advantage over third-place to seven points. What a fantastic carrot that is…
So how do we profit from this one-sided procession? Well, the Green & White Army aren’t the most prolific of goal-getters but they do boast more than enough ability to get the job done fairly comfortably.
Michael O’Neill’s team were 1-0 winners away in Azerbaijan last time out and although they beat San Marino 4-0 in Belfast – breaking the deadlock before the half hour mark – the final three goals arrived in the last 12 minutes.
Northern Ireland’s past three contests with San Marino have resulted in two 4-0 triumphs and a 3-0 success and bookmakers have pitched the correct score line at 3-0 for this encounter, which seems fair.
San Marino have lost each of their last 17 games, scoring twice and conceding 78, leaking an average of 4.59 goals per-game. In six qualifiers they’ve shipped 3 – at an average rate of 5.00 goals per-game but obviously Germany push that figure up dramatically.
Already we can find reason to believe Northern Ireland will score 3-5 goals according to those trends and with 10 of San Martino’s past 15 competitive home matches ending in defeat by at least three goals, it fits the bill nicely.
Talking of home results, the minnows have been beaten in their last seven outings ‘to nil’ here with 27 goals conceded. The hosts haven’t actually scored a competitive home goal since 2013 and are averaging only 1.50 shots per-game at goal in qualifying, so we can assume they'll be silenced once again here.
We could of course find ways to support Norn Iron across three correct scores 3-0, 4-0 and 5-0 to suit the trends but I’m going to take up William Hill’s 5/2 special on Kyle Lafferty scoring at anytime during a 3-0, 4-0 or 5-0 victory.
With Liam Boyce sidelined, Lafferty is in line to start. Since joining Hearts, the Irish forward has netted five goals in eight games, as well as 11 in his past 24 international appearances. Overall, Lafferty has notched 20 goals for the Green & White Army and he’s the obvious favourite to score in this showdown.
Czech Republic v Germany | Friday 1st September 2017, 19:45 | Sky Sports
I probably don’t need to spend too much time talking up Germany here, eh?
The world champions have W12-D3-L0 since losing to France in the semi-finals at Euro 2016 before going on to claim the Confederations Cup title this summer despite fielding a B-team in Russia. Impressive, huh?
Manuel Neuer and Jerome Boateng both miss the trip to Prague on Friday through injury but Die Mannschaft’s frightening strength in depth suggests they’ll have few problems brushing aside Czech Republic.
The hosts are third in the pool – four points behind a Northern Ireland outfit that travel to San Marino – having won just twice in six outings. Defeat here would probably require the Czechs won each of their final three group games to even make the play-offs.
Karel Jarolim’s group played out a drab draw in Norway in June, adding to their woes but he’s surprised a few by naming a largely inexperienced squad for this week’s double header. Skipper Tomas Sivok and defensive mainstay Michal Kadlec have both been left out with only six outfield players boasting 11 international caps or more.
The Lions are unbeaten in three in Prague but their struggle for goals continues to concern. Goalless draws when welcoming Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan have frustrated fans with a failure to break down well-organised opposition costing the Czechs a passage to progress.
In contrast, it’s been business as usual for Germany. Joachim Low’s troops have taken maximum points thus far whilst racking up a stunning +26 goal difference in six fixtures. The visitors have led at the interval in all six encounters and appear fantastic value at 13/10 (Ladbrokes) to repeat the feat here.
Die Mannschaft will secure, at worst, a play-off spot if they win in Prague and shouldn’t have too much trouble. Germany’s recent road record in qualifying has seen the guests win 18 times, leading at the break on 14 occasions.
Denmark v Poland | Friday 1st September 2017, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Poland are in complete command in Group E having picked up 16 points from a possible 18 (W5-D1-L0) thus far. The White Eagles hold a six-point advantage over Montenegro and Denmark heading into the final furlong and know automatic qualification is almost secured.
The only blotch on an otherwise perfect copybook came in Poland’s opener. Perhaps suffering from a Euro 2016 hangover, Adam Nawalka’s charges threw away a two-goal lead in the second-half of their trop to Kazakhstan.
In all six of the White Eagles’ matches they’ve managed to net at least twice and the visitors appear underrated in the markets for their trip to Denmark. In fact, we can back Poland with a +0.25 start on the Asian Handicap line at a wonderfully attractive 9/10 (188BET).
Taking this selection sees us make money should Poland avoid defeat. We’ll pick up a half-stakes profit should the visitors draw with a full-stakes return made if the guests record another victory.
The two teams locked horns last October in Warsaw and although the 3-2 triumph in Poland’s favour looks competitive, it’s worth noting that Nawalka’s men were 3-0 up inside 48 minutes before easing up and allowing Denmark a route back into the contest.
Robert Lewandowski scored a hat-trick in that clash – just three of a stunning 11 goals in this qualification campaign. Since the start of Euro 2016 qualification, the Bayern Munich striker has notched 20 goals in 11 qualifiers, and with six in four competitive games already this term, is well worth supporting at 13/10 (888) to net at anytime here.
Denmark were beaten at home by Montenegro (0-1) in October and have also conceded in home and away games to rock-bottom Kazakhstan. The stats say the hosts have won twice in Copenhagen already but victories over Armenia and the Kazakhs were expected and a much tougher test awaits.
San Marino v Northern Ireland – Kyle Lafferty to score and Northern Ireland to win 3-0, 4-0 or 5-0 (5/2 William Hill)
Czech Republic v Germany – Germany/Germany HT-FT (13/10 Ladbrokes)
Denmark v Poland – Poland +0.25 Asian Handicap (9/10 188BET)
Denmark v Poland – Robert Lewandowski to score at anytime (13/10 888)