World Cup qualifying for Russia 2018 is reaching the halfway mark, as Matchday 5 will be kicking off within about a week here. Upsets have occurred and will continue to do so, picking those are always such an entertaining, if, difficult task. Here’s an attempt to predict Groups A, B &C:
Coming into the group, excitement was buzzing with three sides that could compete with anyone, and a gritty Bulgarian side that wouldn’t go down easy. France has taken nine points against those three sides to date, with Belarus holding them to a scoreless draw back on the first matchday, clearly the biggest upset in Group A. Bulgaria sitting at six points through four days is a solid sign.
France @ Luxembourg, is the easiest prediction, as the French should take all three points. How many goals is the lone question here, as the Swedes scored only once on matchday two, which would have easily been the upset of the group to date. I’m going to go ahead and say France wins by a modest 2-nil scoreline.
Belarus @ Sweden, doesn’t have much attraction unless you are a fan of either side or are a masochist. Looking to bounce back against a loss in Saint-Denis, expect Sweden to put on a clinic against the Belarusians, winning it 3-nil.
Netherlands @ Bulgaria, has the makings of a good match, and an easy pick for Match of the Group. Bulgaria is sitting just a point behind Le Oranje on the table, thanks to two victories against Luxembourg (a stoppage time winner after Luxembourg equalized) and Belarus. The Dutch pulled even with Sweden and a Paul Pogba finish helped France take three points. Road games are never easy to call, and Bulgaria will be looking to hold the Dutch at bay. Even so, I like the Dutch to win by a 2-1 margin here.
Table After Matchday 5:
Very little change brought onto the table here, as France, Sweden & Netherlands remain the top three, while Bulgaria takes the biggest hit, going from a single tally back to four out of a hopeful second slot. Sweden does net a solid goal difference boost, however.
Portugal and Switzerland were unanimous picks to come out of the group, and four days in, very little has shown to challenge that. Switzerland was able to start the campaign with a 2-nil home victory against the Portugese, using the result to maintain their position on the top of the group, though they had a near slip-up against Hungary, winning 3-2 on the road. Surprise of the group, thus far, would be Andorra getting a stoppage time finish versus Switzerland, losing 1-2, the first for Andorra since a October 2015 game against Belgium (lost 1-4).
Faroe Islands @ Andorra, will have underdog fans keeping their eyes peeled. Andorra beat San Marino 2-nil in a friendly in February, ending a 13-year drought from when they beat Macedonia on October 13th of 2004, their only competitive victory. Expect the Faroe’s to come out firing, looking to get their second victory, which they will by an ever so-tiny 1-nil margin.
Latvia @ Switzerland won’t be providing much entertainment, nor will it be much of a game as the Swiss are clearly on another level of talent. I like the Swiss walking away with a 3-1 victory here.
Hungary @ Portugal is bound to provide goals, as the Portugese have scored all 16 after the opening night loss, with Hungary themselves scoring six over the last two. Granted, Latvia and Andorra were two of the opponents for both sides during their scoring fury. Portugal has been known to have slip-ups in qualifying cycles, opening the door for Hungary here for a 2-2 split to take a point.
Table After Matchday 5:
Switzerland increases their lead on Portugal and a guaranteed spot to Russia, while Hungary stay in stricking distance. The Faroe Islands look to stay within striking distance of Hungary for the third slot.
As expected, the Germans are thoroughly dominating Group C for a ticket to Russia, scoring an average of four goals a night, yet to allow a single one behind them. Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan sitting ahead of the Czech Republic is a major surprise here, as is the struggling play by Norway. Biggest surpise is the Czech’s drawing against both Northern Ireland and Azerbiajan.
Germany @ Azerbaijan should be a continual of the German’s play to this point, a slaughter. The first goal scored against Germany in the cycle is unlikely, as their opponents have only notched in two finishes through the first four contests and only managed one in San Marino. I see Germany taking this one 3-nil.
Czech Republic @ San Marino gives the Czech’s a chance to face the minnows for the first time, and could be a huge confidence boost as they look to score on a campaign where they’ve only mustered two finishes as well. I like the Czech’s here by a 2-nil margin, as they aim to get a playoff chance to go to Russia. San Marino weren’t able to get a friendly win against fellow minnow Andorra, and the struggles should follow through here.
Norway @ Northern Ireland is the match to watch in Group C, and will be interesting to see if Northern Ireland can continue it’s surprising play, or will Norway get back into the thick of things, as they look to avoid a disaster of a campaign. Northern Ireland doesn’t give up many goals, in fact, outside of Germany, they have yet to allow any other goals. That continues here as the sides play to an entertaining scoreless draw.
Table After Matchday 5:
The race for the second slot tightens up, as the Czech’s finally get to face San Marino and notch the three points, while Azerbaijan continues to be German victims. Norway getting a point keeps them within striking distance, as San Marino continues to remain alone in the basement.