England may have already secured their place in Russia next year but Gareth Southgate will be desperate for a big performance in their final competitive game before the tournament begins. Despite qualifying with a game to spare, England have often looked very uninspiring and confidence ahead of the finals is in danger of being low.
Neighbours Scotland could be joining the Three Lions in Russia but for this to remain a possibility, a win against Slovenia is a must. It’s the biggest test the Scots have faced for a long time and the pressure will be well and truly on in Ljubljana.
In Group D there is a huge test awaiting the Republic of Ireland and Wales. There’s no guarantee either of them will have enough points to reach the play-offs but as they play earlier than most other sides, they can only win and hope for the best. Only one side can potentially make it though so it will be a heart-breaking evening for at least one of these nations. There may also be plenty at stake when Netherlands take on Sweden on Tuesday. Group A has been a particularly close one throughout and this could end up being an absolutely decisive fixture.
Sunday 8th October 2017
Lithuania v England (17:00) – England to win and under 3.5 goals (23/20 with Betfred)
There is very little for Lithuania to play for here with the Baltic side unable to move up or down even one place in their final group game clash. A victory or even draw against England though would be a long cherished result though for a side who don’t win many games let alone against nations as big in footballing terms as England.
Their 1-1 draw with Malta on Thursday ended a run of seven consecutive losses but their home form does read better than this. On their own turf the Lithuanians have lost three of their last seven matches and it’s somewhere where they tend to perform significantly better.
Given that the reverse fixture at Wembley finished just 2-0 to England this doesn’t bode too well for the visitors. Gareth Southgate’s men once again put in a lacklustre display in their last test, needing 94 minutes to finally break through the Slovenian defence. There is so little optimism surrounding the English national side at the moment and it’s hard to see Southgate inspiring a rousing perform here. His men are very capable of getting the result but just don’t expect it to be in much style.
Slovenia v Scotland (17:00) – Scotland to win and under 2.5 goals (19/5 with Betfred)
A game of epic proportions for Scotland who could well book their place in the play-off round with a win here. They need to be fully aware of the threat Slovenia face however as they have lost just one of their last 10 home fixtures. Sreko Katanec and his men may not have much to play for but they will not be looking to give Scotland an easy ride as they attempt to strengthen their imposing record at home. The Slovenians will also not have forgotten the pain of an 88th minute Chris Martin goal that condemned them to a crucial defeat in March.
Scotland needed a good slice of fortune to overcome their huge encounter with Slovakia. Not only did the benefit from facing 10 men for much of the game but Martin Skrtel’s timely own goal gifted them the three points when they were running out of time. It would be unfair to say Scotland were paralysed by nerves however as they played well for much of the game, only denied a more comfortable evening by Martin Dubravka in the Slovakian goal. With a confidence-boosting win coming into this game, Scotland will give everything they’ve got here and it may well be enough to secure the three points.
Monday 9th October 2017
Wales v Republic of Ireland (19:45) – Draw (11/4 with Betfair)
Gareth Bale being out for this clash is a gigantic blow for Wales and the Irish will be looking to take full advantage. Without the Real Madrid man causing havoc among the Irish ranks, the visitors should have a far easier time dealing with the Welsh attack. Liverpool youngster Ben Woodburn has been attempting to replicate some of Bale’s heroics in recent weeks but you feel that a more established and experienced name is needed in a game as important as this.
Wales could well struggle for goals here but the same can be said of Ireland too. Due to a lack of options, Martin O’Neil had to bring three strikers into the squad who are yet to make a senior international appearance. Although his usual first choice, Shane Long, is fit and available, he has been seriously lacking in goals for many months now. Both their and Wales’s limitations upfront though are not mirrored in defence and both nations have avoided shipping in many goals in Group D. They battled out a 0-0 last time they met and with them having had a tendency to draw in the qualification group stages, it’s a result well worth backing again.
Tuesday 10th October 2017
Netherlands v Sweden (19:45) – Sweden to win (5/1 with Betfred)
Depending on what happens on Saturday night, the Netherlands may or may not still stand a chance of qualifying for the World Cup. They owe their supporters a big performance though however after going through an extended disappointing patch. The Dutch national outfit is not what it used to be but their promising crop of youngsters does at least suggest improvements are due in the coming years. The departure of former manager Danny Blind has seemed to have had a positive impact too and replacement Dick Advocaat could lay the foundations for future success.
With Sweden possibly only needing a draw from this contest, they will be able to invite Dutch pressure and try and exploit any gaps on the counter. The Swedes have no problems against teams who like to send men forward, something demonstrated during both their close encounters with France in Group A. It’s fair to write off their recent 3-2 defeat to Bulgaria as a one-off and we expect a much better showing from them here. Janne Andersson has shown the Swedes do have a future without Zlatan Ibrahimovic and given what they have done without him, they are exceptionally undervalued to secure the win on Tuesday.