With the Premier League proving as unpredictable as ever, it is with some relief that bwin have called me up for international duty for this weekend’s Home Heroes. I am backing Russia, Netherlands and Croatia to beat Northern Ireland, Turkey and Macedonia respectively – a treble which will allow you to more than double your money.
Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland will be lucky to escape Russia without a hammering, while Holland should have too much for Turkey despite their recent turmoils and Croatia should dispose of Macedonia in a must-win game in a difficult group.
Russia to beat Northern Ireland @ 19/100
|World Cup Qualifiers - European Zone - Group F|
Having lost six games on the spin towards the end of last season, Northern Ireland finally managed to stop the rot with a 3-3 draw against Finland in August. Nevertheless, that result can’t mask the fact that they are, on current form, one of the worst teams in the whole of Europe.
Perched at a lowly 129th in the FIFA world rankings, behind the likes of New Caledonia, Turkmenistan and Bermuda, Michael O’Neill’s side have conceded 21 goals in their last six games – that’s an average of 3.5 goals per game and includes shipping six in the Netherlands and four away to Estonia.
They were only spared the ignominy of finishing bottom of their Euro 2012 qualifying group by the presence of the Faroe Islands and, even then, they were held to a 1-1 draw by the minnows in Toftir. If the Faroes were removed from the group, Northern Ireland would only have picked up five points – a measly total by anyone’s standards.
Russia, on the other hand, steamrolled their way to Euro 2012 by topping their group, before narrowly missing out on the quarter-finals in Poland and Ukraine when they were surprisingly beaten by Greece in their last group game.
They have lost just once in their last 18 outings and haven’t lost at home since November 2010. This seems like a lost cause for Northern Ireland and Russia should win with Eease.
Read a full betting preview of Russia v Northern Ireland here.
Holland to beat Turkey @ 21/50
The Netherlands will not need anyone to remind them about their disastrous Euro 2012 campaign, nor will their 4-2 friendly defeat to arch-rivals Belgium last month have done anything to improve their mood.
Nevertheless, Holland are famous for their strength during qualifying campaigns.
In the Euro 2012 qualifiers they picked up nine victories from ten outings on their way to winning Group E, while in qualifying for World Cup 2010 they won every single match to top the group by a clear 14 points. In other words, they have failed to win on only one occasion in both of the last two qualifying campaigns combined.
Turkey are certainly no pushovers, having reached the playoffs in the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, but with Robin van Persie firing on all cylinders for Man Utd, Holland should have too much power and can give Louis van Gaal a first win on his return to the national team hotseat.
Read a full betting preview of Holland v Turkey here.
Croatia to beat Macedonia @ 1/4
Despite a 4-2 home defeat to Switzerland last month, Croatia go into their match against neighbours Macedonia as red-hot favourites.
Luka Modric, Nikica Jelavic, Mario Mandzukic and company went agonisingly close to causing a Euro 2012 sensation when they narrowly missed out on qualifying for the quarter-finals at the expense of either Italy or Spain.
Since their first appearance as an independent nation at Euro ’96 in England, they have qualified for every major tournament with the exception of World Cup 2010 and Euro 2000 – that’s seven of the last nine tournaments.
Macedonia can be tricky customers but their 1-0 win over Lithuania in August is their only triumph in their last seven matches – a run which includes a 2-1 defeat to Luxembourg and a 0-0 draw with Albania.
Placed in a tough qualifying group containing fierce rivals Serbia as well as Belgium, Scotland and Wales, a home win here is absolutely crucial for the Croats. With so much at stake, that seems like the only conceivable outcome.
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