Thursday, 6 October 2016

World Cup Qualification - Round 2 Preview

All of the Home Nations as well as the Republic of Ireland are in action over the incoming days in crucial qualification matches for the 2018 World Cup set to be staged in Russia. Wales and Republic Of Ireland are in action tonight, with the former travelling to Austria and the latter hosting Georgia. Northern Ireland and Scotland host San Marino and Lithuania respectively, while England welcome minnows, Malta to Wembley Arena on Saturday.

Austria v Wales
The Austrians were largely tipped as potential dark horses in Euro 2016, but failed to live up to the hype as they crashed out in the group stages, recording losses against Iceland and Hungary. Both sides have not met since 2013, when Wales recorded a 2-1 home win in a friendly match. The last five matches have been tight, Austria recording 3 victories to Wales' 2. With Wales defeating Georgia 4-0 in the previous match, Chris Coleman's men sit ahead of their opponents on goal difference, compared to Austria's 2-1 win over Georgia.

A difficult challenge lies in wait for the Red Dragons, particularly as Aaron Ramsey is still injured with Jonny Williams, Danny Ward and Simon Church joining the Arsenal midfielder on the injury list. Still feeding off the momentum of a superb Euros, Wales have the confidence to return home with a good result.

Prediction: Draw

Republic of Ireland v Georgia
Keeping with the Group D theme, Ireland face a side whom they defeated twice in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. An Aidan McGeady wonder strike stole the points for the Irish when the sides met in Tbilisi while Jonathon Walters netted at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. A 2-2 draw with Serbia in round 1 leaves Ireland behind Wales and Austria while Georgia's 2-1 loss against Austria leaves them pointless. The Georgians have never won a point against the home side, Ireland winning 7 from 7 games, scoring 15 goals in the process.

Despite a lengthy injury list for Martin O'Neill, the team will be given a boost after James McCarthy was declared fit to play. RoI are always a different side to face at home - just ask Germany - and it should be a mandatory 3 points for the home side.

Prediction: Republic of Ireland by 2 goals.

Northern Ireland v San Marino
Ahead of a tough game against Germany on Tuesday, Michael O'Neill will be looking to come through the clash with San Marino unscathed. The visitors have only scored 1 goal in their last 5 games, against Lithuania shipping 22 in the process, including a 10-0 romp against Croatia. NI faced San Marino in the 2010 World Cup qualification, winning with an aggregate scoreline of 7-0. David Healy, Grant McCann, Kyle Lafferty and Steven Davis netted in the home leg, while Gareth McAuley and Chris Brunt added to another McCann goal in the away leg.

Despite the withdrawals of Liam Boyce and Craig Cathcart, Northern Ireland will be expected to win this convincingly. With a crunch match against Germany coming into view, Northern Ireland cannot risk any more injuries.

Prediction: Northern Ireland by 3 goals.

Scotland v Lithuania
A disappointing Euro 2016 qualifying campaign left Scotland the only British side not at the tournament. With an easier group this year, Gordon Strachan will be hoping to finally end his wait  for an outing to a major competition. These sides have met on 4 previous occasions in Euro 2008 and 2012 qualifiers with Scotland winning 3 matches. Their opponents earned a respectable draw against Slovenia in the opening game week, despite a late Bostjan Cesar header denying them all three points. The Lithuanians have never qualified for a major tournament since they split from the Soviet Union.

The withdrawal of Alan Hutton is the only injury concern for Strachan, due to a calf injury picked up in training on Monday. Regardless, Scotland will be expected to add to their 3 points picked up in game week one with a win at home.

Prediction: Scotland by 2.

England v Malta.
After recovering from the embarrassment surrounding the case of Sam Allardyce, England have no greater opportunity to put in a confident performance against group minnows, Malta. Both sides have only met on three other occasions, but haven't met since a friendly in the build up to Euro 2000 and before that faced off in 1971. A 5-1 defeat against Scotland was not the way they wanted to open their campaign and the Maltese side are expected to be propping up the rear of the table come the end of the qualifying phase.

New boss Gareth Southgate has had to deal with the injuries to Glen Johnson and Raheem Sterling with Michael Keane and Andros Townsend being drafted in as replacements. No matter what team England put out they will be expected and should beat Malta with ease.

Prediction: England by 5.