Whether the Netherlands can keep their World Cup progress going as Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben in particular being to take a step back and Louis Van Gaal now at Manchester United, but they should have too much quality for the rest of their section. The Dutch are qualifying masters, having scored a combined total of 71 on their way to topping sections to reach Euro 2012 and the 2014 World Cup and losing just 1 of the 20 games they played, racking up a combined total of 55 points.
Turkey should provide a more competitive test than Romania did on the way to Brazil, having won 10 of their last 12 matches after a disappointing effort behind Holland in qualifying. The likes of Arda Turan and Hakan Chalhanhoglu look to have big futures in midfield while wins over Sweden and Denmark indicate that they reaching the level needed to think of qualification here. The Czech Republic don’t look to have the same scope for improvement that Turkey do and anyone else could struggle to make a real impact while they look far clear of Iceland, Latvia, and Kazakhstan. Those with enough money should go for the 8/15 on Turkey to qualify but there are better prices to be found elsewhere.
This is a fascinating betting heat between two of Europe’s up and coming sides with Belgium and Bosnia one of many nations set to benefit hugely from the step upto 24 teams as they look set for first and second. Belgium had no trouble topping one of the toughest groups to qualify for the World Cup and performed with credit, if not while being a little underwhelming, during the tournament itself, with an inexperience Bosnia side that was unlucky to go out in the first round set only to improve following their topping of a group with Greece on the road to Brazil.
The third place playoff routlette is a potential boost for the rest of the contenders in this group, and the betting has Israel and Wales locked for third. However Irsrael were a long way behind in qualifying for Euro 2012 and then the World Cup – although admittedly they did have to play Russia and Portugal – and if Wales can get their core stars playing then they are not without a chance. Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale needs no introduction but in midfield they can call upon Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen while Ashley Williams and Ben Davies are on the books in defence, and if they can get those four playing as a team then they should find themselves able to compete with anyone and the 3/1 on them making it through is tempting with the playoff sections not looking to be the deepest sections we’ve sever seen.
Nothing should stop Spain strolling through. A dreadful World Cup raises questions about the future of the Spanish national side in tournament football but few nations anywhere in World Football have such riches to pick from and the transition should go smoothly enough here with many of Europe’s finest young talents to pick from. Ukraine look to be the closet threat but were expose on home ground 2 years ago and while they look good value for a heavy hitter at 1/6 to qualify or 2/5 to finish in the top 2, Slovakia, Belarus, Macedonia and Luxemburg all look overmatched.
A fascinating group with Germany set to stroll home as they have done for their last two qualifying groups and a fearsome fight for second. Poland have the most naturally talented players but were a desperate disappointment when fourth in their World Cup qualifying group and look extremely vulnerable, giving home nations in Ireland and Scotland their best chance in a generation of making a major tournament. Ireland’s sometimes limited nature in attack, despite their stringent defence, could come to haunt them, and maybe the Scots, who have shown signs of improvement, can make a claim to bring the Tartan Army into France for the first time. Wins over Croatia, Poland and Norway are good form for the level and they should have no fear of Ireland making second place a very real possibility for Gordon Strachan and his men. Georgia, obdurate if not limited, are the danger of the away trips with Gibraltar well up against them.
This is between England and Switzerland. The popular money and feeling has been for the Swiss in Monday’s crunch clash between the two favourites but England, despite an ever decreasing level of quality, made their way through a tricky World Cup qualifying group as top favourites and has Switzerland back in third on the way to Euro 2012. The Swiss have improved greatly since then and should have learned a great deal from their World Cup exploits where Argentina edged past them in the last 16 and they also beat Ecuador thanks to a last minute counter attack. At the prices the Swiss are the pick but they’ve dropped easy points before and this could be best left.
Very little should top Greece topping this section and they look to be a big price to do so. Claudio Ranieri’s miserly outfit let in just 4 goals o their way to Qualifying for the World Cup and were edged out only by Bosnia on goal difference at the end of proceedings. At the World Cup, they took a Costa Rica side that topped their group (Italy, England, Uruguay) to extra time while going through in very deserved fashion and while they are known for their defence, they do not lack going forward with Theofanis Gekas and Dimitrios Salpingidis both capable and Georgios Samaras having a wealth of experience, while at the back, Koastas Monaloas, Giannais Manatis and Vasilis Torosis are all fine centrebacks who have Champions League experience.
In their 2012 European Qualifying they beat Croatia to top spot, and now face, Romania, Hungary, Finland, Northern Ireland and the Faroes. They look to be fantastic value and should be placed in accas to qualify for the big hitters.
Advice: 8 pts Greece (11/10 general)
Russia look dreadful evens favourites here and Sweden are the bet to top what is a tight looking section. Fabio Capello’s men supposedly have the 2018 World Cup on home soil, as their aim but they looked bereft during the World Cup and Sweden, put out of the competition by Zaltan Ibrahmovic’s brilliance, look overpriced at 2/1, Much responsibility falls upon the shoulders of the great man but no other team in the group boasts a player like him and there is ample talent elsewhere in the likes of Alex Kacaniklic and Sebastian Larsson and they also finish ahead of Austria when behind Germany two years ago. Montenegro are a threat with Stefan Jovetic and Mirko Vuncinic as a very dangerous front two and could be overpriced at 10’s for those seeking real value although they were disappointing in the qualifying for 2014.
Advice: 1 pt Sweden (2/1 general)
Italy were disappointing at the World Cup but they should walk this section with Antonio Conte having a huge amount of his Juventus side to work with and plenty of up and coming young talents in forward areas. Ceasre Prandelli’s tactical tinkering didn’t work during the World Cup but neither did having their first game – an incredibly expansive game against England – in Manaus’s jungle heat and their attitude in a friendly against the Netherlands showed everything we can expect from them. They should be far too good for Croatia and Noway but there’s no value in either of them to qualify – Blugiaria, Azerbaijan and Malta are all out of the running according to the betting although Bulgaria should beat the two minnows easily.
Advice: No bet.
This looks a group to avoid staking heavily on but Denmark can push a Portugal side that is regressing from former glories and heavily reliant on it’s core players – namely Cristiano Ronaldo – for attacking impetus. Denmark were second to Italy in qualifying for the World Cup and face opponents that are likely to be far less consistent. However the value could really lie with Serbia, who disappointed in qualifying for the World Cup but are dropped into a far weaker group here with nothing to fear and plenty of experienced players to swing games including Chelsea pairing Branislav Ivanovic and Nemajia Matic to name just two. They look value at 8/11 to qualify.
Advice: 2 pts Serbia to qualify (8/11 general)
Qualification acca: 3 pts Turkey to qualify (2/5), Bosnia to qualify (1/12), Spain to win Group C (1/7), Switzerland to qualify from Group F (1/4), Greece to win Group F (11/10), Italy to win Group H (2/5)