With £5,000 up for grabs in the 1X2 Pick 5 pool on Monday night, we run the rule over three of the featured fixtures; Montenegro vs. England, Norway vs. Sweden and Switzerland vs. Denmark.
Montenegro vs. England
Monday, 25th March, 19:45
Wow. How impressive were England during their ruthless dismantling of the Czech Republic on Friday? In the standout result of the international break so far England blasted five past Jiri Pavlenka, the stunned Czech goalkeeper, with a Raheem Sterling hat-trick crowning his man of the match performance.
Even the most optimistic England fan wouldn’t have expected such a dominant display and confidence in the English camp will be extremely high as they journey to the Podgorica City Stadium on Monday to take on Montenegro.
It will be the fifth clash between the sides since Montenegro played their first fixture as a nation in 2007 and is the third time the pair have been drawn together in qualification campaigns.
So far they have played out three draws, including both fixtures in Montenegro. Each of those two ties followed a similar pattern of play with England taking an early lead before succumbing to late equalisers. However, this English side feels like a different beast and anything other than a comfortable victory here would be a huge disappointment to Gareth Southgate’s men.
Montenegro achieved a credible draw in Bulgaria on Friday but have suffered recent home defeats to Romania and Serbia, neither of who are close in quality to England.
Southgate will want to wrap up tournament qualification as quickly as possible and, having thrashed the second strongest side in the group, won’t allow his players to slip up despite the atmosphere awaiting them expected to be hostile. England should win this one comfortable.
Norway vs. Sweden
Tuesday, 26th March, 19:45
The Ullevål Stadion in Oslo will host a Scandinavian derby on Tuesday as Norway and Sweden lock horns for the 107th time in their history.
The fixture has been largely dominated by Sweden who have won 59 of those meetings, with Norway running out victorious in just 24. However, they have only won one of the previous seven with Norway doing their best to readdress the balance.
Both are enjoying decent runs of form, with Sweden undefeated in their last five matches and Norway losing just once over the same period. However, Norway’s loss was a highly credible 2-1 defeat away to Spain last Friday that they can take great heart from.
The Norwegians are very strong when playing in Oslo, having won seven consecutive home ties, and will be desperate to prevent their neighbours getting one over on them.
There is very little between the pair in terms of playing personnel or form and the fact that five of their previous nine meetings have been draws indicates that it is usually a tight fixture. Neither will want to lose a grudge match against a rival and, with this in mind, the indications are that the draw is once again a likely outcome.
Switzerland vs. Denmark
Tuesday, 26th March, 19:45
Denmark travel to Basel to face Switzerland on Tuesday in a fixture that, slightly surprisingly, features two sides in the top ten of the FIFA world rankings.
I say ‘surpringly’ as neither are renowned footballing heavyweights yet, on closer inspection, both sides have some eye-catching recent results on their records.
Switzerland have enjoyed some marvellous results over the last year including a 5-2 demolition of Belgium in the Nations League that saw them win the group on goal difference. They also emerged from fixtures with Brazil and Spain unscathed, drawing both. Denmark have had some similarly impressive results, such as drawing with France and comprehensively routing Poland and Ireland by four goal margins. So neither side are to be overlooked, but who has the edge here?
One notable point to consider is that Switzerland tend to be extremely strong at home. They have won ten of their previous 12 home games, with a draw against Northern Ireland and a bizarre loss to Qatar the only blips on that record. Comfortable wins over Belgium, Portugal and Iceland are enough to persuade me though that they are no more than blips. Denmark are unbeaten in their last eight away from home, winning five of them, so they won’t fear travelling.
The two sides are expected to compete with Ireland for the two qualification spots on offer from Group D and, with their respective home and away records cancelling each other out, I believe a draw will suit both parties here. It should be a tight encounter which ultimately fizzles out to a stalemate.