Tackling an International £2,000,000 Pick 6
It’s all about the internationals this week with six of the European Championship qualifiers forming your £2,000,000 Pick 6 coupon.
Matchday Three of the competition sees a number of intriguing pairings and the chance for the teams involved to position themselves favourably in the table, given that barely a point separates most of them at this early stage of qualifying.
Let’s take a look at my selections below…
Estonia vs. England
Roy Hodgson takes his battle-hardened troops to Estonia hoping to increase the lead at the top of the Group E table.
A date against San Marino is unlikely to present any problems so a possible nine points from nine with a win in Tallinn is a distinct possibility.
There’s every chance the new faces in the squad will get some minutes, giving England a more youthful outlook.
Just three goals behind Jimmy Greaves and eight behind all-time record holder Bobby Charlton, Wayne Rooney will look upon both games as a chance to further cement his place into the annals of Football Association history.
Magnus Pehrsson’s side haven’t enjoyed a particularly great 2014, Estonia’s friendly wins against Tajikistan and Gibraltar tempered by losses to Sweden, Iceland and Finland and failure to defeat Latvia.
That may be due in part to having five players making debut during the period and the associate upheaval within the dressing room.
However, a 1-0 win in qualifying last time out against Slovenia gives the home side a good platform from which to build.
As a result, England should at least be on their guard against complacency.
Indeed, nothing less than a win for the Three Lions will be acceptable to their demanding bunch of travelling support, and with quality in all positions it would be hard to bet against the away side leaving with all three points.
Five of Estonia’s six goals scored this year have come against lower-ranked opposition so I’m settling on a 3-0 away win.
Austria vs. Montenegro
A creditable 1-1 draw against Sweden last time out has given Marcel Koller’s Austrians the confidence to emerge from a tricky and unpredictable Group G.
Russia are likely to remain the team to beat and have already set the early pace, but the rest of the group could remain wide open.
With home advantage and a partisan Viennese crowd behind them, “Das Team” need to take the game to their opponents from the get-go.
Montenegro have proved to be every inch the tough customers you might expect from the Balkans in the past, a 1-0 win over Ukraine being a particular highlight.
England too can certainly attest to the desire and will-to-win that Branko Brnovic’s team possess in spades.
After tearing a hamstring on international duty last time out, Manchester City’s impressive Stefan Jovetic will want to get among the goals again, however, a hugely experienced Austrian should have enough about them to repel the threat of the away side, many of whom still ply their trade in the Eastern European leagues.
The likes of Bayern Munich’s David Alaba and Schalke’s Christian Fuchs head a roll-call of Austrian players whose international appearances are well into double-figures.
We’re likely to see a bruising and close contest, and I’ll go with a sneaky 1-0 for the home side, and perhaps a 1-1 to protect your interests.
Bosnia & Herzegovina vs. Belgium
Top seeds Bosnia prop up Group B after a shocking and unexpected loss to Cyprus in the previous round of fixtures.
Edin Dzeko will continue to lead the line with aplomb, although there are fitness concerns over returning captain Emir Spahic.
Without his best exponents, Safet Susic will struggle to field a team capable enough of turning over a robust Belgian side, superbly marshaled by Djeko’s club colleague, Vincent Kompany.
Although Christian Benteke has returned from his long-term injury, only half an hour of competitive action will rule him out of this one.
In Divock Origi, the Belgians have a ready-made replacement and enough quality squad-wide to trouble the very best.
In their last 14 fixtures going back to October last year, Argentina’s World Cup win and a friendly defeat to Colombia remain the only blemishes on Marc Wilmots’ copybook.
It’s still a tough ask but I’m expecting Belgium’s all round experience to see them take at least a point from this one, if not all three. 0-0, 1-1 or 0-1 for your coupon.
Wales vs. Cyprus
You have to feel sorry for Gareth Bale. Like Ryan Giggs and Craig Bellamy before him, if ever there was a nation that rested their hopes on one man, Wales and Bale are it.
The Real Madrid flyer has started his season in impressive if a little understated fashion and his presence is much needed with Chris Coleman unable to call upon a number of injury victims that include Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen.
It’s a safe bet that Bale will be targeted for some roughhouse treatment and Coleman will be hopeful of a strong refereeing performance on the night.
Currently enjoying their highest world ranking for 20 years, Coleman’s charges can cement their place at the top of the pile with a professional win against the Cypriots.
Yet in a sign of the lack of depth that Coleman has to deal with on a permanent basis, Crawley Town’s Gwion Edwards has been drafted into the squad.
It would be a shame for recent good work to go to waste and a hard-fought Cypriot win over Bosnia & Herzogovina last time out indicates that the Welsh won’t have things all their own way.
The Millenium Stadium was an unnecessary millstone around the necks of Welsh football so a move to the more intimate Cardiff City stadium could prove a masterstroke.
Pambos Christodoulou’s side are unlikely to enjoy being in such close proximity to an enthused home crowd and may rely on an experienced midfield to dictate the pace of the game and take the sting out of the match.
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A tough one to call this, so I’ll sit on the fence. 1-1.
Poland vs. Scotland
What a game we have in prospect in Warsaw on Tuesday.
Despite losing in Germany in the first qualifying game, Scotland were rightly praised for a battling performance in Dortmund against the reigning World Champions.
It was Gordon Strachan’s first defeat in seven, a period during which the entire Scottish football family has bought into what the ex-Aberdeen man is trying to achieve.
The level of performance has been consistent and the mood buoyant, however they face another stiff test at the hands of the table toppers.
It’ll be the second home game in three days for Adam Nawalka’s side, and the magnitude of the first may well play into Scotland’s hands.
Germany pitch up in Warsaw on Saturday for a titanic tussle that could well go some way to determining who will top the group.
Captain Robert Lewandowski leads an experienced side into both matches, and the strength in depth that the Polish possess make them a fearsome opponent.
Clearly, Scotland will have to be at their very best to head home with any reward.
Whilst there is much to admire with regards to Strachan’s revolution, I can’t see any further than a reasonably comfortable home win. 2-0 or 2-1 my selections.
Denmark vs. Portugal
The Danes sit proudly atop Group I after a narrow win last time out against Armenia.
At the same time, the much-fancied Portuguese were being dispatched at home by Albania in one of the biggest shocks in the competition so far.
Coach Paulo Bento had left talisman Cristiano Ronaldo at home for that one, citing his fitness concerns as a good enough reason to leave him out.
Portugal were extremely disappointing in the absence of their captain and a super strike from Bekim Balaj was enough to place Bento’s men at the foot of the table and see the coach removed from his post.
His replacement, Fernando Santos has called up three debutants including Jose Fonte of Southampton, but will be unable to coach from the sidelines as he is still in the midst of an eight game FIFA ban.
The senior players must step up for this one and with Madrid’s finest in a rich vein of club form recently, Ronaldo will set about knocking Morten Olsen’s men from their lofty perch.
Copenhagen Stadium provides a comfortable and familiar setting for the Danes. It’s a venue where they have lost just once in the last two years, rarely conceding more than one goal per match.
The lift that any new coach gives a dressing room cannot be understated but Santos does need time to mould the group.
A score draw 1-1 or 2-2 (AOD) should suit both teams.