Mark O’Haire’s Euro 2016 Qualifier Tips – Friday’s Matches
Just hearing the name ‘Georgia’ is enough to send shivers down Scotland supporters’ spines.
Georgia v Scotland, Friday 4 September 2015 (17.00), Sky Sports 1
Having done the double over France during their Euro 2008 qualifying campaign, the Tartan Army missed out on the tournament thanks to an embarrassing 2-0 reverse in Tbilisi back in October 2007. It’s a result that still haunts.
On Friday evening Gordon Strachan’s charges head back to the Boris Pasichadzis Erovnuli Stadium eager to right those wrongs and Scotland arrive in excellent nick; a first major tournament appearance since 1998 is within reach should they avoid the potential Georgia banana-skin.
Strachan’s rejuvenated the national team and Scotland arrive in Tbilisi having lost just twice in 15 games. World champions Germany defeated the Tartan Army in Dortmund in the opening Euro 2016 qualifier with England’s friendly victory in Glasgow last November the only other blotch on the visitors’ copybook during that run of results.
Three points in Georgia would surely help to secure at least third-place in the brutal Group D and with Stuart Armstrong and Christophe Berra the only injury absentees, the squad is in rude health. The Tartan Army have returned W5-D2-L1 in their last eight and managed to net in each of their last nine road trips, suggesting they should have enough to trouble their ropey hosts.
Since that 2007 success over the Scots, Georgia have rarely come close to troubling opposition of similar stature to Strachan’s men. The hosts’ sole three-pointer during Euro 2016 qualifying came against minnows Gibraltar and their past 10 competitive fixtures in Tbilisi have returned W2-D1-L7 – the Crusaders have only beaten Liechtenstein and Malta on home soil in the past two years.
Temuri Ketsbaia has been replaced by Kakhaber Tskhadadze as head coach but the new boss has lost both of their competitive outings in the hot-seat and with seven defeats in nine, plus failure to even net in five of their six qualifying matches, it’s difficult to believe the current crop are capable of repeating their 2007 heroics.
With that in mind, Scotland look worthy of support at a shade of odds-on (20/21) with the 9/5 on the Tartan Army winning ‘to nil’ also standing out.
The latter making the most appeal with one team failing to score in 13 of the last 15 Georgia internationals.
Scotland To Win To Nil @ 9/5
Gibraltar v Republic of Ireland, Friday 4 September 2015 (19.45), Sky Sports 1
Irish fans know their one point return against Scotland has significantly damaged their prospects of reaching Euro 2016 but a maximum return from fixtures against Gibraltar and Georgia this week should propel Martin O’Neill’s men back into contention for a top-three finish in Group D.
Trying to find a value punt in the Estadio Algarve clash from Faro on Friday night is no easy feat. The Boys In Green have returned just W1-D5-L3 in their last nine road trips, netting just four goals. And the visitors are now under immense pressure having failed to collect a victory since destroying the minnows 7-0 in Dublin last October (W0-D3-L1).
Sure, Ireland have only lost once in competitive football under O’Neill (W2-D3-L1) and they will pocket the points against Gibraltar but I’m just far from willing to invest my faith and money in a landslide win. The Republic have regular failed to runaway with matches away to group whipping boys; Kazakhstan, Andorra, Faroe Islands and San Marino amongst those nations to give the Irish a fright.
So instead I’ll take a stab at the 10/11 on offer for the second-half to be the Highest Scoring Half.
Jeff Wood takes charge of his first competitive fixtures as the minnows’ new manager and he’ll be hoping to tighten up a defence that’s leaked 34 goals during qualifying so far, at least 11 more than any other nation.
Gibraltar were thrashed 7-0 by Germany in their most recent competitive game with another decent first-half fight being undone by an abysmal second period. Indeed, 20 of the 35 goals plundered during Gib’s six matches have come after the half-time interval and so the 10/11 on the second-half delivering the most goals again looks a handy selection.
Second-Half to be the Highest Scoring Half @ 10/11
Faroe Islands v Northern Ireland, Friday 4 September 2015 (19.45), Sky Sports 5
You have to go back to 1986 for the last time Northern Ireland reached a major tournament finals but Michael O’Neill’s men are on the verge of ending that barren run. Sitting second in Group F, one point behind table-topping Romania and two points ahead of Hungary with four wins from six, Norn Iron are enjoying their best return in a qualifying campaign since 2007.
Now the Irish know they must kick-on to complete the job having missed out on Euro 2008 in agonising fashion. The visitors humped their hosts 4-0 back in Belfast but a trip to Torshavn is likely to pose more problems for O’Neill’s men with renewed optimism sweeping through the Islands.
Tickets for this fixture sold out in just 16 hours as locals raced to get a glimpse of the National Team’s latest outing with Lars Olsen’s men having despatched Greece twice in their most recent three games. That six-point haul has put the Islanders into fourth with an outside shot of sealing third and the home nation will be baying for Irish blood on Friday night.
There’s no doubt O’Neill’s found Northern Ireland’s fire since taking charge but the head coach has fitness concerns surrounding two of his stars. Chris Brunt is a doubt and Kyle Lafferty – who has scored five of their eight goals – hasn’t played since the middle of June. It’s not an ideal scenario for a side that’s failed to score in 11 of their last 16 matches on the road.
Norn Iron’s away record certainly doesn’t inspire confidence (W2-D2-L6 in their last 10 competitive games) but they should be able to play their part in a successful Both Teams To Score selection at 11/8.
The Faroes have kept just one clean sheet in 19 competitive matches and also boast a sole shutout in 36 Torshavn encounters.
The hosts are hardly defending a fearsome home record (W3-D1-L19) but I’m just unwilling to get involved in Norn Iron at 4/6 quotes when two of their key performers aren’t 100%. Both sides have delivered Under 2.5 Goals winners in four of their six qualifiers thus far and so a small stab at the 1-1 correct score could also prove profitable at a bulbous 6/1 in what should be a tight encounter.
Both Teams To Score @ 11/8
Correct Score 1-1 @ 6/1
*Prices correct at time of publication.