I'm sure for many the end of the World Cup qualifiers brings about a massive sigh of relief as we can all finally get back to watching our beloved clubs play at the weekend once again. However, despite how dull England's campaign has been to date, a handful of these final World Cup qualifiers are actually worth watching due to their huge implications in terms of the stars who may miss out on playing in Russia next year. Players such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric, Alexis Sanchez and Gareth Bale are all at risk due to the precarious situation they find their respective countries in meaning there's plenty on the line in the final furlong of this break.
If you're not sure how to navigate this qualification minefield, don't worry as our experts at ODDSbible HQ have done the hard work, crunching the numbers in the key games to bring you all the potential outcomes and crucially, the best bets.
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Our Accumulator For This Week:
Portugal WIN 8/13
Australia WIN 7/20
Argentina WIN 4/9
Colombia WIN 19/10
WALES vs IRELAND (Monday 9th October - 7.45pm)
With Serbia hosting Georgia, it's likely that they'll go on to secure 1st place in Group D, leaving Wales and Ireland battling it out for 2nd place. Wales currently sit in 2nd, only a point ahead of Ireland in 3rd. A draw would be enough to see Chris Coleman's side secure a play-off spot, whereas it's a must win for Ireland. Wales look the favourites on paper especially with home advantage, however they'll be without Gareth Bale and with Ireland needing a win, this one promises to be a thrilling encounter. We're backing the DRAW tonight in what should be a very cagey affair.
Our verdict: DRAW 47/20
UKRAINE vs CROATIA (Monday 9th October - 7.45pm)
Ukraine and Croatia see themselves in a very similar situation to Wales and Ireland. 1st place in Group I seems set for Iceland to claim who are expected to win at home to Kosovo, leaving Ukraine and Croatia battling for 2nd place. Ukraine currently sit in 3rd place of Group I on 17 points with a goal difference of +6, whilst Croatia sit in 2nd place also on 17 points but with a greater goal difference of +9. However, Ukraine have an impressive home record in Group I, winning three games and drawing one, whilst only conceding a single goal. Croatia have lost two of their four away games during the campaign. Despite getting the better of Ukraine with a 1-0 win in March earlier this year, securing just a point away to the Ukrainians will be a massive task for Croatia hence we're backing UKRAINE to get the home win and secure 2nd place.
Our verdict: UKRAINE 37/20
PORTUGAL vs SWITZERLAND (Tuesday 10th October - 7.45pm)
Both of these teams in Group B are assured of at least a play-off place, so this game is a battle for that 1st place prize of automatic qualification. Switzerland have won all nine of their World Cup qualifiers, accumulating a goal difference of +18. On the other hand, Portugal have won eight of their nine qualifiers, their only defeat being a 2-0 loss away to Switzerland all the way back in September last year. However, Portugal have a much greater goal difference than Switzerland (+26), meaning that any sort of win at home would see them leapfrog the Swiss into 1st place. Portugal have also been very clinical at home during the World Cup qualifying campaign, scoring 18 goals from 4 games. This one could really go either way but we're backing Cristiano Ronaldo to step up to the plate and secure qualification for the Euro 2016 champions.
Our verdict: PORTUGAL 8/13
AUSTRALIA vs SYRIA (Tuesday 10th October - 10am)
The winner of this 2nd leg tie of the AFC Fourth Round will enter the inter-confederation play-offs in November. The first leg ended in a 1-1 draw, meaning that it's still all to play for in this 2nd leg. Syria were the surprise package of Group A, just beating Uzbekistan to that 3rd place play-off spot and with it being a country that is constantly in the news for off-field matters, it would be a huge achievement for Syria to potentially qualify for the 2018 World Cup. However, Australia will be tough opponents, who only just missed out on qualification through Group B on goal difference to Saudi Arabia. Australia have won four of their five qualifiers at home, drawing the other. As much as we love an underdog story, we fear that this could be too big a hurdle to overcome for Syria.
Our verdict: AUSTRALIA 7/20
BRAZIL vs CHILE (Wednesday 11th October - 12.30am)
The CONMEBOL is by far the most confusing group for a neutral. Six teams in this group are still all at risk of not qualifying for next year's tournament, with a variety of different scenarios still possible. Chile are currently sat in 3rd place, however face a tough final fixture away to group winners Brazil. If Chile lose and other results don't go their way, they could potentially drop down to 6th place, eliminating them altogether. Even a draw doesn't guarantee an inter-confederation play-off spot for Chile, in the unlikely scenario of Paraguay defeating Venezuela 8-0, something we saw Sweden do against Luxembourg at the expense of Dutch coach Dick Advocaat.
Chile are the only team in the group to beat Brazil during these qualifiers, a 2-0 win at home back in October 2015, so they do stand a fair chance away to the Brazilians. Due to the Samba squad not having anything to play for we fancy the Chileans to spice things up (sorry) in São Paulo and get the much-needed three points.
Our verdict: CHILE 15/4
ECUADOR vs ARGENTINA (Wednesday 11th October - 12.30am)
The thought of Lionel Messi not competing in the 2018 World Cup at Russia is worryingly close to becoming a reality. Argentina must win away to already-eliminated Ecuador to secure at least an inter-confederation play-off match. A draw could be enough achieve this, however Argentina would be relying on other results to go their way, such as Colombia winning away to Peru, and 10th placed Venezuela winning away in Paraguay. Ecuador stunned Argentina on Matchday 1 back in October 2015 with a late 2-0 win away from home, and are unbeaten at home to the Argentines in their last 4 meetings. Argentina's last win away to Ecuador was all the way back in 2001 but if there was ever a time for Lionel Messi to shine on the international stage, it's now. The little maestro should have more than enough to beat Ecuador despite their recent form.
Our verdict: ARGENTINA 4/9
PERU vs COLOMBIA (Wednesday 11th October - 12.30am)
This is another huge fixture in the CONMEBOL qualifiers. Both teams are in danger of missing out on qualification and even a draw is not guaranteed to secure at least an inter-confederation play-off for either side. Colombia sit in 4th spot on 26 points, whilst Peru sit in 5th spot on 25 points. Despite having the home advantage, Peru haven't beaten Colombia at home since 1997 and this leads us to side with James Rodriguez and his men in Wednesday night's crucial tie.
Our verdict: COLOMBIA 19/10
CONCACAF FIXTURES (Wednesday 11th October - 1am)
USA, Panama and Honduras are all at risk of missing out on the World Cup and what makes this group interesting is that the three teams will all be facing off against different sides in their final game of the qualifiers. As it stands, USA sit in 3rd place on 12 points in a qualifying place, Panama sit in 4th place on 10 points in an inter-confederation play-off spot, and Honduras sit in 5th place also on 10 points, but with a worse goal difference compared to Panama, in an elimination spot. USA face a trip to Trinidad & Tobago, who have only won one game throughout the qualifiers, losing their other eight games. Panama are at home to the already qualified Costa Rica who have only lost one of their nine qualifiers, and Honduras are at home to group winners Mexico, who have lost none of their qualifiers. I think it's fair to say that USA look very likely to qualify, realistically only needing a point, whereas Panama and Honduras face very tough home fixtures.Our verdict: USA TO QUALIFY & PANAMA PLAY-OFF
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