Norway v Hungary – Thursday 12th November
Hungary have not won in the past nine games against Norway, and won’t find it any easier this time around. A glance at their relative group opponents says it all; Norway finished third behind Italy and Croatia, whilst the Hungarians lost out to Northern Ireland and Romania. Moreover Norway were very close to qualifying automatically, letting their lead slip against Italy in their final match. They’ll feel that they’ve earned a place at the finals already, and will have too much for a Hungary side lacking star quality.
To make matters worse for Hungary, Norway’s defence was excellent in the group stage as Per-Mathias Hogmo’s side collected six clean sheets. Norwegian midfielder, and Real Madrid’s youngest ever player, Martin Odegaard, will be looking to make the most of this opportunity as a platform to silence his critics. Odegaard was overlooked for the Champions League squad in late September, and some have speculated that he’s not progressing as hoped. It is expected that he’ll head out on loan in January, so he’ll be eager to showcase his obvious talent as well as ensuring he’s played his part in ensuring Norway head to the finals in France. Norway’s odds to win to drop to 1.8.
The form of Krisztian Nemeth will give Hungary some hope but the Norwegian midfield which includes Celtic’s Stefan Johansen, high flying Hertha Berlin’s Skjelbred, and Alexander Tettey of Norwich will be too much for them. The form of Tettey in particular will benefit Norway, the midfielder looks to be thoroughly enjoying his football this season, and it was his goal that put them in the lead against Italy last time out. Norwegian legend John Arne Riise tweeted Johansen this week to give him a massive confidence boost, stating that he believes him to be Norway’s best player at present.
A draw for Hungary would be a huge result, though that too will be a struggle as they head to Oslo for the first leg on Thursday.
Prediction: Norway should already be heading to the Euros, but Hogmo will ensure complacency won’t be an issue as he looks to take advantage of the first leg at home. The form of midfielders Tettey, Skjelbred and Johansen should overwhelm Hungary. Buy Norway Under with the Spiffindex at 1.96
Bosnia v Republic of Ireland – Friday 13th November
A tough game and one in which Martin O’Neill could do with having a full squad to choose from. As it is, John O’Shea and Jon Walters are suspended, Shay Given is injured, as is David McGoldrick, whilst Alan Judge, Paul McShane, Rob Elliot, and Shane Long will be assessed by their clubs prior to the game.
Steve McClaren has already come out and stated he would prefer Elliot not to play; the Magpies keeper is nursing a knock. It is believed that O’Neill would ideally pick Elliot to start following some great displays for Newcastle recently. Meanwhile Seamus Coleman has admitted that losing O’Shea is a blow: “He’s a great man and a great leader and I’m sure he’ll be missed. When he speaks we listen.”
All this seems to indicate that confidence must be dented in the Ireland camp, especially having to play away in Bosnia. Shay Given has summed up his feelings by stating: “If we can get a draw out there in Bosnia, we’ve every chance of qualifying.” This is likely a recurring train of thought throughout the squad, and could be costly.
Bosnia themselves will have been buoyed by beating a strong Wales line-up in October which included Bale, Williams and Allen. Edin Dzeko will go into this game on a high too, the striker scored in Roma’s win over rivals Lazio at the weekend. Oh, and the Bosnians are on a three competitive match winning streak. Confidence is sky high under manager Mehmed Baždarević (they’ve only lost one game during his tenure), and the atmosphere on Friday should serve to push them on and unnerve a weakened Ireland. A reduction in capacity at the Bilino Polje Stadium (to 11,500) means that the Irish will only receive 600 tickets, though the FAI were said to be pushing for more. Bosnia’s odds to win to fall below 2.0.
Having failed to reach the World Cup 2014 finals, Ireland will be determined to make amends. This resulted in Ireland falling to their lowest ever Fifa ranking.
With O’Neill at the helm they’ve a decent chance despite the injuries; this is a manager who led Celtic to the Uefa Cup Final in 2003, and Aston Villa to the League Cup Final in 2010, as well as three consecutive sixth placed finishes. He knows how to manage a team of underdogs, so don’t count out the Irish just yet.
Prediction: O’Neill will play this one smart, and despite Irish confidence being knocked due to the amount of players missing, they’ll fight tooth and nail for the draw. Buy Draw Under with the Spiffindex at 3.4.
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