Republic of Ireland v Bosnia – Monday 16th November
Bosnia rescued a draw with a late equaliser on Friday night after Edin Dzeko cancelled out Robbie Brady’s 82 minute opener in thick fog.
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill suggested that they are not going to play for an edgy 0-0 to capitalise on the away goal. He said: “We have to try and win the game. If we set out with any other sort of mindset, we could be in trouble. The ultimate goal does not change and is the same for both of us. The tie is finely balanced.”
Ireland are unbeaten in six competitive home games (W4 D2) since a 2-1 loss to Sweden in September 2013, but the Bosnians’ away record in UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying was not too bad either with two wins and a draw on the road.
Ireland can likely welcome back three big players for the second leg – Sunderland’s John O’Shea, Southampton’s Shane Long and Stoke City’s Jonathan Walters. Long scored the only goal when the teams met in a 2012 friendly, their sole previous meeting before this tie.
O’Shea in particular has plenty of big game experience from his time at Manchester United and Irish fans will be hoping that he provides the squad with a calming presence.
While the Bosnians have never even qualified for a European Championships, Ireland are old hands at the play-off route. Before this campaign they featured in three EURO play-offs, losing two and winning one and have also been involved in three World Cup play-offs, with the same record.
Prediction: Ireland have returned from Bosnia on a high but must now be careful about overconfidence. Bosnia know they have to go out and attack and with Edin Dzeko the biggest name on the pitch causing havoc, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Irish edged out again. Buy Bosnia Over with the Spiffindex at 3.4.
Slovenia v Ukraine – Tuesday 17th September
Ukraine have one foot in the EURO finals thanks to the two-goal lead they take to Maribor for the second leg of the play-off with Slovenia.
In truth Ukraine could well have scored more as they dominated the first leg and will be hoping that lightning doesn’t strike twice. In the World Cup play-offs in 2013, Ukraine won 2-0 at home against France, only to capitulate 3-0 in the away leg.
However Ukraine’s victory in Lviv on Saturday was their first in five games against Slovenia and they will have to keep it tight if they are to progress. Slovenia are a strong proposition at home – England are the only side to win in Slovenia in their last seven competitive home matches.
Slovenia also edged out Ukraine during the playoffs for EURO 2000 and this second leg takes place exactly 16 years to the day after a 1-1 draw in Kyiv earned Slovenia that play-off success. A draw will favour the Ukrainians this time around though, meaning Slovenia have got to come out all guns blazing.
Prediction: Slovenia were massively outplayed by the Ukraine, who might now relax a little with a two goal cushion. Expect the home side to sneak a nervy win, but still lose on aggregate. Buy Slovenia Over with the Spiffindex at 3.0.
Denmark v Sweden – Tuesday 17th November
Sweden have the advantage after a 2-1 win in the Friends Arena, but Nicolai Jørgensen’s late goal has brought the Danes very much back into contention. Sweden coach Erik Hamrén said before the match: “I would rather win 2-1 than draw 0-0.” Whether he will still be thinking that at full time remains to be seen.
Denmark will be hoping that this match will go the way of other recent encounters with the Swedes. They overcame Sweden 1-0 in Copenhagen in October 2009 to pip their neighbours to the 2010 FIFA World Cup. That ended Sweden’s record run of five straight qualifications for major tournaments. The sides’ last Copenhagen encounter was a May 2014 friendly, Daniel Agger scoring in a 1-0 Denmark win.
Coach Morten Olsen, who is retiring after this campaign, commented: “It’s pleasing that we get the opportunity to decide it all at home. During my time as national coach, we have qualified for major tournaments at home three times – one of these against Sweden. Doing it in front of your own crowd is always special.”
Prediction: The Danish appear quietly confident that Olsen’s experience will see them through. However they will have to get by Zlatan Ibrahimović, who added to his eight goals in qualifying with a penalty in the first leg. With his talent on the pitch, Sweden have always got a chance. Buy Draw Under with the Spiffindex at 3.55.