Betting Week in Review: World Cup Qualifiers Feature
The Premier League is on a break, so our attention turns to international football with the World Cup qualification games that took place last week. It was a mixed bag for the Home Nations, and Turkey produced the biggest surprise in their two games.
Experimental England Ease Past San Marino
England couldn’t have wished for an easier start to their World Cup qualification campaign, drawn against San Marino, the world’s lowest-ranked football team. The two teams had previously met six times, with England winning them all easily.
The last time the two teams were placed in the same group in 2012/13, England won the two games by an aggregate score of 13-0, winning away at San Marino 8-0 and winning the home leg 5-0.
With tougher games against Albania and Poland on the horizon, Gareth Southgate understandably played an experimental side with captain Harry Kane left out of the side and starts for Jese Lingard, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Raheem Sterling up front. Gareth Southgates’ 50th match in charge earned him the distinction of becoming the first person to play in and manage 50 games for England.
The game itself was played at an almost testimonial pace, England enjoying 85% of possession, much of which was in San Marino’s half, and it was no surprise when England took the lead after 14 minutes. Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse scoring his first-ever senior goal for England.
More goals soon followed, Calvert-Lewin scored on 21 minutes before Sterling added another 10 minutes later to give England a 3-0 lead at the break. Calvert-Lewin doubled his tally on 53 minutes before being substituted with Ollie Watkins on 63 minutes. The Aston Villa man was making his debut and scored after 20 minutes of being on the pitch.
The 5-0 scoreline should have been more emphatic. Lingard, on his recall, could have scored at least five; a mixture of poor finishing and excellent goalkeeping limited the 28-year-old to an assist for Calvert-Lewin’s second goal. Elia Benedettini in the San Marino goal also saved further efforts from Mason Mount, Ben Chilwell, Ward-Prowse and prevented Calvert-Lewin from claiming his hat-trick.
Wales and Northern Ireland Lose, Scotland Draw
While this routine win was good for England, the other Home Nations didn’t fare so well.
Wales were soundly beaten 3-1 by Belgium; the team ranked first in FIFA official rankings. A shock upset did appear to be on the cards when Harry Wilson gave them the lead after fine work from Connor Roberts and Gareth Bale. It was a lead that lasted just 10 minutes, Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne levelling with a great finish. A Thorgan Hazard header on 28 minutes, and in the second half, Romelu Lukaku scored from the spot to secure the win. The defeat is Wales’ first defeat in 11 games, a run that started in June 2019.
Northern Ireland lost 2-0 to Italy, first-half goals from Domenico Berardi and Ciro Immobile enough to separate the sides. And Scotland could only draw 2-2 with Austria. A fantastic overhead kick with five minutes left salvaging a well-deserved draw for the Scots.
Turkish Delight in Group G
We must admit, we didn’t check what odds Turkey were to win the World Cup before they played their first two fixtures, but we are pretty sure they were much longer than the current 150/1 that Turkey is priced at currently. In their first game, they faced the Netherlands, who themselves are priced at 14/1 to win the tournament.
Few gave Turkey much hope, but they quickly took control in the game and led at the interval 2-0 courtesy of Burak Yilmaz’s two goals. Turkey increased their lead straight after the restart, Hakan Calhanoglu scoring with a curling shot. Davy Klaassen and Luuk de Jong hit back with two goals in two minutes to increase the pressure on the Turks before Yilmaz claimed the match ball with a penalty in the 81st minute. Former Manchester United player Memphis Depay had a chance to get a goal back for the Dutch when he was awarded a spot-kick in injury time, but the reported Barcelona target saw his kick saved by Ugurcan Cakır.
While the win against the Dutch was impressive, their 3-0 win away to Norway was as good, if not better. Norway was considered dark horses for the tournament by many, largely due to the form of Erling Haaland, who is attracting interest from all the top clubs in the world. Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea are all rumoured to be interested in tabling a bid for the 20-year-old in the summer. The prolific youngster has scored 62 goals in 72 career appearances in all competitions. For Borussia Dortmund, he is in incredible form, 21 league goals in 20 starts and an astonishing ten goals in six starts in the Champions League.
With all eyes on Haaland, it took just four minutes for Turkey to take the lead. The impressive Ozan Tufan connected with a Yusuf Yazici cross and rifle in the opener. Norway should have been level in the 26th minute, Alexander Sorloth hitting the post. It was a costly miss as Turkey doubled their lead two minutes later, Caglar Soyuncu able to head the goal after lapse Norweigen defending. Tufan scored his second of the game in the 58th minutes, securing the win, a great curling shot that evaded the keeper. Any hope of a comeback for Norway was dashed when Kristian Thorstvedt was sent off late on.
Overall it’s not been a bad international break for the bookies. Although well-backed England won both their games, winning 2-0 against Albania, many punters lost out when Ireland suffered a shock 1-0 defeat by Luxembourg. Belgium only managed a draw against the Czech Republic and an unexpected bonus for operators was Portugal’s draw with Serbia, which took down many accumulators.