Turkey v Sweden, Saturday, 17:00
While at first glance it looks like a tie to see who’ll finish runner-up to Russia in the group, there’s a little bit more at stake that should ensure a decent game of ball.
The ‘known knowns’ are that Sweden will definitely be relegated from League B Group 2 if they lose and that they have failed to win any of their last five away matches outside of their World Cup heroics.
The ‘known unknowns’ is whether that World Cup celebration continues into one long, lingering, hangover for Janne Andersson’s side.
They’re sure to be motivated though, as while defeat means relegation, a win on Saturday night sets them up for another high-octane game against Russia at home next Tuesday.
That Sweden gave up a 2-0 lead at home to the Turks in September, before getting chinned 3-2 by the visitors, only adds to the sense of unfinished business.
Mircea Lucescu’s Turkish side will want to make sure the Swedes are dead and buried after this tie so they can’t pick their pocket for second place later on.
The incentive is there for the home side to play on the front foot from the start – and them some – if they go a goal down.
The ‘unknown unknowns’ of course, is the outcome. With the stakes relatively high for both sides we’ll leave the result to sort itself out and take the both teams to score option at 17/20.
Italy v Portugal, Saturday, 19:45
Poor Poland have found themselves the bottom-dwellers is the UEFA Nations League as both Italy and Portugal have got out of their home turf with a victory.
Group 3’s top two go at it on Saturday in the San Siro, as Portugal hold a two-point advantage over their hosts and also claim a game in hand in the race to qualify for League A’s semi-final slots. Now that we’ve solved that Rubik’s cube for you, let’s tell you what we’re backing.
Believe it or not, Italy don’t seem to enjoy home comforts at international level (how could they not like the food!). Even though they haven’t been beaten in Italy in over two years, the Azzurri have only won a single game in their last six matches – and that was against the minnows of Saudi Arabia.
There’s no shame in drawing with the Netherlands, Poland or even Sweden these days, but the Ukraine and Macedonia stalemates just go to show that the aura of fear around the Italians in international competition no longer exists.
Portugal, even without Ronaldo, arrive on a three-game winning streak (including a 1-0 victory over Italy in September) and it’s been nine game since they last failed to find the net. They’ll be no slouches, but we fancy a bit of history repeating itself here.
Amazingly, of the five draws we’ve mention above, four of those have been 1-1 results – all inside just 13 months. We reckon there’s a high possibility that scoreline cropping up again on Saturday and we’re tipping another 1-1 draw here at a fabulous 5/1.
Albania v Scotland, Saturday, 19:45
This is a huge game for Big ‘Eck and his second stint with the Tartan Army. He’s already coming under pressure after an away loss to Israel and some heavy friendly defeats.
We’d expect him to look to keep this game tight, especially early, as Scotland still have a hope of topping their group if they get something here and take care of Israel in Hampden on Tuesday.
That’d mean promotion to the next tier. A draw isn’t a terrible result either for the Scots, provided they win that final game at home, which they should as Israel are poor travellers.
As for Albania, they’re not exactly prolific.
They’ve scored once in their last four games, a 1-0 home win against the Israelis, but they conceded two in both Glasgow and Beersheba when losing their other Nations League fixtures, and drew nil-all with the mighty Jordan in a friendly.
They can still finish ahead of the Scots in the standings though if they win here – meaning they could avoid relegation should Israel turn over McLeish’s men in the final group game – so both teams have something to play for on Saturday night, and they’ll want to keep the game alive for along as possible.
Both sides lack a cutting edge. Scotland have had eight withdrawls from their squad, which won’t help. It all suggests a first half stalemate is a real possibility, and 13/10 appeals.
*All odds correct at time of posting