There is less than a year until the 2018 World Cup in Russia kicks off, but there are plenty places left to be sorted out. Three teams have booked their tickets to Russia for next summer. Of course, Russia will be there and they will be joined by Brazil and Iran.
This week’s World Cup qualifiers see several big matches taking place with a berth in Russia at stake. Will France or the Netherlands catch Sweden? Can the Australians find form in Japan? Can Lionel Messi inspire Argentina to victory after sputtering through qualification? A lot of questions will be answered this week.
France vs. The Netherlands
The biggest World Cup qualifier of the week in Europe sees group A’s second and third place teams battling. France sit level on points with first place Sweden, but sit second on goal difference. The Dutch are currently three points back of France and Sweden and desperately need to gain points. Arguably, France have the superior squad and will have the luxury of playing in Paris. The French won the reverse fixture in Amsterdam last October, 1-0. Expect a tight affair with just three qualifiers to play after this contest.
France to win: 8/15, Netherlands to win: 13/2, Draw: 16/5
Japan vs. Australia
The Japanese are on the brink of World Cup qualification, but a loss to the Australians could change everything. One point separates the two counties along with Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates are right behind all three. Both Japan and Australia could qualify directly from this stage of Asian confederation qualifying, but they could also find themselves having to battle through the fourth qualifying stage. Japan and Australia drew in their last meeting in Melbourne in October. Since then, Japan have reeled off three wins and a draw while the Aussies have drawn two and won two matches. Keep in mind the Australian domestic season doesn’t start until October while the Japanese J League is currently in the middle of its term. Playing in Saitama should help Japan in this one.
Japan to win: 4/5, Australia to win: 18/5, Draw: 13/5
Greece vs. Estonia
Greece are fighting for qualification and may need to go the route of the playoffs to get to Russia. The Greeks need points to reach the playoffs, however. Currently on 12 points, Greece needs a win over Estonia to be one of the best second place teams in UEFA. Greece won the reverse fixture 2-0, and had little difficulty in recording the win. Currently four points behind group H leaders Belgium, Greece could narrow the gap at the top of the standings on September 3rd when they battle the Belgians in Piraeus. However, the Greeks need a win on home soil against Estonia first.
Greece to win: 2/5, Estonia to win: 11/1, Draw: 10/3
Uruguay vs. Argentina
Could Argentina miss out on the 2018 World Cup? Currently in fifth place (inter-confederation playoff place), Argentina trail fourth place Chile by one point. The Argentines have won just six of 14 qualifiers, and bizarrely lost to Bolivia in their last match in qualification. Third place Uruguay sit one point above the Argentines, and they too lost their last match; 2-1, to Peru. Argentina won the reverse fixture just under a year ago, but that was on home soil. The Uruguayans will have a ruckus crowd behind them when both teams take to the pitch in Montevideo. Luis Suarez should be in the starting XI for Uruguay, while Lionel Messi will be kitted out for Argentina.
Uruguay to win: 23/10, Argentina to win: 6/5, Draw:9/4
* Latest odds courtesy of bet365.