It really has been a graveyard week with very little to capture the imagination of us punters. International breaks can feel like an eternity but on Friday we have a whole host of fixtures, many which are friendly fixtures as well as the vital European play off matches to decide the World Cup places. Here at GGT we feel we have captured a fine treble.
Iceland v Croatia– 8.00pm Friday – SkyBet EVENS
It is quite incredible that Iceland have managed to get this far and if they do manage to defy the odds and make it through to Brazil 2014, they will become the smallest nation in World Cup history, however the mighty Croatia stand in their way. Croatia have missed out just once since their first appearance in 1998 and are heavy favourites to be triumphant over the two legs that start in Reykjavik on Friday.
A lot of the credit for the excellent campaign Iceland have had has been headed in the direction of manager Lars Lagerback, who has already managed at three World Cups! Iceland finished on 17 points in a distant second behind Switzerland in what was seen as one of the easier groups. Having not ever reached a tournament before, the underdogs dont have much history to cling on to but if they are to complete the extraordinary they will need to get a result at home which means they need to get at least a goal. I fancy the Icelandic’s to score and possibly pull of the win but only if their big names, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson put in colossal performances.
Croatia know victory away in Iceland would all but seal their place in the pot for the World Cup Group stage which takes place next month. Anything but a positive outcome will mean the pressure is on in the reverse tie which will not be ideal for new manager Niko Kovac who has taken over from Igor Stimac. Croatia will be expected to score a few goals and with Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic and Niko Kranjcar available for the tie you would be expecting them to do so.
Italy v Germany – 7.45pm Friday – SkyBet 4/5
A friendly between two giants of International football greets us on Friday, Germany travel to face Italy, in what will be Joachim Low’s 100th match in charge of his nation. Italy have always got the better of Germany in recent times and the away side will want to wipe the record clean in this contest. I think this one might be tight at times, but there should be chances at both ends.
In 2006 Italy knocked out the Germans at the Semi Final stage of the World Cup which they went on to win. Confidence will be high knowing their modern history in the fixture but more significantly there are plenty of places up for grabs in next years squad. Cesare Prandelli the Azzuri manager has said in the build up to the game “Many players are motivated, they want to prove that they can be a part of such a group. I have in my mind 35 players so nothing is definite.” Each game till the World Cup will be important for those players and I can see Italy getting another win here.
The last time Germany beat Italy was 1995 despite meeting six times since. Germany will want to put a halt to this run and have one of their strongest squads they have had since that year. Goals have not been a problem either in qualification, in Group C they scored a quite incredible 36 times in just 10 games. That is on its way to be being an average four a game. They have also scored at least three goals in their last nine fixtures- with this record of finding the back of the net, I just cannot see them failing to score on Friday.
England v Chile – 8.00pm Friday – SkyBet 8/11
Wembley hosts two ties over the next five days as the FA celebrate their 150th anniversary, Chile visit on Friday and huge rivals Germany arrive for a friendly next week. The game here will be a far more experimental side with less experience than the one likely to appear against the Germans and paired with Chile’s attacking style, we may be in store for quite an open and exciting game.
England have been forced into a number of changes with captain Steven Gerrard missing out, as well as regulars Kyle Walker, Michael Carrick, Danny Welbeck and Jack Wilshere. It is well known that manager Roy Hodgson is using the fixture to try out other options in his squad in preparation of his final 23 for next summer in Brazil, keeper Fraser Forster will make his first appearance, other young prospects will see game time including Everton’s Ross Barkley and Southampton duo Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana. Despite many changes England will be confident of victory especially being at home and along with that will come goals.
Conversely, many are predicting Chile to cause an upset due to the wholesale changes of their opposition. Chile qualified for World Cup 2014 finishing third in the South American league and are expected to be quite a force next summer with conditions suiting them. Chile have already faced big sides while getting goals and results, including 2-2 against World Cup holders, Spain in September. They too drew with Brazil by the same scoreline back in March. I am predicting a score draw on Friday with Alexis Sanchez causing all sorts of problems for England.