World Cup Qualifying Playoffs Begin Thursday

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

By Andrew Ryan
betcris World Cup Qualifying betting odds Sweden vs Italy

There are just nine spots left in the World Cup in Russia in 2018. Over the course of the next several days, those slots will all be filled, and the field for the biggest soccer tournament in the world will be finalized.

There are just nine spots left in the World Cup in Russia in 2018. Over the course of the next several days, those slots will all be filled, and the field for the biggest soccer tournament in the world will be finalized.

The confederation that has the most left to decide is UEFA. There are 10 teams, including the automatic qualifying host nation of Russia, that have already stamped tickets to the World Cup next year. The last four spots will be fought over by eight teams that are put into miniature two-game series against each other.

The first legs of those series take place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

All of the action of the last round of World Cup qualifying starts with Croatia playing Greece and Northern Ireland hosting Switzerland.

There is little doubt which way these two playoffs should go. The Croats have far more talent than a second-place team in a suspect group in UEFA, and they shouldn't have much of a problem against a Greek team that is going to try to 1-0 its way to the World Cup.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland is the worst of the eight European teams left standing for our money, and it has to go up against Switzerland. The Swiss are favorites on the road in Belfast, and if they can figure out how to walk out with a win or even a score draw, they're going to surely be on their way to Russia. Switzerland won its first nine matches in qualifying before losing at Portugal, so if there was a team deserving of this early draw, this was it.

The same can't be said for Sweden and Italy. These two teams were both put into miserable qualifying groups and lived to tell about it in second place. Unfortunately, there is only one World Cup slot available for the two of them at this point. The first match in Stockholm is going to be crucial for the Swedes. They were able to beat France, but that was only on the back of a bonehead decision by Thibaut Courtois. The odds of Gianluigi Buffon making a similar mistake are slim to none.

The last European matchup will pit Denmark against Ireland on Saturday. This is the most even of the four European playoff, and it's hard to say that either team truly deserves a spot in the World Cup. We much rather would have seen Sweden and Italy taking on these two teams instead of each other, as both would have been favored.

Also left to decide are the intercontinental playoffs.

In theory, Peru shouldn't have a particularly tough time against New Zealand. This first match in Wellington could end up being a problem, but the Peruvians are odds-on favorites to fly back home with an advantage in the home-and-home series.

Honduras and Australia will start their home-and-home series in San Pedro Sula. The Aussies have played in some suspect environments in Asian World Cup qualifying, not the least of which was in Syria in the Asian playoff, but this is something else entirely. Ask all of the teams in CONCACAF how they enjoyed playing in the sweltering heat that Honduras offered. The temperatures will be a lot more subdued in November, but the atmosphere will still be tough for the Aussies to overcome.

Africa also has three World Cup spots left up for grabs. Senegal can punch its bid to the World Cup with a win at South Africa on Friday night in a replay of a match that was eradicated after the South Africans won in part thanks to a mythical handball that ended up seeing match official Joseph Lamptey suspended for life for his mistake.

Tunisia would celebrate its World Cup spot at home if it can get a draw or a win over Libya on Saturday.

But maybe the biggest match comes on Sunday between Morocco and Ivory Coast. The Moroccans have yet to give up a goal in this round of qualifying, and if they keep that in order, they'll be off to the World Cup. That said, their toughest match at Ivory Coast is the last one on the docket. Should the Ivory Coast side win, it would reach the World Cup. A draw or a loss would send Morocco instead.

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