The home nations kick off their 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaigns this week with all hoping to get off to a positive start. Republic of Ireland and Wales are in action on Wednesday, while Northern Ireland, Scotland and England start their qualifiers on Thursday. Ireland, Scotland and England then play again at the weekend. The games range from the ridiculously easy (England versus San Marino) to the much more challenging (Italy versus Northern Ireland). But which sides will earn a good start to their qualification campaign?
Serbia v Republic of Ireland
19:45, Sky Sports, Stadion Rajko Mitic
Stephen Kenny takes his Ireland troops to the Stadion Rajko Mitic to face Dragan Stojkovic’s Serbia on Wednesday night in a tough opener in Group A. The Irish have not won since Mick McCarthy’s side beat Bulgaria in a friendly back in September 2019 but with Portugal also in this group, the Irish will want to get a solid result on the board early.
Kenny has had a tough time since taking over and this will be another stern test for the Boys in Green. Unfortunately for Ireland, we can see them crashing to an opening round defeat on Wednesday. You can get the top price of 13/8 for the hosts to be winning at half time and full time, which would be an awful start for Ireland but we can’t argue with the value.
Belgium v Wales
19:45, Sky Sports / S4C, Den Dreef
Belgium and Wales lock horns at Den Dreef in Leuven in World Cup qualifying Group E on Wednesday. The Dragons are unbeaten in four games against the 2018 FIFA World Cup bronze medallists, winning two and drawing two, and have met them fairly regularly in recent times.
Roberto Martinez’s men are in stunning form but the Dragons are also in fine fettle ahead of this World Cup qualifying campaign. The Welsh will certainly give it a proper go, but we can see Belgium nicking a narrow win on home soil in midweek. Have a punt on the hosts to win by a one goal margin at odds of 5/2.
Italy v Northern Ireland
19:45, Sky Sports, Stadio Ennio Tardini
On Thursday, Northern Ireland make the trip to Parma to take on Italy at the Stadio Ennio Tardini for their opening match in Group C . As expected, Roberto Mancini’s Azzurri are the clear favourites to get the win on home turf and with Switzerland and Bulgaria unlikely to cause too much trouble, Italy should cruise through the group to finish top.
Italy are in stunning form, unbeaten since a UEFA Nations League defeat to Portugal way back in September 2018. Mancini has done a fine job since taking over, and the Italians should ease past Ian Baraclough’s Norn Iron this Thursday. Back Italy to win with a -2 goal handicap at odds of 8/5.
Scotland v Austria
19:45, Sky Sports, Hampden Park
Scotland’s World Cup qualifying campaign gets underway with a home fixture against Austria on Thursday. After booking their spot in the UEFA Euro 2021 championships, can the Scots finally qualify for a World Cup again? Group F isn’t the toughest on paper, with Denmark, Austria, Israel, Moldova and the Faroe Islands being the other sides. But there are no easy games in international football (well… maybe the Faroe Islands!).
Steve Clarke’s men will still be buzzing from last November’s play-off win over Serbia that sent them to the Euros, to be played this summer. However, since then, the Scots have lost 1-0 to both Slovakia and Israel. The Austrians will be tricky opponents, so a draw would not be a bad result in this one. Check out the draw and both teams to score at odds of 7/2.
England v San Marino
19:45, ITV, Wembley Stadium
Gareth Southgate’s England welcome Franco Varrella’s San Marino to Wembley Stadium on Thursday night. When these two last met, the Three Lions picked up a 6-0 win in Serravalle in September 2015 and we would expect at least as good a result in this match.
With Poland and Hungary also in England’s group, the Three Lions will want to put a marker down and get a decent goal difference on the board. England will be looking to get their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign up and running with a big win over the minnows at Wembley. This will surely be a stroll in the park for the Three Lions and the hosts are priced at odds of 3/10 to win with a -5 goal handicap, which seems reasonable enough.
Republic of Ireland v Luxembourg
19:45, Sky Sports, Aviva Stadium
On Saturday night, Ireland welcome minnows Luxembourg to the Aviva Stadium on matchday two in Group A. The Irish will be looking for a handsome win on home turf but with Luxembourg getting very slightly better in recent years, the home side will need to remain focused to avoid any disastrous mishaps.
Before Wednesday’s game with Serbia, Kenny is still searching for his first victory as Ireland boss. The Boys in Green should have no problems in this one, though, and we fancy the hosts to be winning at half time and full time in this one.
Israel v Scotland
19:45, Sky Sports, Bloomfield Stadium
Israel and Scotland lock horns yet again at the weekend. Sunday’s 2022 World Cup qualifier at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv will be the fifth meeting between the two in under three years so the sides certainly know each other pretty well. Whether either side can use that to their advantage remains to be seen.
The Israelis got the better of the Scots when they last met back in November but the previous two meetings ended all square. The pair are evenly matched on paper, so our money is going on the draw in this one as they cancel one another out.
Albania v England
17:00, ITV, Arena Kombetare
After Thursday’s home game with San Marino, Southgate’s England are on the road at the weekend. The Three Lions make the trip to Tirana to play Edoardo Reja’s Albania in their second Group I match. It is not as easy as their opening match but certainly still one that England should win without too much drama.
England will therefore be targeting six points from a possible six from this round of World Cup qualifying fixtures with a decent goal difference in the bag too. While this will certainly be the tougher of the two, we are backing England to keep things tight and get the win to nil in Tirana on Sunday.