It was easy to lose sight of the fact that we will soon find out the last three teams to qualify for Euro ’16 given the tragic sequence of events that unfolded in Paris this weekend, but with Hungary having safely secured their passage to their first major tournament since the World Cup of 1986, attention now switches to the remaining second leg ties played today and tomorrow.
A brilliant strike by Tamas Priskin and an own goal by Markus Henriksen booked the Hungarians place in France next summer, and now three of Ireland, Bosnia, Sweden, Denmark, Ukraine and Slovenia are set to follow suit.
So where is the smart money going?
Republic of Ireland vs Bosnia (Aggregate Score 1-1)
Having done much of the hard work; snatching a point and an away goal in fog-bound Bosnia, the Irish will be heavily fancied to book their place at the tournament. All they need to do to secure qualification is to keep a clean sheet in front of a partisan crowd at the Aviva Stadium, and whilst it is never a sensible tactic to play for a draw – particularly against a Bosnia side containing plenty of quality – the nous and top flight experience of Ireland should be enough to see them through.
They took the lead in Zenica through Robbie Brady’s 82nd minute opener, and will have been bitterly disappointed to concede Edin Dzeko’s equaliser just three minutes later when they should have put the game to bed.
Nevertheless, the Irish are favoured by the bookmakers all the same, and the draw at 11/5 looks good value given the nature of the fixture. But perhaps the smartest money will be wagered on the 4/7 that Ireland qualify.
Slovenia vs Ukraine (Aggregate Score 0-2)
The Slovenians will throw the kitchen sink at Ukraine on their home patch in Maribor of course, but in truth their opponent look good value for their 2-0 lead from the first leg which could well have been an even greater margin of victory.
Goals from Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Seleznyov ensured that the Ukrainians took a lead into the second leg, and had Seleznyov not hit the post when the goal beckoned it could have been even more comfortable for the team in yellow.
There will be nerves given that they have lost their last five play-off games for big tournaments (including to Slovenia in the battle for a spot at Euro 2000 all those years ago), but they look a better outfit than their opponents here and with the pace of Yarmolenko they could well win this second leg with some precise counter attacking play. They can be backed from 17/10 to do just that.
Denmark vs Sweden (Aggregate Score 1-2)
Perhaps the most finely-poised of these three ties is this all Scandinavian encounter, with Sweden the favourites to progress but Denmark’s away goal unable to be overlooked.
Emil Forsberg put the icing on a fantastic Sweden move to put his side one up, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic – who else? – doubled their advantage early in the second half with a penalty. But Nicolai Jorgensen slid home a late goal for the Danes and give them a chance of qualifying.
Leicester City’s Kasper Schmeichel made a string of fine saves to deny the Swedes, and Ibrahimovic had a goal ruled out for offside. So despite their first leg dominance, Sweden are in for a nail-biting clash in Copenhagen.
This is a tough contest to call, but knowing that a solitary goal for Sweden in this second leg will put them in control of the tie, let’s back Zlatan & co to qualify at 4/6.