We’re down to squeaky bum time now in the qualification trail for the World Cup in Russia next summer. In the UEFA section we are mostly seven rounds of matches down (some groups have played eight), and already we know the identities of some of the qualifiers from Europe: Belgium have booked their spot, while Switzerland, Portugal and Germany have reached the play-offs at the bare minimum.
Things are starting to get very real for all involved, and while the hopes of some teams have been extinguished already, for some the excitement is only just beginning.
So here’s a look at Tuesday’s fixture list and some of the best betting tips emanating from the packed schedule:
Australia vs Thailand (11:00 GMT)
Out first pick of the day takes us away from the European section of qualifying and down to Australasia, where the Socceroos find themselves in an awkward position.
In Group B, Japan are confirmed as group winners with 20 points, while behind them Australia and Saudi Arabia are locked on 16 points – albeit the Saudis have a +2 better goal difference.
But here’s the rub. Only one of those sides will join the Japanese in Russia, and the Saudis actually host the group winners on Tuesday. Australia, meanwhile, take on the hapless Thailand.
The Thai outfit have lost seven of their nine qualifiers but have been at their worst away from home: W0 D0 L4 GF1 GA12 is their rather awful return. Now, the Aussies have to beat Thailand and beat them well, because Saudi Arabia clearly are capable of beating Japan on home soil.
So our play here is Australia with a -3 handicap at 13/10. There is little chance of Thailand scoring, so the Socceroos need to score four or more for our selection to land. They are capable, having put three past a decent enough Saudi side earlier in the campaign, and Thailand do not appear to be much of a defensive stick in the mud.
Iceland vs Ukraine (19:45 GMT)
There are four teams who can still qualify from the ‘Group of Death’ that is Group I, and two of them meet on Tuesday evening. By our reckoning, the bookmakers have mucked their prices up as well, so it’s a fixture we must get involved in.
Iceland lost in Finland on Saturday, but that doesn’t tell the whole story given that they dominated the game. And when you factor in that the Icelanders have won all three of their home qualifiers so far – Croatia (1-0), Turkey (2-0), Finland (3-2) – we’re not going to get oo disheartened by that loss, and with the bookies pricing them at 9/5 at home against Ukraine we are tumbling over ourselves to get involved.
The Ukrainians beat Turkey at the weekend and are clearly a classy outfit, but only one of their three away qualifiers has ended in victory. Otherwise, they’ve lost in Croatia and drawn in Turkey.
Group I is a mixed bag as far as punters are concerned, but one thing we do know is that 5/6 on the Iceland Draw No Bet here is almost a free bet – and a value one at that.
Moldova vs Wales (19:45 GMT)
Sport is often about seizing the moment when it presents itself, and Wales certainly did that at the weekend.
With Group D’s top two sides, Serbia and the Republic of Ireland meeting on Tuesday evening as well, third-placed Wales know that their fate is, in some respects, in their own hands.
They picked up a brilliant 1-0 win over Austria in their last outing, and now head to Moldova knowing that a comprehensive victory will help their points and goals tallies no end in a charge for the line where goal difference could well be a factor.
The Welsh aren’t the most attacking of sides, but on Saturday they fielded Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Tom Lawrence and Sam Vokes in their starting eleven, so clearly there are options for Chris Coleman going forward.
Add into the mix that Moldova have conceded eight goals in their three home qualifiers, and clearly now is the time for Wales to grasp the nettle. Back them with a -1 handicap at 11/10 to do exactly that.