World Cup play-offs preview
The World Cup play-offs take place this weekend and we have three of them available to watch for free on William Hill TV. Plus the other tie is a mouthwatering prospect as the Republic of Ireland take on France.
Guus Hiddink's team can count themselves unlucky to have not won their group, having earned a whopping 22 points in qualifying; more than two of the teams that qualified automatically in Europe.
The Russians gave it a real good go in their winner-takes-all match with Germany, but those German's certainly know how to get the job done when their backs are against the wall and they edged a brilliant game 1-0 thanks to Miroslav Klose's goal.
They are clear favourites to win the first leg against Slovenia at odds of 1/3, the draw is a 3/1 chance while the Slovenians are 7/1 shots to take a lead to Maribor in three days time.
Slovenia might not have won as many points as Russia did, and they had six points almost guaranteed to them when they were drawn in the same group as San Marino, but their run to get to these play-offs was still impressive as when they lost to Northern Ireland on April Fools' Day they looked dead and buried; but four wins in a row, including a great win at eventual winners Slovakia, saw them surge up the group and claim second spot.
They'll need to keep that momentum going if they're to get through this play-off clash as the Russian's will play with incredible pace and will want to try wrap up the tie by the time they get back to Maribor.
I think Russia should have a few goals in the bag for the second leg, but Slovenia have scored 14 times in their last five games so a 3-1 win for the hosts could be good value at 10/1.
This game is a really tough one to call, as while Greece retain slight favouritism at odds of 23/20, the days of them boring us all to death whilst winning the Euro's are long gone; they didn't even qualify for the last World Cup and were a soft touch at the last European Championships, add to this that they've not kept a clean sheet (which was instrumental in their success of 2004) for 10 games and you don't see them looking good value to get a first leg lead in this one.
The likely looking result, one which will suit Ukraine anyway, is a draw at 2/1 - the Ukrainians are 21/10 to have an advantage to take with them to Donetsk.
Ukraine were beneficiaries of England's (until their meeting in Dnipropetrovsk) faultless qualifying campaign, and took full advantage of Rob Green's sending off to win the game 1-0, they then had the simple task of beating Andorra to guarantee a play-off spot and did so in comprehensive fashion, by winning 6-0 away from home.
Oleksiy Mykhaylychenko's team, led by the rejuvenated Andriy Shevchenko with four goals in five away qualifiers, have every reason to be confident going into this game as they only lost once away from home during qualifying, and they were hardly outplayed when they did suffer defeat at Wembley against England.
While Ukraine don't need to win, and they probably won't go out all guns blazing they have far much more about them than Greece and my bet would be Ukraine in the Draw No Bet market at 5/4.
The standout tie of these qualifiers is Giovanni Trapattoni's hard working Irish against stuttering France.
The French were odds-on favourites to win their qualifying group but struggled to keep up with pace setters Serbia, who deservedly claimed their place in South Africa, and now they're without play-maker Franck Ribery - a massive blow for the already underperforming visitors to Croke Park.
The absence of the Bayern Munich ace will be of great relief to Ireland's full-backs as when he's on song there's not many better in world football, the Irish still have to be wary of other threats; most notably the outstanding Yoann Gourcuff, while the Bordeaux man doesn't have the pace that Ribery has he's still full of tricks and if he's not marked tightly he'll be past you in a flash.
Of course there's also the small matter of the Premier League's highest scoring foreign player Thierry Henry to contend with, the former Arsenal star has been vital in helping France reach the play-offs scoring three goals in his last four qualifiers, including an equaliser in Serbia; however the captain is still getting his way back to full fitness so should he not be fully fit Ireland will have a great chance of getting something from the game.
I don't think it will be high scoring, and indeed the French might try to stifle the Irish in the hope that they can kill them off in Paris; with this in mind, and the fact that Ireland have drawn six of their last nine matches, I'd be looking at a draw at odds of 21/10; 0-0 is available at 6/1, Ireland are 21/10 to win the match, and under pressure Raymond Domenech is 7/5 to lead his team to a first leg lead.
Ireland haven't lost in this qualifying campaign though, so even if they don't manage anything from the game in Dublin, the tie is far from over.
Carlos Queiroz's team have struggled in qualifying and can be thankful for a generous close to their campaign; having two home games against Hungary and Malta to finish off with, to be fair they still had to win them and were ruthless in scoring seven goals between the two matches.
Before that though they were poor at home, drawing two games 0-0 and losing one against group winners Denmark, it gives Bosnia plenty of reasons to be hopeful of getting something from Lisbon.
Especially as the Portuguese are without their best player Cristiano Ronaldo.
Not that the 'winker' has had much say in their qualification campaign anyway, not being able to score in any of Portugal's qualifying games.
Bosnia on the other hand have had no such problems in scoring goals, they've rattled in 25 from 10 games and have some exciting talent to pick from, including Wolfsburg pair Edin Dzeko and Zvjezdan Misimovic, who led the German side to the Bundesliga title last season.
They might not get that many chances to shine in the first leg, but if they can take something to Zenica expect them to cause all sorts of problems for the injury-hit Portuguese.
The hosts are 1/3 to win the first leg, the draw is 3/1 and Bosnia are 7/1 to get an advantage for the second leg.
With Portugal's struggles at home it wouldn't surprise me to see Bosnia have something to smile about come full-time and 26/5 on Miroslav Blazevic's team in the Draw No Bet market might not be the worst bet in the world.