By News Team
23rd March 2021
For the first time since November, club football has been put on pause as attention switches to the international break for the next two weeks as the 2022 World Cup qualifiers get under way on Wednesday evening.
We take a look at the Home Nations’ first round of fixtures.
England to cruise at Wembley
Thursday evening sees Gareth Southgate and his England side kick off their World Cup qualification campaign at Wembley as they take on San Marino in what should be a routine fixture for the hosts against the minnows.
England have faced San Marino on six different occasions in previous years with the Three Lions winning all six fixtures by an aggregate score of 37-1, with that one goal conceded coming in the 1994 World Cup qualifier in which England won 7-1. What’s more, the Three Lions have also won their opening match in their last seven qualifying campaigns for major tournaments, winning all seven by an aggregate score of 24-0. England to win is 1/200, while a home win and over five goals in the game is 1/20, which hints at the mammoth task awaiting the visitors.
San Marino have played 142 major tournament qualifying matches but are yet to register a single win. The minnows have lost 139 of these fixtures and drawn three so it comes as no surprise that they are currently priced as 66/1 underdogs to cause a shock at Wembley on Thursday evening.
After recent impressive form, the likes of Jesse Lingard, John Stones and Luke Shaw have all returned to Southgate’s squad, while Ollie Watkins and Sam Johnstone have been handed their first call-ups. All will be hoping for a chance to impress ahead of this summer’s Euro 2020.
Can Scotland get off to a strong start?
After successfully qualifying for Euro 2020 – their first major tournament since 1998 – Scotland will be looking to go one step further by qualifying for the World Cup, but their opening game on Thursday is a tricky one against a talented Austrian side.
This will be the first time since a friendly in 2007 that these two sides have met, and Scotland came out on top that day with a 1-0 victory. The Tartan Army are currently priced at 23/10 to win this fixture 1-0. Scotland’s home form of late has been excellent, having won nine of their last 13 competitive home matches. They head into this fixture as 9/4 underdogs against Austria but anything can happen under the lights at Hampden Park.
Austria, meanwhile, go into this game with a fantastic World Cup qualifying record, having won their opening match in 12 of their 18 World Cup qualifying campaigns. They are currently priced at 6/5 to take that record to 14 wins in 19 games. Austria played four away games in 2020 and won every one of those fixtures, but they are aiming to win five away games in a row for the first time since September 2016 on Thursday evening. The draw at 9/4 could be most likely then.
Belgium out for revenge against Wales
Wales kick off their World Cup qualifying campaign in tough circumstances against a side who are currently top of the FIFA world rankings in Belgium.
The Welsh head into this fixture as understandable 12/1 underdogs and with them having won just five of their 18 opening World Cup qualifying fixtures in previous years, Belgium will hope to take the three points this time around. However, the last time these two sides met was back in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals and that night went down in history due to Wales defeating Belgium 3-1 to reach the last four of the tournament.
Wales also defeated the Red Devils in the European Championship qualifiers in 2015, but since then, Belgium have won 23 of their last 24 major tournament qualifiers and they are 1/4 favourites to continue this fantastic record at home on Wednesday evening. Among their many stats, the man to watch for Belgium if he plays is Romelu Lukaku. Lukaku has netted 40 goals in 38 appearances under Roberto Martinez for the national team, which is 22 more than any other player since Martinez took over in September 2016.
Italy to continue their fine home form?
Northern Ireland suffered heartbreak after failing to qualify for Euro 2020 last year so they will be looking to kick on and qualify for the World Cup this time around. But they will have to overcome a tough group to do so including Italy and Switzerland.
Up first on Thursday is a trip to Italy and the last time these two sides met was 10 years ago in 2011 where the hosts ran out 3-0 winners in Pescara. Northern Ireland have travelled to Italy six times over the years, and they have lost all six while scoring in only one fixture, which was back in 1961 – so the omens aren’t great for the away side. Northern Ireland to buck this trend and finally find the back of the net, with both teams to score, is priced at 7/4.
Italy haven’t lost a home match in a European Championship or World Cup qualifying campaign since a 3-2 defeat to Denmark in September 1999, and since then, they are unbeaten in a mammoth 50 home fixtures. It’s no surprise then to see Italy are priced as 2/13 favourites to increase this unbeaten run to a stunning 51 games.