Finland v Northern Ireland
Finland’s last eight home Euro and World Cup qualifiers have all had fewer than three goals and they have a W2-D2-L4 record in these matches, with the wins coming over Belarus and the Faroe Islands. At home in competitive games against sides ranked 51-100 in our gradings (we have N Ireland ranked at 79th), Finland have a W2-D1-L2 record since 2009 as they’ve scored in four of the games but managed to keep only one clean sheet.
Northern Ireland have won three of their four away Euro 2016 qualifiers, a marked improvement on three away wins in their six qualifying campaigns combined prior to this (30 games). Despite their improvement, they’ve still kept only one clean sheet in their last 13 away qualifiers, and that came against Greece, who have lost all of their home qualifying matches for Euro 2016.
Though he was suspended for the win over Greece, Norwich striker Kyle Lafferty has been key to Northern Ireland’s success in this qualifying campaign, finding the net in six of the eight games he’s played, scoring seven goals in the process, and he should return to the side here. With the Irish unlikely to be fully focussed we certainly expect Finland to score and both teams to score looks the best way to play this one as with nothing riding on it we could see both sides playing more openly.
Gibraltar v Scotland
Newcomers to international football Gibraltar have had a tough time adjusting to international football as they’ve unsurprisingly suffered heavy defeats in all eight of their Euro qualifiers, conceding an average of 5.75 goals in these games whilst scoring just two goals, away against Poland and Scotland themselves. At home, their narrowest defeat was a 3-0 loss against Georgia, though it is significant that they only conceded five goals in the first half but 16 in the second half, with their mostly amateur players lacking the fitness of their opponents.
Though Scotland are winless on the road in this qualification campaign that is of little significance when it comes to this game as they’re 1/25 to pick up the three points. They could take a little while to get going after the draw against Poland, and since Gibraltar restricted both Germany and Poland to 1-0 leads at half-time, before going on to lose 7-0 against both, we’re backing there to be more goals in the second half.
Poland v Rep of Ireland
Poland’s record in their nine home Euro 2016 and World Cup 2014 qualifiers is W5-D3-L1, with that defeat coming against Ukraine in World Cup qualification and a win over Germany in their opening home Euro qualifier their most impressive result. Their games have tended to see plenty of goals with five of the last seven having at least four strikes, though two of these were against Gibraltar and San Marino and so are not particularly relevant. While Poland have won six of their last 11 home matches (including friendlies) they’ve only led at half-time once with seven being level at the break, including four of their last five competitive matches.
ROI have shown mixed form on the road in this Euro qualification campaign, picking up a draw against Germany but losing against Scotland. Since their 2014 World Cup qualifiers their record on the road is W4-D2-L3 with those wins coming against Gibraltar, Georgia, the Faroe Islands, and Kazakhstan and of those sides Georgia are the highest ranked at 97th according to our gradings. We have Poland 42nd in the world and ROI’s away record against sides ranked 21st-60th since 2004 is W0-D10-L2 with 10 being level at half-time and 11 of the matches having fewer than three goals.
With so much riding on this game it could well be a cagey affair, although a Polish goal will obviously mean ROI need to adopt a far more attacking mindset (if ROI score first then Poland can go through with a 1-1 and really can’t afford to concede again so should play conservatively in this scenario). Given both teams have recent trend for half-time draws this looks a solid bet.