Three of the best picks from Sunday's World Cup qualifiers.
Slovenia v Scotland - Sunday 17:00
Slovenia are yet to concede a goal at home in this qualification campaign as they drew 0-0 against England and have beaten Slovakia, Malta and Lithuania. Indeed, if we exclude top-25 ranked opposition (we have Scotland 49th in the world) then Slovenia have won nine of 10 unbeaten home matches since September 2013, keeping a clean sheet in each of these victories. In Jan Oblak, they have one of the best keepers in the world and we think Scotland will struggle to get past him. Gordon Strachan’s men have won comfortably at group minnows Lithuania and Malta but they’ve lost 3-0 in both England and Slovakia. Furthermore, they’ve lost and failed to score in their last four trips to teams we have ranked inside the world’s top 75 so we’re backing a home win to nil.
Norway v Northern Ireland - Sunday 19:45
World champions Germany are the only side to have beaten Norway in Oslo in this qualification campaign, and so this doesn’t look like a simple assignment for Northern Ireland as they bid to qualify for the play-offs. Michael O’Neill’s side won without conceding in both San Marino and Azerbaijan but they could only manage a goalless draw in the Czech Republic and lost 2-0 in Germany. Indeed, Greece and Hungary are the only teams we have ranked above Norway that they’ve beaten under O’Neill in his 23 away games in charge, as they’ve gone just W5-D8-L10 in this time. Norway are W3-D4-L3 when hosting sides ranked above them since 2014 (we have Norway ranked 81st in the world and Northern Ireland 35th) as they’ve managed a win over Croatia and draws with Sweden and Russia, all of whom were ranked higher than Northern Ireland currently are. That, together with Northern Ireland’s strong draw trend on their travels, means we’re backing the stalemate.
Germany v Azerbaijan - Sunday 19:45
Germany round off their qualification campaign at home against Azerbaijan, where they’ve won their four qualifying matches so far by an aggregate of 18-0. When hosting sides ranked outside the world’s top 50 (we have Azerbaijan ranked 106th), they’ve won 11 of 12 unbeaten home games since 2012, keeping nine clean sheets in these games and with seven of their victories by more than two goals. Azerbaijan won 1-0 in San Marino but that was the only goal they’ve scored in their four away matches so far, and they’ve lost and failed to score in six of their seven trips to top-30 ranked teams. Germany are at the very top end of that range, so we’re backing the World champions to win to nil once again in what is surely a banker, whilst we wouldn’t put anyone off siding with them on the handicap.