Four nations will move to within a win of a place in the World Cup on Thursday evening when the play-off semi-finals get underway across the continent on a night where two of the heavyweights of European Football will be looking to make progress.
There were originally scheduled to be six semi-finals taking place as we close in on the three spots available in these play-offs but with Russia chucked out of the competition and Ukraine not ready to play we are left with four for now.
Thursday’s fixtures are as follows: (All 7.45pm – UK TV in brackets)
Italy v North Macedonia (Sky Sports Arena)
Portugal v Turkey (Sky Sports Premier League)
Sweden v Czech Republic
Wales v Austria (Sky Sports Main Event)
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All eyes will be on the big two of Italy and Portugal on Thursday evening but whatever happens only one of them will be running out in Qatar in November as if both come through their semi-final unscathed they will meet in a blockbuster final on Tuesday. To get there Italy must get past surprise Euro 2020 qualifiers North Macedonia while Portugal have a home date against a potentially dangerous Turkey side who score plenty of goals but concede them at an alarming rate too.
The other two matches are slightly lower key but potentially more competitive. Home Nations eyes will be on Cardiff as Wales look to move to within a win of joining England at the World Cup when they host Austria. The other match sees an improving Sweden taking on Czech Republic in a clash between two teams who have gone in opposite directions since the Euros last summer.
I’ll take the one bet over the course of the night and that comes in the match between Sweden and the Czech Republic where the home side look to be getting the visitors at the right time given that dangerman Patrik Schick and Matej Vydra both miss out with injury. To be fair, Sweden are defensively proficient that those absences weren’t necessarily necessary but it certainly does no harm that they miss out.
This is a Sweden side that is much more competent in forward options than those which have gone before with the likes of Emil Forsburg, Alexander Isak and Dejan Kulasevski adding a new dimension to their attacking play. The Czechs had some great results at the Euros but they have failed to score in five defeats in seven on their travels either side of that tournament. Backed by a huge home crowd I think Sweden will have enough to get the job done here.
Back Sweden to beat Czech Republic for a 3/10 stake at 1.95 with William Hill