Road to Russia: Group D – Autumn Betting Preview

A quick preview of World Cup Qualifying Group D’s first two matchdays, with a look at historical precedents for gamblers to consider when placing bets.

Written by Tamhas Woods.

While the British media will focus much on England under new manager Sam Allardyce, Wales are set to once more steal some of the Lions’ limelight. With an exception talisman in Gareth Bale and a shrewd visionary in Chris Coleman, the Dragons are well-placed to reach the finals of another major tournament, but negotiating qualifying Group D will be a considerable challenge for a Welsh dynasty that is still very much a work in progress.

In terms of international pedigree and winning potential, teams across the first two pots could barely be separated for the qualifying draw that took place in July 2015. Naturally, the draw produced several wide-open groups in which few teams are a sure bet for successful qualification. Group D was one group which stood out significantly in that respect, eventually featuring three Euro 2016 participants (Wales, Rep. Ireland and Austria), with another genuine contender in Serbia, alongside two ‘bit players’ in Moldova and Georgia.

The unstoppable Gareth Bale netted against Austria three years ago. Wales meet them again in what is set to be a challenging qualifying campaign. For the latest World Cup 2018 odds, visit Betfair (Betfair Casino).

The Opening Act

A good start to the qualifying campaign will be paramount for the four main contenders, and an opening win appears to be a given for the top two seeds Wales and Austria, who face Moldova (H) and Georgia (A) respectively. This puts Rep. Ireland, already by far the least fancied of the four to win the group, in a highly awkward position from the off as they make the long and tiring journey to Belgrade on matchday one.

Qualifying for Euro 2016 via a psychologically testing playoff, Ireland battled bravely against Italy and France in the final tournament, before eventually suffering elimination at the hands of the latter. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that Martin O’Neill will change an Ireland setup that serves to frustrate the so-called better teams, with a high workrate that typifies any O’Neill side.

Today’s Serbia side has many proverbial demons to slay after a truly miserable set of Euro 2016 qualifiers, which yielded just four points from a possible twenty-four. However, odds of a successful 2018 qualifying campaign for Serbia shortened drastically when Slavoljub Muslin was appointed as the new international manager in May 2016.

On the competitive international scene, Muslin remains an unknown quantity as a manager, and he has yet to truly acquaint himself with his new squad. This gives O’Neill a distinct advantage, and though the bookmakers may identify Serbia as favourites, the Ireland squad of today has every chance of taking a point from Belgrade.

Tip: SRB v IRL Draw result (23/10)

Shades of Red

The other two opening matches require deeper exploration into niche markets. Wales should enjoy a very straightforward win over Moldova in Cardiff, and the Asian Handicap market is currently offering generous odds of around 87/10 for a Welsh victory with a handicap of –3.5 for Coleman’s men.

While Austria should dispatch Georgia with minimal fuss in their Tblisi opener, there will undoubtedly be some residual hurt after finishing bottom of what was generally seen as the easiest group of Euro 2016. For that reason, Austria may play the early stages in a guarded manner against Georgia, preserving energy before utilising their infinitely superior skills to devastating effect. Gamblers would, therefore, be well-advised to consider looking at the HT/FT market.

Tip: HT Draw / FT Austria

Austria v Wales – A Defining Match?

Although the seeding system for a qualifying draw is scrutinised at every turn, few would argue that Wales and Austria are indeed the two frontrunners to progress from Group D. The teams were (respectively) placed in pots 1 and 2, but it must be noted that Austria were the highest ranked nation in the second pot, just five places below Wales.

The credentials of Coleman’s charges will be immediately tested with a trip to Vienna taking place one month after their formality of a curtain raiser against Moldova, and even a draw will drastically shorten the odds of a second consecutive appearance for Wales in a major tournament. The return meeting in Cardiff is scheduled for September 2017.

With two evenly matched teams facing off in October, this fixture is a true gambler’s nightmare to negotiate. The momentum is very much with Wales, having reached the semi finals of Euro 2016, and they will presumably travel to Vienna on the back of a comfortable victory over Moldova.

However, there is the power of home advantage to consider, and recent history shows that Marcel Koller’s men seldom give much away when in their own territory. Since Koller commenced his reign as Austria manager in 2011, his team has conceded just four goals across ten home qualifiers. This defensive miserliness has correlated directly with the nation’s rise to a first successful qualification campaign in eighteen years.

Given Austria’s evident ability to defend at home under Koller, the ‘Result + Clean Sheet’ market becomes a much more attractive proposition, with or without the effect of Gareth Bale, who will himself be well-marshalled by opposite number David Alaba. An exact score bet with an Austrian clean sheet gives the more daring of gamblers an opportunity to increase any potential payout, but anything more resounding than a two-goal gap would be a huge surprise given the unity Wales showed at Euro 2016.

Tip: Correct Score – Austria 1-0 Wales

Looking Ahead

Ireland’s second match is against Georgia is in Dublin, and it should be a simple question of ‘how many’ for the men in green. A 2-1 humiliation in 2008 aside, Ireland boast a perfect record against Georgia, winning in Tblisi as recently as 2014. Ultimately, four points from the first six would give Ireland a distinct advantage over Serbia, and possibly even Wales, ahead of their trip to Moldova.

As for Serbia, they play Moldova in Chișinău on matchday two, representing a great opportunity to make it two from two if a victory over Ireland is yielded in September. Having lacked such momentum in qualifying for Euro 2016, Serbia can potentially launch their campaign for redemption in the ideal manner. This is reflected by certain bookmakers that consider Serbia as equals to Austria in the race to qualify directly.

Tip: Serbia to win the group (5/2)

*All stated odds may fluctuate.