Back Irish for flying start

  • By: Andy Schooler
  • Last Updated: September 5 2014, 14:50 BST

Our Andy Schooler is backing the Republic of Ireland and Greece in Sunday's World Cup qualifiers.

Martin O'Neill's team look big a 4/1 to beat Georgia 'to nil'.
Martin O'Neill's team look big a 4/1 to beat Georgia 'to nil'.

BRONZE: 1pt Republic of Ireland to beat Georgia to nil at 4/1 (Stan James) - Irish are improving under new boss 7 hosts have struggled in the goalscoring department

BRONZE: 1pt Greece to beat Romania to nil at 21/10 (Sky Bet) - made a habit of this method of victory in World Cup qualifying; decent price to do it again

Euro 2016 qualifying gets under way on Sunday when the opening qualfiers take place across the continent.

An expanded 24-team tournament in France in two years' time means a new format, while key changes have also been made to the qualifying schedule.

Full details can be found in our recent feature, but essentially it means each 'round' of group matches is now played over a three-day period, three of the nine groups playing on each day.

England's group doesn't play until Monday but Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland all get their campaigns under way on Sunday.

Scotland have the toughest task and are as big as 18/1 to win away to recently-crowned world champions Germany.

However, Scottish fans have been buoyed in recent times with Gordon Strachan having instilled new-found belief among both players and supporters. With the expansion of the tournament having taken place, the Tartan Army will have real hope of qualifying for the finals following a run of form which by most standards should be counted as pretty impressive.

Over the past years, Scotland have won away to Poland, Norway and Macedonia and have also seen off Croatia on home soil.

That's all part of a run of six games unbeaten, not something the Scots have managed that often in recent times.

With the Germans having suffered a 4-2 defeat at the hands of Argentina in a midweek friendly and most of their players havng barely had a break this summer, this could well be a good time for Strachan's men to be heading to Dortmund.

Steven Naismith has started the season well at Everton, netting three goals in as many games, while Manchester United's Darren Fletcher is back in the midfield - a welcome return given Scott Brown's injury absence.

We all know Germany have the talent to turn it on, as they often did in World Cup qualifying, but I'm tempted to back the Scots on the Asian handicap. They have conceded just three goals during their ongoing unbeaten streak and you can get them on the +2.25 line at 33/40, a bet which will reap a profit even if they lose by two clear goals.

However, it is Brown's absence which is putting me off getting involved. His defensive midfield efforts have been a big part of Strachan's improvements and he's sure to be missed in that department.

There seems little in terms of betting interest when it comes to Northern Ireland's trip to Hungary - Michael O'Neill's side are 7/1 to win the game and it is hard to make a case for them.

O'Neill himself admits he doesn't "know if we're a stronger squad than we were two years ago" and their World Cup campaign was far from impressive.

However, neither are Hungary a side to be trusted at 8/15 so I'll quickly move onto the Republic of Ireland's trip to Georgia.

Like Scotland, the Irish are making gradual improvements under a new manager, Martin O'Neill, and will see this campaign as a chance to get back into big-tournament football.

World Cup finalists Italy and Costa Rica were both held in the summer and while a recent warm-up win over Oman was routine, it showed the Irish squad is still going in the right directon (plenty of fringe players got a run-out) having also been handed a pasting by Portugal in thiose pre-World Cup games.

Ireland's last qualifying campaign was undermined by poor results on the road but they have a great chance to get things off to a good start here given Georgia have struggled of late.

They managed to score just four goals in seven games last season with those coming against Saudi Arabia and Liechtenstein, while just prior to that it is worth noting they were hammered 4-0 by the Irish in a Dublin friendly.

O'Neill will have hammered the message home that this is a game Ireland need to be winning if they are to qualify for the finals in France and I'm prepared to back them.

Available at 11/8 in the outright market, I'm actually going to go for them to win the game 'to nil' as I just feel the 4/1 on offer there is too big given the hosts' goalscoring struggles.

I'm also going to head to that same market to back Greece to beat Romania wihout concession.

Claudio Ranieri is the new man at the helm for Greece as they look to build on a run to the last 16 of the World Cup, one which only saw them beaten on penalties by surprise package Costa Rica.

An Italian in charge of one of Europe's most defensive teams seems a good fit. Having said that, Ranieri hasn't always fitted that particular mould, but even he does try to make Greece a little more offensive, it is early days in his reign and old habits die hard.

Remember Greece's defensive formula is one which served them well back at Euro 2004 and they have been happy to employ similar tactics ever since. They are not blessed with world-class talent but have shown that good organisation and a plan to stifle opponents can take you a long way.

With Romania rated one of the biggest threats to the Greeks in Group F, expect them to be on their guard again here.

World Cup qualifying saw them keep five clean sheets in their five home games, four of which were won.

The 21/10 about them adding another 'win to nil' to their impressive home record looks worth taking.

Posted at 1440 BST on 05/09/14.

  • We'll have previews of each day's Euro 2016 action this week so stay logged onto Sporting Life for our tips in the coming days.