Free betting tips: Preview of World Cup play-off matches and international friendlies

Josh Magennis celebrates
Josh Magennis celebrates

Nick Hext thinks Northern Ireland should be backed to win at home to Switzerland in the first leg of their World Cup play-off.

The odds have Switzerland as the clear favourites at close to even-money in places to get the better of Northern Ireland at Windsor Park in Thursday's first leg of their World Cup play-off.

That isn't something I agree with.

Northern Ireland have only lost two of their 15 home games since the autumn of 2014, against world champions Germany last month and Croatia in a friendly just over one year ago, and shouldn't be over 4/1 to win this game on their own turf.

Michael O'Neill's side won to nil in their World Cup qualifiers against Czech Republic (2-0), Norway (2-0), Azerbaijan (4-0) and San Marino (4-0) at Windsor Park to play a major part in booking their play-off place.

O'Neill is well aware of his team's strengths so don't expect anything other than a close contest on Thursday evening.

Michael O'Neill
Michael O'Neill

"We need it to be close because I don't think we are going to come through a high-scoring tie," said O'Neill.

"It's important not to concede at home. We are not a team suited to going out and chasing the game.

"We want to have something to take to Basel with us. The games will be tight and close and we can hopefully go there and play on the counter-attack with something to defend."

The bookies are aware of this approach with under 2.5 goals heavily odds-on and under 1.5 goals at close to even-money in places.

Switzerland missed out on automatic qualification despite winning nine of their 10 group games. It was defeat against European champions Portugal last month that saw Vladimir Petkovic's side enter this scramble for a place in Russia.

The Swiss are a team to be respected but they've only beaten one nation (Portugal at the start of the qualifying campaign) positioned higher in the FIFA rankings than Northern Ireland since getting the better of Peru in a friendly back in the summer of 2014.

It would be unfair to suggest they are flat-track bullies but also there certainly isn't the difference in quality between these nations that the prices suggest.

There's no doubt that it will be close but I have to back Northern Ireland to get the advantage in this first leg at a price as big as 9/2.

Elsewhere in the European play-offs on Thursday night, Croatia have home advantage against Greece.

Croatia are huge odds-on favourites to get the lead in this tie but I reckon there is every reason to back Greece to keep it tight.

Highly-fancied Croatia stuttered to the finishing line to reach the play-offs, winning just two of their last five games.

That run will give Greece hope and boss Michael Skibbe has left no doubt as to his plan in this opening encounter.

"It is maybe good to have the second match at home. You can have more defensive tactics if you’re playing away and then you can look at what’s going on in the second match," he told FIFA.com after the play-off draw.

"Playing offensive football they are quite good, but most of the time we are good at defending, so we will see what happens on the pitch."

That defensive strength is proved by only conceding five goals in their last 10 matches and Skibbe's approach has secured draws in both Belgium and Bosnia to help secure a place in the play-offs.

I like the draw at pushing 4/1 in this game.

Greece have drawn four of their previous seven matches and Croatia were surprisingly held by Finland when having home advantage last month.

It's another encounter that the bookies rightly expect to be low on goals so the draw is my best bet.

Scotland are in friendly action on Thursday evening as they host Holland at Aberdeen's Pittodrie Stadium.

Former Cardiff and Wigan boss Malky Mackay takes caretaker charge of Scotland following Gordon Strachan's departure and this is a match I will leave alone from a betting perspective.

Both of these nations have missed out on World Cup qualification and the opportunity for wholesale changes means a watching brief is advised.

Where to watch on TV: All three matches mentioned in this preview will be shown live in the UK on Sky Sports.

Recommended bets

2pts Northern Ireland to beat Switzerland at 9/2

1pt Croatia to draw with Greece at 15/4

Click here for our transparent tipping record.

Posted at 0950 GMT on 07/10/17.

Like what you've read?
Help your friends Know It All by sharing this article to your social media.

Most Read Football

Check out our preview & best bets for England v Montenegro1

Three Lions to roar in 1000th game

We're backing early goals to celebrate England's 1000th international as the hosts should qualify for Euro 2020 in style at Wembley.

We pick out a starting XI of players to have only made one cap for England2

England's one-cap starting XI

With England celebrating their 1000th international on Thursday, Tom Carnduff picks out his best XI of players with one cap to their names.

Follow our live coverage of England v Montenegro from Wembley3

England v Montenegro - LIVE!

Get our live commentary, goal highlights & odds updates from Wembley as the Three Lions play their 1,000th game against Montenegro.

Our best bets for the latest Euro 2020 action4

Friday's Euro 2020 betting preview

The Euro 2020 qualifiers come to a conclusion this international break. Tom Carnduff picks out three best bets for Friday's action.

Premier League and EFL football gossip and transfer rumours5

Paper Talk: Reds in for Sancho

Liverpool are the latest club to join the race to try and sign Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho, according to the back pages.

Most Read Football

Check out our preview & best bets for England v Montenegro1

Three Lions to roar in 1000th game

We're backing early goals to celebrate England's 1000th international as the hosts should qualify for Euro 2020 in style at Wembley.

We pick out a starting XI of players to have only made one cap for England2

England's one-cap starting XI

With England celebrating their 1000th international on Thursday, Tom Carnduff picks out his best XI of players with one cap to their names.

Follow our live coverage of England v Montenegro from Wembley3

England v Montenegro - LIVE!

Get our live commentary, goal highlights & odds updates from Wembley as the Three Lions play their 1,000th game against Montenegro.

Our best bets for the latest Euro 2020 action4

Friday's Euro 2020 betting preview

The Euro 2020 qualifiers come to a conclusion this international break. Tom Carnduff picks out three best bets for Friday's action.

Premier League and EFL football gossip and transfer rumours5

Paper Talk: Reds in for Sancho

Liverpool are the latest club to join the race to try and sign Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho, according to the back pages.

Football Tips

Our best bets for the latest Euro 2020 action

Friday's Euro 2020 betting preview

The Euro 2020 qualifiers come to a conclusion this international break. Tom Carnduff picks out three best bets for Friday's action.

Tyrrell Hatton

Sporting Life Tipping Record

A look at how the Sporting Life recommended bets have performed in November 2019.

All of Sporting Life's current best bets across a range of sports

Our best bets

Check out Sporting Life's best bets across racing, football and more.