The weekend is here, and there are some colossal encounters going down — and we’ve got a handy guide to the biggest of them all, so you don’t miss a thing.
Sweden v Italy
The final rounds of qualifications for the 2018 World Cup are underway, and the final fixtures to be played are two-legged playoffs to decide the last teams booking their places at next year’s finals. Sweden and Italy contest the one fixture, which will have its first leg played on Friday and its conclusive leg played on Monday. The Swedes now lack Zlatan Ibrahimovic after his retirement from international football, but they’re a moderately-solid unit without him. Italy, on the other hand, have a few players in particularly good form, one of which is Simone Zaza, as well a dependably resilient defence. Italy’s main issue is that their strikers aren’t all fit, Immobile and Belotti are apparently not at full pace, while Zaza is nursing a knee injury and isn’t certain to be available for selection. That said, this fixture over two legs is likely to swing Italy’s way, especially if they get a positive result in the away leg.
Predicted Score: Sweden 1 – 1 Italy. You can bet on the game here.
England v Germany
This old grudge-match has had some spectacular fixtures in the past, and while it’s a friendly on paper, it rarely plays out that way as both sides are usually equally motivated to win bragging rights on the day. The German squad is busy undergoing a transition as their older stalwarts like Schweinsteiger, Muller, and Khedira, have been or are busy being phased out, with exciting youngsters like Bayern’s Kimmich and Manchester City’s Leroy Sané stepping up to the new level. Similarly for England, they’ve got a crop of promising youngsters coming through the ranks, and Gareth Southgate has the challenge of creating a cohesive squad out of them. Both managers are likely going to use this as a good opportunity to see where their squads are at, and also who’s most likely to be the first names on the team sheet come 2018.
Predicted Score: England 2 – 3 Germany. You can bet on the game here.
Ireland v Springboks
The Springboks’ rather unconvincing Rugby Championship campaign will have to be put aside as they get their Northern Hemisphere tour underway with arguably the toughest opponent, Ireland, taking them on first. South Africa has seen a few shuffles to the team, with the likes of Damian de Allende coming into the No. 12 jersey and Coenie Oosthuizen slotting back into tighthead. The constant changes may prove costly against a settled and well-drilled Irish side, featuring the likes of Johnny Sexton, CJ Stander, and debutant and former Chiefs centre Bundee Aki. The Springboks do have a fire in their bellies after the spirited performance against the All Blacks last month, but the Irish are a tactically-clever and extremely-conditioned side who will put forth a massive challenge.
Predicted Score: Ireland by 5. You can bet on the game here.
France v All Blacks
One of rugby’s greatest grudge matches unfolds on Saturday when the French host the world champions in Paris. Rain is predicted in the French capital on Saturday, so it should turn the game into a battle of set-pieces. The All Blacks’ real strength this season has been in their counter-attack though, so some wet conditions will put the onus on Beauden Barrett’s territorial kicking game. That said, the All Blacks are rediscovering their killer-edge and will likely put the French away in the second-half.
Predicted Score: All Blacks by 10. You can bet on the game here.
Switzerland v Northern Ireland
The second set of European playoffs will be contested by the Swiss and Northern Irish, and this holds particular significance for the Northern Irish because of their infrequent participation in World Cups. This will be a difficult task for Northern Ireland after their 1-0 loss in the first leg. They’ve been showing massive progress over the last three or four years though, and being so close to their goal should give them the impetus to put a decent performance together and attempt to secure their passage to Russia. The Swiss have a decent side too, with Premier League players like Arsenal’s Xhaka and Stoke’s Shaqiri in their ranks, so they’ll be a difficult side to topple, especially away.
Predicted Result: Switzerland 2 – 0 Northern Ireland. You can bet on the game here.
If you’re looking to earn your weekend drinks off the guys at Sportingbet (it wouldn’t be the first time), you can place your bets on the upcoming sporting clashes here.
What are your predictions for this weekend? Which teams will come out on top in the respective encounters? Let us know by tweeting us @MenStuffZA!