We now have a break of just over a week for the domestic teams as we turn our attention for the first time in 2021 to international football. It may seem strange, given that Euro 2020 is still to take place, but we are now ready for the first triple-header of World Cup Qualifying games set to take place this week across Europe.

Due to the condensed schedule, and rather like the Nations League dates last year, the qualifying campaign will see a number of dates where teams play three World Cup Qualifying fixtures, or at least two games and also an international friendly.

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World Cup Qualifiers – European Qualification System

The qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup is slightly different for European teams this time around. Each of the 10 group winners will qualify automatically for the tournament, but the remaining three places will be decided by a playoff tournament.

The ten runners up from each group, plus the 2 highest ranked Nations League teams who did not qualify in the top two of their group, will enter this competition. There will be three separate playoff paths, with four teams in each.

They will play a semi final and the winners then playing the final to decide who makes the final three European World Cup qualification spots.

The Group stage is split into 10 matchdays which will be played between March and November 2021. The playoffs will take place in march 2022 with the semifinals and finals separated by just a few days.

Group Draw

  • Group A – Portugal, Serbia, Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg, Azerbaijan
  • Group B – Spain, Sweden, Greece, Georgia, Kosovo
  • Group C – Italy, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Bulgaria, Lithuania
  • Group D – France, Ukraine, Finland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kazakhstan
  • Group E – Belgium, Wales, Czech Republic, Belarus, Estonia
  • Group F – Denmark, Austria, Scotland, Israel, Faroe Islands, Moldova
  • Group G – Netherlands, Turkey, Norway, Montenegro, Latvia, Gibraltar
  • Group H – Croatia, Slovakia, Russia, Slovenia, Cyprus, Malta
  • Group I – England, Poland, Hungary, Albania, Andorra, San Marino
  • Group J – Germany, Romania, Iceland, North Macedonia, Armenia, Liechtenstein

Matchday 1 Fixtures

The first matchday starts on Wednesday 24th March, with the second set of games played the following day on Thursday 25th March. Kick off time is 7.45pm unless otherwise stated.

Wednesday 24th March

  • Estonia v Czech Republic (5pm)
  • Turkey v Netherlands (5pm)
  • Belgium v Wales
  • Cyprus v Slovakia
  • Finland v Bosnia Herzegovina
  • France v Ukraine
  • Gibraltar v Norway
  • Latvia v Montenegro
  • Malta v Russia
  • Portugal v Azerbaijan
  • Serbia v Republic of Ireland
  • Slovenia v Croatia

Thursday 25th March

  • Bulgaria v Switzerland (5pm)
  • Israel v Denmark (5pm)
  • Andorra v Albania
  • England v San Marino
  • Germany v Iceland
  • Hungary v Poland
  • Italy v Northern Ireland
  • Liechtenstein v Armenia
  • Moldova v Faroe Islands
  • Romania v North Macedonia
  • Scotland v Austria
  • Spain v Greece
  • Sweden v Georgia

What Are Our Top Tips For Matchday 1?

As you can see there are a number of big games set to take place on the opening matchday, some of which could have a very big say in how the group eventually turns out. Turkey v Netherlands, Belgium v Wales, France v Ukraine, Serbia v Republic of Ireland and Slovenia v Croatia all are games that teams will feel a win in, could set the tone for the rest of the qualification campaign.

Those games are just for Wednesday night, with other similar games such as Germany v Iceland, Hungary v Poland, Italy v Northern Ireland, Scotland v Austria and Spain v Greece all set to be played on Thursday too.

I have decided to go through these closer games that involve some of the contenders for qualification and put them into a couple of accumulator bets for both nights.

Wednesday Night World Cup Accumulator

  • Turkey v Netherlands – Draw (3/1)
  • Belgium v Wales – Home Win (3/10)
  • France v Ukraine – Home Win (2/7)
  • Serbia v Republic of Ireland – Home Win (7/10)
  • Slovenia v Croatia – Away Win (17/20)

Back these five selections with bet365 at the odds suggested and you would get odds of 20.02/1 for that bet.

Thursday Night World Cup Accumulator

  • Bulgaria v Switzerland – Away Win (9/20)
  • Germany v Iceland – Home Win (1/7)
  • Hungary v Poland – Draw (21/10)
  • Italy v Northern Ireland – Home Win (1/7)
  • Scotland v Austria – Draw (23/10)

These five selections with bet365 at the odds suggested, which were accurate at the time of writing, would see you offered odds of 18.37/1 on this fivefold accumulator.

What Other Bets Are Worth Considering?

In addition to those accumulator bets, I would also consider making the following bets.

Belgium v Wales – Belgium to win 3-0 – 7/1

The Belgians are one of the strongest nations in Europe and Wales are looking to be a little off the sensational form that saw them reach the Euro 2016 semifinals. Gareth Bale is playing more frequently which is a positive for the Wales, but Belgium have so much quality and are at home, and as such, I think a 3-0 victory is a very good option here.

England v San Marino – England to win 4-0 – 10/1

It isn’t so much a case here of if England will win, it is just the scoreline that they will win by. San Marino have been the whipping boys in European football for some time now and most people think a scoreline of between 5-0 and 7-0 for England will be about right. However, England rarely thump teams nowadays under Gareth Southgate and as such, I think a 4-0 scoreline is more in keeping with how this team will perform and at 10/1 that is a tempting bet.

Hungary v Poland – Draw and Both Teams to Score – 10/3

This could be an absolutely pivotal game in England’s group and if Poland were to win this game, that would be a poor result for England. Hungary though are improving as a team and I think they have the quality to earn a point from this tie and I think a 1-1 or 2-2 draw is the most likely option. So backing the draw and both teams to score at 10/3 makes good sense.