Russia v Northern Ireland, 16:00
Fabio Capello has continued to display his class and great judgement ahead of this game by saying it matters not whether Russia are down to their last two forwards, as it is ‘only Northern Ireland’. Were my record as an international manager as thoroughly underwhelming as that of Capello, I might consider being polite until I’d achieved something at this level, but clearly he’s learned nothing from his time in England except how to get the biggest paycheck. Sadly for the Irish, he may have a point, with NI currently the weakest of the home nations, but there is no reason the away team can’t at least make this uncomfortable for the Russians. A nervy 1-goal win for Russia is 3/1 with VictorChandler, and Capello teams tend to stutter.
Northern Ireland and Celtic midfielder Paddy McCourt is ruled out of the game in Moscow as well as the home encounter against Luxembourg because of a groin injury, while Shane Ferguson and Martin Paterson will miss the game against the Russians and are doubtful for Luxembourg.
Moldova v England, 19:45
The absence of Wayne Rooney and Andy Carroll should give an opportunity to some of the supporting cast in the England squad, but there were some telling comments from the Moldovan camp that suggest the back-up strikers are not held in the same regard are our slightly chubbier, crocked pairing. Jermaine Defoe and Daniel Sturridge may have their merits, but without the sort of ‘special’ factors Rooney and Carroll bring to the team they won’t worry the opposition defence as much, or distract them from what is happening in midfield where Steven Gerrard will be hoping for some improved form. BoyleSports have 12/1 on a 3-1 away, and I think that or the 17/2 on a 2-1 will do well.
Adam Johnson will miss England’s World Cup qualifying match in Moldova on Friday because of a thigh problem, as will Ashley Cole who is ruled out of the game with an ankle injury, although Cole’s injury is described as “minor” and the left-back will be assessed on Sunday to see if he can play against Ukraine.
Wales v Belgium, 19:45
Looking at the European football scene you’d have to say Spain are clear and present dangers to the idea that every tournament is up for grabs and the game is full of shocks, but beyond that are a bunch of sides looking to usurp Spanish dominance. In the next three to five years, Belgium could easily go from their current position as have some potential to being a major force for the first time in a long time, with a squad full of young, talented players. The likes of Fellaini, Hazard and Kompany are already playing at the highest level, and ready to be joined by the younger Lukaku, Cortois and a few others. Everton’s Kevin Miralles is 13/2 with BetFred to score the opener, and has the class to trouble better teams than Wales.
Wales, on the other hand, are in danger of looking like a one-man show when Bale plays well, but injuries have forced a reshuffle. Jazz Richards replaces Huddersfield’s Joel Lynch, who has an Achilles injury. Ben Davies, 19, is in for left-back Neil Taylor, who is set to miss the rest of the season after his injury last Saturday, and Andrew Crofts and Craig Bellamy are also out of both matches.