Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Steven Beacom's international football predictions

The FA Premier League takes a break this weekend with the World Cup qualifiers centre stage. By this time next week we’ll probably know which ofthe home nations will be off to South Africa.

Hopefully Northern Ireland will be among them. They travel to Poland for a crunch game in Group Three.

Sports Editor Steven Beacom gives his verdict on that fixture and other intriguing World Cup clashes with Paddy Power supplying the odds.

Kick-off time is 7.30pm on Saturday unless stated.

DENMARK v PORTUGAL |(Group 1, 7pm)

It is possible, you know, that a certain Cristiano Ronaldo won’t be playing at the World Cup finals next year. What are we going to do without him? Enjoy it just as much I’d think. The reason why Ronaldo may not make it to South Africa is that Portugal have been poor in their qualifying games, only winning two out of six so far. That will have to change and soon if Cristiano is to strut his stuff in the summer of 2010. Denmark know a home victory tomorrow and they will almost be on the plane. Should be a cracking game.

Beacom Prediction: 2-2

PADDY POWER ODDS: Denmark to win 11/5 Draw 21/10 Portugal to win 11/10

CROATIA v BELARUS (Group 6)

While England play a meaningless friendly at home to Slovenia, Croatia warm up for their trip to Wembley next Wednesday with a tasty looking match against Belarus. Croatia, despite the absence of the injured Luka Modric, should collect maximum points.

Beacom Prediction: 2-1

PADDY POWER ODDS: Croatia 1/4 Draw 4/1 Belarus 8/1

CYPRUS v REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (Group 8)

Even the most ardent Republic of Ireland supporter would tell you that fortune has favoured their team in this campaign. Robbie Keane and his team-mates will hope it doesn’t run out now. I’ve said all along that I fancied the Republic to gain a play-off place at least and I’m still going along with that. I know Cyprus holds some awful memories for Irish players but there won’t be a nightmare this time — more like moving close to that dream of qualifying for South Africa.

Beacom Prediction: 1-2

PADDY POWER ODDS: Cyprus 3/1 Draw 23/10 Republic 10/11

FRANCE v ROMANIA |(Group 7 — 8pm)

France need a win to have any chance of catching Serbia at the top of the group table. They’ll get it.

Beacom Prediction: 2-1

PADDY POWER ODDS: France 1/2 Draw 5/2 Romania 11/2

GEORGIA v ITALY |(Group 8 — 7pm)

If things go as I think in Cyprus, there is a real chance that Giovanni Trappatoni’s men could find themselves ahead of world champions Italy after the weekend. I say that because facing Georgia will be no cakewalk for the Italians. In fact the Azzurri would probably settle for a draw right now because Georgia are better than their group position suggests.

Beacom Prediction: 1-1

PADDY POWER ODDS: Georgia 15/2 Draw 10/3 Italy 3/10

ICELAND v NORWAY |(Group 9 — 7.45pm)

This could turn out to be a key fixture for Scotland. No, not to keep them away from finishing bottom of the group, but to give them a chance of ending up as runners-up to Holland. The Scots could do with a home win here.

Beacom Prediction: 2-1

PADDY POWER ODDS: Iceland 14/5 Draw 9/4 Norway 5/6

POLAND v NORTHERN IRELAND (Group 3)

Quite simply our biggest game in years. We are three matches and three great performances away from the World Cup finals. No one, perhaps bar Nigel Worthington and his players, would have thought it possible after the start to the qualifying campaign.

We all know that Northern Ireland’s away form has never been anything to write home about, but that has to change some time and why not in Poland on Saturday night?

Worthington’s team can enter the fixture in good heart and if they can keep a fired-up Poland at bay early on, there is a real chance to get something out of this game. I’d take a draw, but should David Healy, Kyle Lafferty or Steve Davis open the scoring, that crucial away win will be on the cards.

Heart may be ruling head here, but even though the Poles are desperate for revenge after losing at Windsor, I’m going for our boys to clinch a famous victory. And it’s 5/1 with Paddy Power!

Beacom Prediction: 1-2

PADDY POWER ODDS: Poland 1/2 Draw 5/2 Northern Ireland 5/1

SCOTLAND v MACEDONIA (Group 9 — 3pm)

Anything other than a home win and Scotland will be out of the World Cup and George Burley will be out of the job. I fancy he’ll survive this time. Just.

Beacom Prediction: 2-1

PADDY POWER ODDS: Scotland 8/11 Draw 11/5 Macedonia 7/2

SLOVAKIA v CZECH REPUBLIC (Group 3)

It’s hard to know what to want from this game. Slovakia are ahead of Northern Ireland in the group table but the Czechs remain dangerous. Probably a draw or away win would suit Northern Ireland and we might get our wish.

Beacom Prediction: 1-1

PADDY POWER ODDS: Slovakia 6/4 Draw 2/1 Czech Republic 13/8

SPAIN v BELGIUM (Group 5 — 9pm)

Rafael Benitez will keep a close eye on this one, praying that Fernando Torres doesn’t get injured like he has previously while playing for Spain. The Spanish have won six out of six in Group 5 so far. Expect seven out of seven tomorrow night.

Beacom Prediction: 3-1

PADDY POWER ODDS: Spain 2/9 Draw 4/1 Belgium 9/1