IT seems as if we’re still getting over Euro 2016 and now we’re hit with the World Cup 2018 qualifiers.
There are nine ties on Sunday in Groups C, D and F with F of course featuring England and Scotland.
Scotland must kick off with a win in Malta to have any chance of ending 20 years of World Cup misery.
Anything but three points against the Group F minnows will leave Gordon Strachan behind the eight-ball after just 90 out of 900 minutes.
So the pressure’s on and while bookies are convinced Strachan’s side will win I can see it being a nervy 90 minutes unless Scotland can nick an early goal.
Leigh Griffiths is the country’s deadliest hitman but his withdrawal – alongside several others and skipper Scott Brown’s retirement – is a huge blow.
Once again Steven Fletcher will be asked to provide a finish while Griffiths’s replacement Tony Watt has to yet to prove he’s more than a one game against Barcelona boy wonder.
Talking of boy wonders there is genuine hope Ollie Burke will be a Scotland star of the future but after a whirlwind week that saw him move to Red Bull Leipzig for £13million it’s asking a lot for the 19-year-old to be the saviour and he’ll probably be used as an impact sub.
Our h2h record against the Maltese is perfect and while they don’t concede many these days they aren’t a high-scoring side either.
Eight of Malta’s 10 Euro qualifiers went under 2.5 goals and they netted just five times in 10 outings. And eight of Scotland’s last 10 victories have been by 1-0.
Interestingly Malta lost 1-0 at home to Italy, Belgium and Croatia and I’m sure a 1-0 Scotland win would delight Strachan.
Stan James go 21-10 on Scotland to win and under 2.5 goals but as Craig Alves pointed it’s better doing split stakes on 1-0 Scotland at 5-1 with McBookie and Ladbrokes and 2-0 at 11-2 with Paddy Power.
Griffiths hasn’t scored for Scotland but I’d have backed him to break the deadlock in Valletta. In his absence Fulham new boy Chris Martin and Steven Fletcher are 4-1 favourites at bet365.
Fletcher is a guaranteed starter and netted seven times in the Euro qualifiers – most against minnows – so would be the preferred option.
Deadball expert Matt Ritchie is 7-1 at Paddy Power and rejuvenated James Forrest worth a look at 11-1 with bet365 if he starts. I have to mention no scorer at 11-1 with Skybet – but let’s hope that’s a no-show.
Even before this tie Scotland’s chances of qualifying are slim with Ladbrokes going a biggest 5-1.
Remember only the winners automatically go to Russia so it’s a really tough ask for a team missing in action since France 1998.
England kick off their campaign with their most difficult match on paper in Slovakia. The sides drew 0-0 at the Euros but Sam Allardyce has replaced Roy Hodgson and I expect him to start with three points.
England are being well backed and are now 21-20 at Betway and it looks decent. Picking a first scorer is tougher after Harry Kane and to a lesser extent Jamie Vardy flopped in France.
Scotland & Under 2.5 goals
Malta v Scotland under 2.5 goals
S Fletcher to score first
England to win
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