Like Group A, this group is a 2 horse race. While Israel is still mathematically alive, they have no realistic shot of finishing higher than 3rd given that Russia and Portugal still each play Luxembourg. We give Russia the edge to finish 1st in the group. We give them a 73% chance opposed to a 27% chance for Portugal. Whoever finishes 2nd in this group is a lock for the 2nd place play-off. It shouldn’t matter much who finishes last in this group.
Azerbaijan v. Northern Ireland – Baku, Azerbaijan
Believe it or not, we have Azerbaijan ranked over 40 places higher than Northern Ireland in our rankings. Add to that the home advantage, and you know who we like. Northern Ireland would probably rather not make the trek across Europe for a meaningless match. We don’t think they’ll be at their best in this one.
Prediction: Azerbaijan by 2
Luxembourg v. Russia – Luxembourg
Tough draw for Luxembourg to finish with Russia and Portugal. But they’ve handled themselves surprisingly well compared to some of the other minnows in Europe. 1 win and 3 draws from 8 matches is not too shabby. That being said, they’re in way over their heads here. Russia needs 3 points and shouldn’t have any difficulty claiming them all. They’ll be pouring in goals one after the next.
Prediction: Russia by 4
Portugal v. Israel – Lisbon, Portugal
The best Israel can really hope to do at this point is play spoiler. Portugal is in desperation mode, and unless Israel can miraculously win in Lisbon, they’ll be eliminated from qualifying here. The same thing seems to happen with Portugal in every qualifying campaign. They start slow, only to turn it up in the end. They can think back to last October’s home match against Northern Ireland in a monsoon where they just couldn’t get the job done. It’s why they are most likely headed to the 2nd place play-off.
Prediction: Portugal by 2
At this point Russia should still hold their 1 point lead over Portugal. If Portugal does in fact defeat Israel, they guarantee themselves a spot in the play-off at worst. They will not be the last team out.
Azerbaijan v. Russia – Baku, Azerbaijan
This road test certainly won’t be easy for Russia. They could have already sealed their place in Brazil had they not squandered an opportunity against Northern Ireland in the blizzard make-up match. Russia only defeated Azerbaijan by a single goal last October, so expect this one to be a low scoring affair. Russia knows they will need 3 points or end up in the 2nd place play-off. Baku is a challenging environment, but they could certainly be worse off. We think they get the job done and advance to the World Cup.
Prediction: Russia by 2… to Brazil
Israel v. Northern Ireland – Ramat Gan, Israel
Israel yet again has come up short in their quest for a World Cup berth. It was never a realistic dream that they would pass Portugal or Russia. Now had they been paired with Norway, this might be a different story. I’ll say it again. YOUR FIFA RANKING MATTERS. And there are ways to boost them, which is a nice service WGF provides. We think the home team takes 3 points in a meaningless match.
Prediction: Israel by 3
Portugal v. Luxembourg – Coimbra, Portugal
This game will kick-off at the exact same time as the one in Russia, so as to avoid any funny business. This shouldn’t be a contest at all. Portugal will ensure they gather all 3 points with a barrage of goals. They’ll have to keep an eye on the scoreboard in Baku to see whether they’re headed directly to Brazil or into the draw for the UEFA playoffs.
Prediction: Portugal by 5
Regardless who finishes 2nd, they’ll be in the 2nd place play-off. We think Russia is up to the task and wins in Azerbaijan to lock up 1st place. When Group F concludes, we expect the standings to look like this:
Our other UEFA group previews can be seen below. Thanks for reading!
Group A Preview (Belgium, Croatia, Serbia, FYR Macedonia, Scotland, Wales)
Group B Preview (Italy, Bulgaria, Denmark, Czech Republic, Armenia, Malta)
Group C Preview (Germany, Sweden, Austria, Republic of Ireland, Kazakhstan, Faroe Islands)
Group D Preview (Netherlands, Romania, Hungary, Turkey, Estonia, Andorra)
Group E Preview (Switzerland, Iceland, Slovenia, Norway, Albania, Cyprus)
Group G Preview (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Greece, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Liechtenstein)
Group H Preview (England, Ukraine, Montenegro, Poland, Moldova, San Marino)
Group I Preview (Spain, France, Finland, Georgia, Belarus)