Angel Martinez – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images. Pictured: Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo.
We’ve reached the end of the World Cup qualifying matches with playoffs happening in Europe and Africa, while Asia and South America will be complete by next week.
So, there is still plenty to play for and spots in the World Cup field later this year up for grabs on every continent.
If you are new to our soccer coverage here at the Action Network, we have our own World Soccer Ratings that are used to help calculate the projected lines and totals below. You can expect our projections for all World Cup qualifiers from every confederation all the way leading up to the event in November.
Note: These projections do not take into account injuries or suspensions.
Note: Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Denmark, Croatia, Netherlands, England and Germany have qualified for the World Cup.
For those who finish second in their qualification group, plus the two highest ranked UEFA Nations League teams that finish third in their group (Austria & Czech Republic), it all comes down to a two-match playoff for World Cup spot.
If you look at Path C in the graphic above, there’s a potential heavyweight matchup between Italy and Portugal looming for a World Cup berth.
Note: Due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Poland has been awarded a bye against Russia and the Scotland vs. Ukraine match has been postponed.
This is a very interesting matchup because Wales’ underlying metrics in the European championships and throughout World Cup qualifying haven’t been that great. At the Euros, the nation finished with a -3.75 xGDiff, and outside of its win over Turkey, it was thoroughly dominated in every other match.
That has been the same story throughout qualifying. Wales was in a pretty difficult group with Belgium, Czech Republic Belarus, and Estonia. The country was pretty dominant in matches against Belarus and Estonia, putting together a +4.22 xGDiff in four matches. However, in the games against Belgium and Czech Republic, they had a -1 xGDiff and failed to hold more than 50% possession in any of those contests.
Typically, Wales likes to set up in a 4-4-2 formation, sit deep and play two low blocks of four because it’s fairly weak on defense. Its starting center backs are Joe Rodon, who has barely played for Tottenham and Chris Mepham, who is with Bournemouth in the English Championship. So, it makes sense Wales wants to protect the weakest part of its team.
*(graphic via infogol.net)
The problem is Wales shouldn’t be a Pick’em against an Austrian team that’s more talented and has better underlying metrics. Austria was in a World Cup group with Denmark, Scotland, Israel, Moldova and the Faroe Islands.
The nation was highly underrated in that group, finishing tied for third and winning the tiebreaker over Israel with a +2 actual goal differential, but a +7.8 xGDiff overall. Even at the Euros, Austria really only had one bad performance against the Netherlands. It dominated North Macedonia and Ukraine in the group stage and took Italy to extra time in the Round of 16 of the competition.
The Austrians have way more talent on defense and midfield with guys like David Alaba, Marcel Sabitzer, Konrad Laimer and Xaver Schlagar, which will ultimately will end up being the difference because Austria has capable scoring threats in Sasa Kalajdzic and Marko Arnautovic.
Even though this match is being played in Cardiff, I have Austria projected as a +126 favorite, so I love its Draw No Bet line at -120 odds via PointsBet and will make it my top selection.
Pick: Austria — Draw No Bet (-120)
In Africa, every group winner competes a two-leg playoff to decide who gets a spot in the World Cup.
We have some very interesting encounters, but it’s hard to ignore the Africa Cup of Nations Final rematch between Liverpool teammates Sadio Mané (Senegal) and Mohamed Salah (Egypt) in this round.
This line is too low on Morocco, which in my opinion was the second-best team at the Africa Cup of Nations behind Senegal. Morocco had a +8.3 xGDiff in only five matches at AFCON and before that outscored opponents in World Cup qualifying by a stunning 20-1 margin.
The Moroccon offense is incredibly deadly in front of goals with guys like Youssef En-Nesyri and Munir El Haddadi. It also has outstanding attacking midfielders like Sofaine Boufal and Aymen Barkok.
Plus, Morocco might have the best right back in the world in terms of progressing the ball up the field and supplying the attack in Achraf Hakimi, as well as solid, experienced central defenders in Nayef Aguerd and Romain Saïss.
However, what was most impressive about Morocco at the Africa Cup of Nations tournament was its pressing. Morocco led the competition with a PPDA of 7.5 and 38 high turnovers in only five matches, per Opta.
The Democratic Republic of Congo made it through World Cup qualifying by one point over Benin in Group J and was incredibly lucky to do so. Congo finished with a +6 actual goal differential, but had a negative xGDiff overall. In fact, Congo failed to qualify for AFCON, finishing behind Gambia and Gabon in its qualification group.
Now, it does have some names you might recognize like defender Chancel Mbemba, left-back Arthur Masuaku, Yoane Wissa, and Cédric Bakambu.
However, with how drastically this team over-performed in qualifying, coupled with the fact that it hasn’t played a competitive match since last November, (Morocco just played five matches together at AFCON two months ago), this is a fantastic spot for the visitor to take a huge advantage in the first leg.
I have Morocco projected at -186, so I like the nation on the moneyline at +135 odds to win outright.
Pick: Morocco ML (+135)
Brazil and Argentina have qualified for the World Cup, while Venezuela, Paraguay and Bolivia were eliminated from qualification.
That means Ecuador, Uruguay, Peru, Chile and Colombia still have something to play for in their final two qualification matches.
Brazil has already qualified for the World Cup and has nothing to play for in this match, but it looks like it still plans on playing a pretty strong squad since all of its regular starters have been selected for these games.
Since that’s the case, this has a low-scoring affair written all over it given how dominant the Brazil defense has been really since when World Cup qualification started back in October of 2020.
The defense is only allowing 0.83 xG per game in qualifying and Copa America. It faced Chile twice in that timeframe, earning a 1-0 win in both outings and holding it to 1.97 xG total over the two matches, per infogol.net.
The ability of the Brazil to control possession and shut down matches has been impressive the past two years. Only twice during qualification did it allow an opponent to control more than 50% possession and three times did its foes get off more than 10 shots. Even in Copa America, just one opponent created more than one xG against it and in five of its seven matches, less than 2.5 xG were generated.
As for Chile, the nation is in desperation mode, trailing Peru by four points for the final spot in the table that would advance it to a playoff against the Asian fourth-place playoff winner. Offensively, Chile hasn’t been that great the past two years, averaging 1.19 xG per match in qualifying and Copa America.
The problem is Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal are way past their prime and there hasn’t been any other notable talent coming up to take their places. However, the defense has been playing much better since Copa America, yielding 1.15 xG per match in their last nine contests when it was allowing 1.55 xG per game in the 12 fixtures before.
I only have 2.10 goals projected, so I find value the price on the total staying under 2.5 goals at BetMGM for this match.
Pick: Total Under 2.5 Goals (-115)
As of right now, Iran and South Korea have qualified out of Group A, while the top three spots in Group B are up in the air with two qualification matches left.
The top two spots in the qualifying groups earn a World Cup spot, while the third-place nations have a two-leg playoff to decide who faces South America’s fifth-place team in a two-leg playoff for the final World Cup berth.
Iraq can still qualify for the fourth-place playoff, but needs to win both of its last two matches and hope United Arab Emirates drops points against South Korea in its final match, which is possible. Iraq has been drastically under-performing during World Cup qualification.
Iraq has an -7 actual goal differential, but only a -1.9 xGDiff overall. Even in its last match against UAE on the road, it drew 2-2, but won the xG battle by a 1.97-1.18 margin.
The visiting nation is a highly overrated team that really doesn’t deserve to be sitting in third place in Group A. Just take a look at the actual results UAE has produced compared to its expected results:
So, UAE hasn’t won the xG competition in its last six qualifying matches. That said, it’s safe to say it’s wildly overdue for some negative regression.
I have Iraq projected as a +106 favorite at home, so I like the value on its Draw No Bet line at -125 odds and will make it my top pick.
Pick: Iraq — Draw No Bet (-125)
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