The Nations Who Could Cause an Upset at the World Cup Qualifiers

Kosovo

UEFA’s youngest members are still an unknown entity to many around the continent, but they are littered with many promising youngsters who have grown up elsewhere in more advanced nations with better infrastructure but jump at the opportunity to come back and represent the nations of their roots.

Despite only becoming a member in 2016, they have already been on one of the longest international unbeaten runs in world football, 15 matches, which spanned from 2017 to 2019, before losing 5-3 to England at St. Mary’s. They would go on to finish third in that qualifying group, narrowly missing out on Euro 2021 behind the Czech Republic, but give elite sides like England something to worry about during 90 minutes of action.

The superstar in Kosovan eyes is Milot Rashica of Werder Bremen, unquestionably the most skilful and quickest player in the squad, while their official top scorer, Vedat Muriqi, currently plays backup to Ciro Immobile at Lazio, after a few prolific seasons in Turkey.

Ligue 1 trio Valon Berisha, Arber Zeneli (Reims) and Bersant Celina (Dijon) all offer an attacking threat from midfield too, but, as we will see a lot during this break, their respective clubs have refused to let them meet up with the squad for the first set of qualifiers, due to travel restrictions.

The draw has done Kosovo no favours, as Spain are a class above and Sweden and Greece both have the pedigree, but they certainly gave the Czechs a run for their money in Euro qualifying, so underestimate them at your peril.

Kosovo are 11/2 to finish in the top two in Group B.

World Cup Qualifiers Odds

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KOSOVO TO FINISH IN THE TOP 2 OF GROUP B @ 11/2

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

There's been a huge transformation from the Home Nations in recent times, with Wales making a statement at Euro 2016, whilst Northern Ireland made it to the finals that year too for the first time ever. And, after a painfully long qualification process for Scotland, they have finally qualified for the European Championships this summer for the first time since Euro 96.

Previously, however, it was a rarity to see either of these sides make a name for themselves in the qualification process of any major tournament, but now, they seem to be competing on a regular basis.

Wales, who haven't been at a World Cup since 1958, compete with Belarus, Estonia, Czech Republic and Belgium in Group E for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, and with Belgium 1/25 to finish in the top two, Wales sit at 10/11 just behind Czech Republic as the third favourites to do so. However, with notable players like Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, their slight transformation under Ryan Giggs may continue.

As for Scotland, they sit behind Austria and Denmark as the 8/1 favourites to win the group, but with the rest of their table involving Moldova, the Faroe Islands and Israel, the Scots should get some points on the board quickly and those ties against the Austrians could decide it all.

Northern Ireland, however, have it tough. They sit in a group consisting of Italy and Switzerland, who are 1/10 and 1/4 to finish in the automatic qualification spots, respectively, although, with Lithuania and Bulgaria in their too, Northern Ireland are 10/3 to finish in the top two and qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

World Cup Qualifiers Odds

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WALES TO FINISH IN THE TOP 2 OF GROUP E @ 10/11

North Macedonia

Having become the final side from the former Yugoslavia to qualify for a major tournament, North Macedonia will look to make more history in Group J, with the excitement of Euro 2020 in the summer to look forward to.

Germany are clear favourites in this group, but between North Macedonia, Romania, Iceland and Armenia, anyone could take second here. The Macedonians are the only other nation in the group who will be at Euro 2021 along with Germany, as Iceland are now fading as the plucky outsiders with most of their heroic group of players now either retired or deep into their 30s. Romania have also been perennial letdowns since a decent showing at Euro 2008, and have not qualified for a World Cup this side of the century.

Record appearance holder and top scorer, Goran Pandev, is expected to retire after the Euros, which fall in the middle of these qualifiers, so other figures will be required to replace the man whose goal secured their place at the summer’s finals. Elif Elmas (Napoli) and Enis Bardhi (Levante) fit the billing to do so in midfield as two technically gifted stars, with the latter becoming notorious for being one of the best free-kick takers in Europe.

Arijan Ademi captained Dinamo Zagreb to their miraculous comeback win against Tottenham Hotspur in the Europa League and has similar influence when stepping out for his country, while Ezgjan Alioski of Leeds United enjoys more freedom in attacking role here than he does at left-back for his club.

In a wide open group, at 13/2, Macedonia are generously priced to finish in the top two, considering the lack of quality and form among the other sides in the group.

World Cup Qualifiers Odds

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MACEDONIA TO FINISH IN THE TOP 2 OF GROUP J @ 13/2

Hungary

After decades of disappointment, Hungary appear to be getting themselves back in the competitive circle in Europe.
After winning their Nations League group ahead of more established names in modern history than themselves, Russia, Serbia and Turkey, they also saw off Bulgaria and Iceland in the playoffs for Euro 2021, booking their place at a second consecutive championship.

With England expected to comfortably finish top of Group I, it will probably be a shootout for second between Hungary and an ageing Poland side, who showed at the last World Cup how being over-reliant on Robert Lewandowski will eventually cause problems. Albania are far from the team they were when they qualified for Euro 2016, while Andorra and San Marino will cause no problems for the professional nations in this group.

The RB Leipzig contingent of Peter Gulacsi, Willi Orban and Dominik Szoboszlai are key along the spine of the side, with the latter rapidly gaining traction around Europe as one of the finest young talents on the continent, after impressing so much with RB Salzburg, and scoring the brilliant 92nd-minute winner which booked their place at Euro 2021.

World Cup Qualifiers Predictions

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HUNGARY TO FINISH IN THE TOP TWO IN GROUP I @ 11/4

Turkey

With much attention being drawn more towards their Group G rivals, Netherlands and Norway, Turkey, who arguably have a better squad than the Scandinavian outfit, are flying under the radar.

This is a Turkey side which took four points off world champions France on route to qualifying for the upcoming European Championships, in which they will look to replicate their run to the semi-finals in 2008.

World Cup qualifying has been much more elusive though, as they have not reached the tournament since finishing third in 2002. This time around, they are lucky to have been drawn with two of the seven sides from the bottom section of the Nations League, Latvia and Gibraltar, meaning 12 points should be almost guaranteed here, while Norway present the only real threat to second place.

Hakan Calhanoglu has seen a renaissance at AC Milan this season, playing a starring role in their push for the Scudetto, being one of the star men in Serie A, while Lille trio Yusuf Yazici, Mehmet Zeki Çelik and veteran Burak Yilmaz have guided Les Dogues to the Ligue 1 summit as it stands. Leicester City pair Caglar Soyuncu and Cengiz Under have also played their part in their challenge for the top four in the Premier League.

They pushed France close at the top of the group last time around, and they can definitely do the same to the Dutch in Group G. Turkey are 7/1 to win the group.

By Andrew Delaney

World Cup Qualifiers Predictions

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TURKEY TO FINISH IN THE TOP 2 OF GROUP G @ 11/10


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