Friday 1st September. 7:45PM. ITV
The football season is barely a few weeks old, but we’re already moving into the first international break of 2017-18 as the road to Russia hits top gear.
For England, it’s a Friday night trip to Malta followed by Slovakia at home on Monday. While it hasn’t been the best of qualifying campaigns, six points could be enough to confirm qualification for next year’s event.
It’s a great way to get the weekend started, and hopefully we’ll land some profit too.
Malta Out For An Upset
The minnows might be sitting bottom of Group F without a single point, but a respectable 2-0 loss at Wembley last year can give them optimism ahead of this return clash at the Ta’Qali National Stadium. If Pietro Ghedin’s men can cause an upset, they’ll be considered national heroes.
Veteran striker Michael Mifsud is in the squad, as are English-based duo Sam Magri and Luke Gambin. Aside from those names, however, the Maltese squad is void of any recognisable talent, which is why they’ll be relying on their team unity for success.
In truth, the hosts know that the odds are stacked against them, especially as they haven’t won a home qualifier for over a decade. A friendly away win over the Ukraine in June does underline some quality, though, and there is a chance that they can frustrate Gareth Southgate’s household names.
A positive result looks unlikely, but there arguably hasn’t ever been a better time to play the Three Lions, particularly as there could be early season rust.
Expectations On England
England’s return of 14 points from six matches is far from bad, but it hasn’t been sparkling stuff from the Three Lions, who still show signs of the wounds suffered at Euro 2016. Meanwhile, the manner of recent friendly defeats against France and Germany have underlined that Southgate’s men are a million miles from where they want to be. Still, Friday’s result should be nothing but a win.
The retirement of Wayne Rooney is a slight blow for Southgate, as is the withdrawal of Jordan Pickford. Nonetheless, the Premier League quality throughout the squad will be fully expected to coast through the first of two challenges over the coming days.
Striker Harry Kane will be eager to score after a slow start to the season at club level, especially as he is the heir to Rooney’s crown. Meanwhile, the likes of Marcus Rashford and Jamie Vardy will be hopeful of getting a chance of goals against a poor opponent.
Three points is the expectation, but the Three Lions need to put in a better performance too. If they do, it should be a comfortable win for the visitors.
Malta v England Betting
Even on Maltese soil, England are the overwhelming favourites for Friday’s qualifier and are priced 1/20 to grab the win with Unibet. Malta, meanwhile, are considered rank outsiders at 40/1. The draw can be backed at 12/1.
In many ways, playing on away soil is probably a blessing for Southgate’s men and it should give them a chance to play with a little more relaxation.
An early goal in Attard should open the flood gates. It would be surprising to see the Three Lions hit fewer than three, and a four-goal victory is more than possible.
If anyone needs a goal, it’s certainly Kane. Not only do we think he’ll get one, we think the Spurs man will grab a second in what should be a routine England victory.
It’s worth waiting for the team news. If he starts, though, 7/4 odds will look very attractive indeed.