Monday, August 21, 2017

Prediction: Azerbaijan vs Northern Ireland

Verdict: Both teams to score – No

Best Odds: 4/6

Bookmaker: bet365

Fourth-placed Azerbaijan will be looking to get revenge on Northern Ireland for the 4-0 defeat in Belfast and at the same time keep their qualifying hopes alive. Michael O’Neill’s side, on the other hand, plan to cement the play-off berth with a win in Baku, but they will have much tougher task than back in November due to sweltering heat in Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan haven’t enjoyed a great deal of success in the past, that is since the country gained independence from the Soviet Union and they have yet to qualify for a major tournament. However, the national team have flourished under Robert Prosinecki and they are now just three places bellow their highest ever FIFA Ranking (73rd) achieved in July 2014. For the first time in quite a while, Milli stand a realistic chance of reaching the qualifying play-offs, sitting three points behind second-placed Northern Ireland with five games to go. Azerbaijan had enjoyed an excellent start to the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, defeating San Marino and Norway before sharing spoils with Czech Republic on the road, but back to back losses to Northern Ireland and Germany saw them slip to fourth in the overall standings. Milli now have a chance to revive their qualifying hopes by defeating Northern Ireland, but that is easier said than done considering that Michael O’Neill’s charges have shown a great deal of improvement in recent years.

Team News

Namig Alasgarov, Richard Almeida and Salahat Aghayev return to the squad after missing the Germany qualifier, and there have been absolutely no surprises in Robert Prosinecki’s squad.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland have come a long way since Michael O’Neill took over the reigns and they are now enjoying one of the most successful periods in the history of the national team. The Green and White Army not only made it to the Euro 2016 finals, but did well to progress from the group stage and have since continued the rich vein of form. While losing to Germany away and sharing spoils with Czech Republic, Northern Ireland enjoyed comfortable wins over San Marino, Azerbaijan and Norway at home, scoring 10 goals and keeping three clean sheets in the process. However, with Czech Republic and Azerbaijan breathing down their necks in the race for the second-place finish, Norn Iron need to continue with strong performances and it is the clash in Baku that has got to be seen as a very important fixture. Head coach Michael O’Neill hopes his players will be able to combat the searing heat in Azerbaijan and produce the performance they are capable of.

Team News

Latest reports suggest that key defender Gareth McAuley will be fit to play after recovering from a thigh problem, with Liam Boyce expected to start up front after scoring the winner in the New Zealand friendly.

Key Factors to Consider

  • Three of Azerbaijan’s last four home games produced one goal or less
  • Azeri only won two of last seven matches at home (D2 L3)
  • Northern Ireland won three of last four games without conceding
  • Norn Iron failed to score in six of last seven games away from Belfast
  • Azerbaijan scored just three goals in the current campaign

Conclusion

With both sides heavily relying on their rock-solid defence and plenty at stake in Baku, we don’t think we will see too many goals on Saturday evening. The heat will make it even more difficult for both sides to show what they’ve got, and it is highly unlikely both teams will get on the scoresheet.

Verdict: Both teams to score – No

Best Odds: 4/6

Bookmaker: bet365

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