Moldova v England 19:45
After reaching the quarter final stage of Euro 2012 before meekly bowing out to Italy, Roy Hodgson leads his England team into a first qualifying campaign for a major tournament, with the former Fulham and West Brom boss hoping to steer the Three Lions to the World Cup 2014 finals in Brazil.
England are the top-seeded team in Group H, although Montenegro, Ukraine and Poland will all pose their own problems and the opening match in Moldova might not be a straightforward affair, especially with many English players withdrawing through injury.
Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole, Andy Carroll, Scott Parker, Gareth Barry, Ashley Young, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are among those missing for Friday’s game although England are a best price 3/10 (Paddy Power free bets) to claim three points from this opener and Hodgson can still call on some talented players for this contest.
Moldova are clearly a European minnow although they are not the bottom-ranked team in this group and did manage three wins during their Euro 2012 qualification campaign which included a 2-0 win over Finland while they were only soundly beaten at home to Sweden.
Ion Caras’ team are 12/1 to pull off an upset which would leave England reeling ahead of Tuesday’s home match against Ukraine, while a draw is available at 17/4 and it could be a typically nervy performance from the Three Lions.
A correct score of 1-0 to the visitors looks the best bet at 11/2 (Ladbrokes) considering that Hodgson is keen for his team to defend stoutly and expose gaps on the break, while Danny Welbeck looks overpriced at 5/1 to score the first goal considering he played very well for England during Euro 2012 and doesn’t have Wayne Rooney to compete against.
Wales v Belgium 19:45
Chris Coleman might be making all the right noises about Group A being a wide open section for 2014 World Cup qualification although the bottom line is that Belgium are not a great third-ranked team to draw considering that their team is clearly on the rise.
The Belgians might not have qualified for a World Cup since 2002 although they are blessed with talented players in all departments and will head to Cardiff on Friday full of confidence after beating the Netherlands 4-2 in a recent friendly match.
Marc Wilmots represented his country many times as a player and the visitors are 17/20 (bet365 £200 free bets) to claim victory in south Wales against a Welsh team who looked to be heading in the right direction under Gary Speed before the tragic death of the former Leeds and Newcastle player.
Coleman might be able to continue that momentum and certainly has players at his disposal that can cause damage to the opposition including Gareth Bale, although there is perhaps a reliance on the Tottenham midfielder to make things happen for the Dragons.
Wales are available at 19/5 (Stan James) to win the match, with Bale available at 12/1 to score the first goal, although there will be no Craig Bellamy to lead the line and Coleman is somewhat restricted in terms of quality.
Belgium suffer from no such problems and there will be a chance for Eden Hazard to strut his stuff in a national shirt following some impressive performances for Chelsea, with new Everton signing Kevin Mirallas also likely to be involved and club team-mate Marouane Fellaini also set to start the game.
Wales might find themselves stretched by quality opposition and Belgium to lead at half-time and full-time can be backed at 4/1.
Russia v Northern Ireland 16:00
Russia promised so much at Euro 2012, especially after thrashing Czech Republic 4-1 in their opening match of the tournament although Dick Advocaat’s men then stumbled to a 1-1 draw with Poland before an embarrassing loss against Greece which saw them dumped out at the group stage of the competition.
Fabio Capello has been brought in to replace Advocaat and will no doubt bring professionalism to the task in hand, although England supporters will be sceptical as to whether the Italian can deliver the goods when it really matters.
There should be few problems for the Russians on Friday afternoon when they take on Northern Ireland and can be backed at a best price 1/4 (Betfred free bets) to claim an opening victory, with Capello able to call upon some talented attacking players.
Alan Dzagoev was linked with a move to Arsenal and Tottenham in the summer, although the winger has remained at CSKA Moscow and continues to earn rave reviews after being joint-top scorer at Euro 2012. He can be backed at 9/2 to score the game’s first goal, while Aleksandr Kerzhakov is a talented player who is on offer at the same price.
As for the northern Irish, gone seem to be the days where they can pull off a surprise result even at Windsor Park although a shock win can be backed at 14/1 while the draw is a 5/1 poke.