Friday football: Italy and Wales can get your weekend off to a winning start
Only Spain’s superior goal difference is keeping Italy off top spot in Group G, and the Azzurri will see Friday night’s clash against Albania as the perfect opportunity to keep up the pressure.
Albania weren’t given much chance of qualifying for the World Cup after being drawn in a group containing Spain and Italy, but they’re battled their way to six points from four matches nonetheless.
They may even fancy their chances of getting an unlikely result, with Italy manging just one win in five in the comfort of their own country, although that did come against Spain.
Albania themselves have secured victories against Luxembourg, Lichtenstein and Romania from their previous four matches, keeping a clean sheet in all three fixtures.
Only injury time goals from Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet saw them leave France without a share of the spoils in between those games and it could be a similar scenario here.
With Italy the dominant side but lacking form, it may go right down to the wire and I fancy Italy to win it late, so I’ll be backing the draw/Italy HT/FT market.
Italy v Albania (Back Draw/Italy on the HT/FT Market)
Ireland and Wales were two of the feel-good stories in France last summer, but they go head-to-head on Friday night looking to enhance their chances of qualifying for the World Cup.
The hosts go in to the game having made a terrific start to life in the group stages, winning three of their four fixtures and drawing their other en route to the top of Group D.
They have only conceded three goals so far, but then again, they haven’t come up against a player of Gareth Bale’s calibre yet and he could prove the difference in what is likely to be a tight game.
The Real Madrid attacker is one of the very best in the world and will have no intentions of spending next summer relaxing on a beach rather than playing with his Welsh counterparts.
Bale will be keen to lead by example, so if Wales can secure all three points you can be sure the former Premier League man will be right in the thick of things.
Ireland v Wales (Back Wales to win)