It really is do-or-die for Northern Ireland on Friday night when only a win at home to Group C rivals Estonia will keep alive their faint hopes of Euro 2012 qualification but with a positive result so desperately needed, there is one question: who the hell is going to score a goal for them?
Nigel Worthington’s men lie fifth in the group on nine points, well adrift of leaders Italy and five points behind second-placed Serbia with two matches left.
But if their prospects of snatching a play-off place weren’t bleak enough, a look at their goalscoring record makes it impossible to argue any kind of case they will at least give themselves a chance by picking up maximum points.
The Irish have scored just eight goals in eight qualifying games, but when you consider four of those came at home to Group C whipping boys Faroe Islands, their goals for column reads like a horror show.
Excluding that 4-0 win in August, Northern Ireland have scored just seven times in their last 20 internationals, drawing blanks on 13 occasion – a long cry from the days when David Healy defied logic with countless qualifying goals.
With stats like that, you just cannot back the team to score with any conviction, let alone any individual player.
When you add in the fact boss Worthington is under increasing pressure for his dire, negative football (not least from his ever-unlikeable predecessor Lawrie Sanchez, who might want to sort his barnet out before dishing out the criticism), then I’m unable to make a compelling case for an Irish scorer. Kyle Lafferty to score at any time at 6/5? No thanks.
Estonia themselves hardly score bagfuls – they went five games without a goal before back-to-back wins against Slovenia and Northern Ireland – but they are the more potent side and with slightly better prospects of qualifying than their hosts (they lie one point behind Serbia who have a game in hand) I think they will win, so I’m looking at who will score for the away side.
They battered Northern Ireland 4-1 in their last meeting – and guess what, Ireland’s consolation was an own goal – but for reasons I will never be able to fathom the home side are odds on here at 19/20, meaning the prices about Estonia, and their potential goalscorers, are on the juicy side.
With that in mind I’ll be looking at midfielder Konstantin Vassiljev at a very big 11/1 to score first and 3/1 any time as a wise play.
Vassiljev has three goals in qualifying, making him Estonia’s top scorer, notching in a win against Slovenia and in both games against Serbia, where Estonia took four points.
Punters joining bwin.com receive a free £25 bet and using this on Vassiljev to break the deadlock could potentially net them a whopping £300.
At those odds he is certainly the value shout, especially as the forward positions in Estonia’s team have been the subject of rotation from coach Tarmo Ruutli.
However, young strikers Kaimar Saag and Sergei Zenjov both came off the bench to score their second goals of the campaign at Windsor Park last month and will no doubt fancy their chances again. Zenjov is 7/1 to score first and 2/1 at any time, whereas Saag is 9/1 and 5/2 respectively.
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