Joining bwinbetting editor Chris Bryant to discuss this Euro 2012 qualifier are Jamie Casey, who will be sticking up for under-fire Northern Ireland, with Mark Siglioccolo putting forward the Estonia perspective.
CB: So Northern Ireland are drinking in the last-chance saloon tonight as far as their already slim qualification hopes are concerned. Will they win?
JC: For Nigel Worthington, this match is a must-win if he is to salvage any pride from what is fast becoming a disastrous qualifying campaign. Admittedly, Worthington is on his last legs following last month’s competitive collapse in Tallinn, where Friday’s opponents Estonia triumphed 4-1. But with the inexperienced Estonians within touching distance of a rare play-off position, nerves are likely to play a part and the home side should cash in at 21/20. For Worthington, it’s likely to prove his last home game in charge of his country and he’ll be damned if anyone will deny him victory.
MS: Well, with odds of 5/2 it is no doubt going to be a tall order for the away team to pull one over a plucky Northern Ireland side. However, they are currently lying third in Group C, four points clear of Northern Ireland and only one point behind second-placed Serbia, whom Estonia beat 3-1 away back in October 2010. Considering the result the last time these sides met, as Jamie mentioned, I don’t see why they can’t do it again at Windsor Park.
CB: We don’t often see a flurry of goals when Northern Ireland play at home – do you think it will be the same this time?
JC: Northern Ireland have scored just six goals in their last ten home games and therefore it would be naïve of me to suggest a comfortable home win is on the cards. Rather, I’m going to back a narrow home win, but coupled with under 2.5 combined goals being scored in the game. At 13/4, bwin are in generous mood with this offer and will have unsuccessful punters cursing their luck in passing up this money-making opportunity.
MS: Estonia are on a rare winning streak, with a 2-1 away victory in Slovenia followed by a 4-0 drubbing of Northern Ireland at home. Don’t be put off by Northern Ireland being favourites – they were the favourites in the previous meeting too and look what happened in that one. If Estonia can score three away at Serbia and four at home to Northern Ireland, why won’t there be a similar flurry of goals from the Estonians at Windsor Park? They are 19/2 to do just that, score three or more in the match, which is certainly worth a punt.
CB: Have you got any scorelines or related bets in mind?
JC: Although the result in Tallinn suggests Estonia are the stronger side, both head into the fixture with a goal difference of zero, with the hosts having played eight games to Estonia’s nine. Expect the Belfast meeting to be less one-sided with the hosts aiming to make it a hat-trick of 1-0 home wins over Estonia, the previous two meetings in the city having produced the same outcome in 2004 and 2006. My money is on exactly one goal to be scored at a tidy 18/5 offer from bwin, and I’m hoping the sole strike will be in Northern Ireland’s favour. A 1-0 win for the hosts may also be on my betslip at 23/4.
MS: With goals coming both in the first and second half of Estonia’s matches so far, at 17/4 it may well be worth backing them to score in both halves, a bet that will no doubt add to the excitement for any neutrals. For Estonia fans, however, it is a must-win encounter. If Italy can do them a favour by not resting too many big name stars and beating Serbia, Estonia could sneak into second place and qualify for the play-offs. I’m not a huge fan of betting on scorelines, but if I had to pick one, it would be 3-1 to Estonia at admittedly impressive odds of 28/1.
CB: Well at least you’re not expecting a goalless draw! With that said, my final question has to be about potential goalscorers…
MS: Current go-to man Konstantin Vassiljev is the man to back to score that vital winner for the Estonians. He is their top scorer with three goals in eight games and is 11/1 to break the deadlock and 3/1 to score at any time. I’ll definitely be having some of that action.
JC: Since veteran striker David Healy’s caps and goals for Northern Ireland started drying up, the country has been crying out for a ready-made replacement. His Rangers team-mate Kyle Lafferty has produced a respectable return of eight goals in 29 appearances so far and looks set to lead the line on Friday. However, it’s now Worthington’s midfielders who carry the biggest goal threat, with Paddy McCourt and Chris Brunt the likeliest candidates. Celtic winger McCourt bagged a brace against the Faroe Islands in August, but his lack of game time at club level leaves doubts around his fitness. Thus, a starting role is by no means a certainty, unlike West Brom playmaker Brunt, who is finally beginning to produce the performances he is capable of for his country. Bwin make the 26-year-old 7/1 to open the scoring on Friday and I like those odds – the set-piece expert is growing in confidence with his new-found senior role.
CB: Thank you very much for your thoughts. May the best team win!
New customers can register here to claim a free £25 bet or click here to see all our Euro 2012 qualifier odds.
Follow us on Twitter @bwinbetting