The first international break of 2019 is upon us, and Charlie Nicholas has given his predictions for this week’s European Qualifiers and friendlies on Sky Sports.
Wales vs Trinidad and Tobago – Wednesday, KO 7.45pm, Sky Sports Football & Main Event
This one of those games which presents an opportunity for Ryan Giggs. He knows all of the players, so you do not want to stretch them. I do not expect wholesale changes but the introduction of four or five fresh faces in a Wales win will build for the future.
CHARLIE PREDICTS: Wales 3-0 Trinidad and Tobago (5/1 with Sky Bet)
Kazakhstan vs Scotland – Thursday, KO 3pm, Sky Sports Football & Main Event
Scotland always find the first set of games quite tough and feel instantly under pressure. Away from home against the lesser teams we always struggle. But I feel positive in how we do not have an out-and-out forward; Oliver McBurnie has struggled but I quite like him, Oliver Burke does not look a natural number nine and looks better playing with someone with his pace and power. If you look at where Scotland will win this game, we have inexperienced goalkeepers, so Scott Bain has to play. We also have inexperienced defenders with no Andrew Robertson. Stuart Armstrong, Callum McGregor and John McGinn will be in midfield, so I am pretty confident.
CHARLIE PREDICTS: Kazakhstan 1-2 Scotland (8/1 with Sky Bet)
Northern Ireland vs Estonia – Thursday, KO 7.45pm, Sky Sports Football & Main Event
Estonia are an awkward side, they turn up and defend. It’s mainly the atmosphere at Windsor Park that win these games for Northern Ireland. They have good energy and they are very much a unit, no real flashy players, but they know how to get the job done and they know the importance of winning the first game at home.
CHARLIE PREDICTS: Northern Ireland 2-0 Estonia (9/2 with Sky Bet)
England vs Czech Republic – Friday, KO 7.45pm
The basis of this is that I think England will go after the game quite sharply. Gareth Southgate likes the competition for places and, if everyone is fit, they will go with Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling. They have pace and movement which the Czechs will not be able to handle. That’s why I see it being comfortable, they will not trouble England that much.
CHARLIE PREDICTS: England 3-0 Czech Republic (6/1 with Sky Bet)
Gibraltar vs Republic of Ireland – Saturday, KO 5pm, Sky Sports Football & Main Event
Mick McCarthy is new, but I do not think there will be a massive change in style from Ireland. I think they will work hard defensively and get the ball down and pass. I expect Daryl Murphy to play, so they could knock it up long and get up the pitch and pin Estonia in a bit. The return of Seamus Coleman will be a big bonus on what will be a fairly comfortable afternoon, though Ireland do not score many goals.
CHARLIE PREDICTS: Gibraltar 0-2 Ireland (11/2 with Sky Bet)
Wales vs Slovakia – Sunday, 2pm, Sky Sports Football & Main Event
I have seen comments this competition will define Giggs’ managerial skills. Wales have got some good young players, but I am not sure what they are building at the back. Ashley Williams has been there a long time. Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale are the stars, but Ben Woodburn may be thrown into it as the young players have always done well. It is the first game at home against an awkward side, but Ramsey and Bale’s real quality will prove the difference.
CHARLIE PREDICTS: Wales 2-1 Slovakia
San Marino vs Scotland – Sunday, KO 5pm, Sky Sports Football & Main Event
Scotland have never really looked at themselves and taken their games for granted, but that’s allowed on this occasion. Scotland have been in this position a couple of times and come away with a comfortable win. The midfielders will control this, and we will get off to a decent start in a routine victory.
CHARLIE PREDICTS: San Marino 0-3 Scotland
Northern Ireland vs Belarus – Sunday, KO 7.45pm, Sky Sports Football & Main Event
There is not much difference between the two teams. I can recall them playing in a different way so that will match them up, making it harder for both teams to break each other down. Fortune has favoured Northern Ireland by handing them their opening two qualifying games at home, I expect them to get off to the best possible start with six points.
CHARLIE PREDICTS: Northern Ireland 1-0 Belarus
Montenegro vs England – Monday, KO 7.45pm
Technically, Montenegro are always pretty tidy. These smaller nations have the ability, but it is whether they have the resilience. When they cannot get hold of the ball they get frustrated. With the balance England have they can play possession and counter-attack football, going from back to front very quickly. Montenegro will defend quite deeply, and it will be a test for England’s quality, but their quality will get them through.
CHARLIE PREDICTS: Montenegro 1-2 England
Republic of Ireland vs Georgia – Tuesday, KO 7.45pm, Sky Sports Football & Main Event
Georgia like a scrap and a physical battle but there is a mistake in there. The passion of the crowd for the first game at home will mean they are up for it and they will see where it takes them. It is a must-win scenario when you face these sorts of teams that you expect to finish above. The midfield strength will prove telling for Ireland, they will not dominate by goals but by sheer determination.
CHARLIE PREDICTS: Rep of Ireland 1-0 Georgia