How the Home Nations can continue strong qualifying start

It seems only yesterday that Wales were hustling their way into the European Championship semi-finals, and yet we’re already into the second round of qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup.

Each of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will have been satisfied with their starts, and there’s every reason their respective fans should be optimistic of more success heading their way this week.

We’ve taken a look at the Home Nations’ upcoming fixtures…

Austria v Wales

Austria failed to deliver at Euro 2016, finishing bottom of their group after waltzing to France with nine wins from ten qualifiers.

Marcel Koller’s men didn’t exactly impress in their opening qualifier for the next World Cup either, labouring to a 2-1 win away in Georgia.

Wales boss Chris Coleman will have earmarked this game as the Dragons’ toughest on paper, so getting it out of the way this early on is a bonus.

What’s more, Gareth Bale is fully fit, and with the hosts really struggling to find their rhythm, Wales have every opportunity to lay down a significant marker in Vienna.

Northern Ireland v San Marino

Michael O’Neill’s side were rightly delighted with their 0-0 draw away in the Czech Republic, as it’s against them and Norway where success and failure will lie.

With San Marino, Azerbaijan and Germany in Group C, the Green and White Army know that six points against the former two are a must, while anything against the latter is a bonus.

And with their next three games reading San Marino (H), Germany (A) and Azerbaijan (H), O’Neill knows what must be done.

Northern Ireland have met San Marino only twice before, succeeding 3-0 and 4-0 in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup and with the greatest of respect, a similar scoreline should be on the cards again.

Scotland v Lithuania

Despite a minor scare, Scotland ran riot to put five past Malta and a generous fixture list now sees Gordon Strachan’s men host Lithuania.

The Tartan Army have proved impressive at Hampden Park, beating Denmark in March while only a last-gasp goal from Robert Lewandowski denied the hosts victory over Poland 12 months ago.

World Champions Germany were pushed all the way last September in Glasgow too, and all signs point to the Scots making it six points from two games.

Lithuania have won only two of their last 17 games – against Estonia and San Marino and have failed to score in nine of their last 11 away fixtures.

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