VIENNA, AUSTRIA - The race to Brazil 2014 is beginning to take shape as Austria welcome Sweden to a packed out Happel-Stadion in a crunch Group C encounter. Both sides are jostling for second position and a play-off spot as Germany, who are eight points clear of the rest, look assured of qualifying in first place.
Austria hold a slender lead over the visitors by the virtue of goal difference; however, the Austrians have played a game more than Sweden and know that a defeat on Friday evening will tip the momentum Sweden's way.
Punters have been nibbling at Austria in the lead up to kick off and they can be found at a best price of 2.60 with Ladbrokes. Sweden, who boast a true world class player in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, are chalked up a top price of 2.80 with BetVictor, Bet365 and Skybet. Finally the draw is available at 3.40 with BetVictor - this looks the best value in the match winner market.
Austria are aiming to qualify for their first major tournament since 1998 (they participated in Euro2008 as joint-hosts) and despite currently sitting in second place I fear Sweden or Republic of Ireland will eventually wear them down. Nevertheless, this is probably the strongest Austrian side for well over a decade.
Aston Villa fans will recognise the talents of 21 year-old Andres Weimann. The Villa attacking midfielder/striker has an impressive scoring record for the Austria under 21's with six goals in 10 appearances but he has yet to break his duck in the full national side. However, he could make an impact off the bench if needed for Austria.
David Alaba is the Austrian player that catches my eye in the goal scoring markets. The versatile Bayern Munich player has netted in his last three appearances for his country and is chalked up at 19.00 with Skybet to score first. But I would prefer to play it safe and take the 7.00 on offer with Skybet and Paddy Power to score anytime. It's no surprise to see Zlatan Ibrahimovic head the goal scoring markets at 5.50 with William Hill and will be a popular choice with the punters.
Sweden have huffed and puffed so far in Group B but you sense they are capable of stringing a big winning sequence together when they need to. They kicked off their campaign with a 2-0 win over Kazakhstan and then narrowly avoided humiliation against the Faroe Islands - they were losing 1-0 until the 65 minute until Zlatan rescued them. Consecutive draws with Ireland and Germany leaves them tied with Ireland and Austria on eight points with a game in hand.
I expect this match to be a low scoring affair and history between the two sides backs this up. The previous eight meetings all went Under 2.5 Goals - a run that stretches back to the 1978 World Cup! Sweden, with the 4-4 game against Germany aside, have been defensively solid and just as prudent up front. Coral and Paddy Power offer 1.80 on there being two goals or less and I think this is an excellent price. The correct score of 1-1 also makes appeal at 7.00 with William Hill.
Austrian fans will desperately hoping for a win to take grip of second place but I fear they will just come up short.
The game kicks off at 19:45 B.S.T on Friday 7th June 2013 and is live on bet365 streaming.
Mark Smith's bet on this game: 3pts on Under 2.5 Goals at 1.80 with Coral.
Mark Smith's bet on this game: 0.5pt on David Alaba to score anytime at 7.00 with Coral.