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England v Lithuania: Sunday stroll for Southgate's side

England v Lithuania
Sunday March 26, 16:00
Live on ITV1

England

Having been given the England job on an extended basis after a successful spell as caretaker, Gareth Southgate suffered defeat against Germany in Dortmund on Wednesday night, but there were many positives to take from the display. Employing a new 3-4-3 formation, England played with confidence and dynamism, and for the most part they made a decent Germany side look lethargic and vulnerable. Lukas Podolski's thunderbolt turned the game in Die Mannschaft's favour, as the likeable forward pulled down the curtain on his international career by leading his side to a 1-0 victory.

As expected, England have made an unbeaten start to their qualifying campaign for next year's World Cup, and they lead a modest group. In theory, the hard part is already over, with trips to Slovakia and Slovenia out of the way. Southgate must now avoid any slip-ups, but also work towards an effective campaign in Russia next year. The 3-4-3 experiment is a good start, as is the move towards a game that needs players to operate at a higher tempo. Just as encouraging is the talk of booting the captaincy debate into touch, by not settling on one specific leader. This will eliminate the need to select Wayne Rooney regardless of form, and it will hopefully sideline what has become something of a national obsession.

Southgate has some big decisions to make. Chelsea defender Gary Cahill is suspended, while Chris Smalling is injured. The England boss has handed a first senior call-up to Ben Gibson, who has impressed for Southgate's former club Middlesbrough. Given the absence of Cahill, Smalling and indeed Phil Jones, Southgate may revert to a flat back four featuring John Stones and the impressive Michael Keane at centre-back. The manager also has some decisions to make in attack. Jamie Vardy led the line in Dortmund, but teenage tyro Marcus Rashford and wily veteran Jermain Defoe are also options.

Lithuania

In years gone by, a point against Scotland at Hampden Park would have been seen as a mark of progress for a side. Nowadays it feels more like a missed opportunity, and although Lithuania have only suffered one defeat in this qualifying campaign, it was a hefty 4-0 beating in Slovakia.

Lithuania were crushed 4-0 by England at Wembley in 2015, and there is little to suggest they can put up much more of a fight in this encounter. They haven't won a game outside Lithuania since September 2014, and that was a win against San Marino. In fact, since the start of 2011, their only other victims on the road have been Finland and Liechtenstein.

It won't even be the strongest Lithuania line-up. Coach Edgaras Jankauskas (formerly a player at Hearts) can't call upon suspended defender Edwin Girdvainis or his injured central defensive colleague George Freidgeimas. The visitors will hope for inspiration from Jagiellonia Bialystok forward Fedor Cerynch, who has scored 12 goals in the Polish Ekstraklasa this season.

Match Odds

It'd hard to see anything but a comfortable home victory here. England haven't conceded a single goal in qualifying so far, and they have scored at least twice in their last three home games. If Southgate's men play with a similar tempo and drive to their defeat in Dortmund, they should win comfortably against limited opposition. Lithuania have only scored in three of their last 14 away games, so there is little to be scared of.

England are trading at 1.13 to win, which isn't much good to us. Given England's strong defensive record, and Lithuania's lack of punch, you could back the hosts to win to nil at 1.59. If you want a price above evens to aim for, you could back England -2.5 on the Asian Handicap at 2.08, which gives you a winner if England win by three goals or more.

Over/Under 3.5 Goals

In the European Championship qualifiers, Lithuania lost 4-0 in Switzerland and England, and they have already been bashed 4-0 in this campaign. On that basis, you may be tempted to back Over 3.5 Goals here at 2.34, but I guess the only concern is that Lithuania won't bring much to the party in attack.

To Score

Adam Lallana has impressed Southgate with his work-rate and his tactical flexibility, and it's no coincidence that the Liverpool attacking midfielder is one of the first names on Jurgen Klopp's teamsheet at Anfield. He struck the post against Germany, and got into some great positions. I'll be amazed if Lallana doesn't start on Sunday, and he can be backed to find the net in 90 minutes at 2.60. That horror miss against Manchester City hasn't put me off, because it underlines that he is taking up the right positions.

Another odds-against option worth considering is Eric Dier. He hasn't scored for Spurs this term, but he takes free-kicks for England, and against vulnerable opposition he might be tempted to foray forward more than usual. He can be backed at 4.40.

Recommended Bets
Back England -2.5 on the Asian Handicap at 2.08
Back Adam Lallana to score at 2.60 


Northern Ireland v Norway: Guinness drinkers to knock Lagerbäck

Northern Ireland v Norway
Sunday March 26, 18:45 BST
Live on Sky Sports 2

Northern Ireland

If qualifying for Euro 2016 and making it through to the last 16 was quite the achievement for Northern Ireland, then getting to Russia 2018 will surely top it.

Michael O'Neill's side have taken seven points from their opening four Group C matches to sit second behind Germany. It's pretty obvious that they won't catch the reigning World Champions, but they have a great chance of finishing second and making the Play-offs.

Their results at Windsor Park will surely hold the key and they will be keen to bounce back from a 3-0 defeat here to Croatia in November - albeit that it was just a friendly.

In World Cup qualifying it's two wins from two for Northern Ireland - both by four goals to nil - and while this is a sterner test, they will fancy their chances of taking all three points.

Kyle Lafferty may be languishing in the Norwich reserves but he's shown time and time again that he can rise to the occasion for his country and he's already got three goals in this qualifying campaign.

Norway

The Norwegians are second from bottom having lost three of their four matches to date. Their only victory came at home to minnows, San Marino, and they even conceded a goal to the team who very rarely find the net.

Their other three games were a 3-0 defeat to Germany, a 1-0 loss at Azerbaijan and a 2-1 reverse in the Czech Republic. It's also worth noting that they didn't qualify for the Euros - losing to Hungary in the Play-offs.

Lars Lagerbäck wasn't in charge for any of that as he was only appointed in February of this year, but it will surely take him some time to turn around a nation in decline. Just a scan of the list of players in the squad should ring alarm bells as gone are the days of them having plenty of household names.

Match Odds 

Northern Ireland 2.50 Norway 3.50 The Draw 3.15
The hosts are the favourites but they aren't as short as I thought they would be. Their competitive results at Windsor Park are impressive and they have also added goals to their game, which was something which they sometimes struggled with.

The market is possibly factoring in new manager syndrome for the visitors but I don't think it has the same effect in international football and it could take a while for the Swede to get his philosophy across to the players.

The atmosphere is sure to be electric in Belfast this evening and I really can't see anything other than a home win - especially as Norway have lost six of their last seven on their travels.

Over/Under 2.5 Goals 
Over 2.5 Goals 2.70 Under 2.5 Goals 1.54

I've previewed plenty of Northern Ireland games over the last 18 months and I'm always surprised to see how big over 2.5 goals is. I'm happy to back it again at around the 2.70mark as it would have landed in three of their last four fixtures and four of their last five on this ground.

I can definitely see the Irish netting at least twice, but I wouldn't rule out a Norway goal either as they did score in the Czech Republic and then twice in a friendly in Belgium back in June 2016.

Recommended Bets
Back Northern Ireland @ 2.50
Back Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.70