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World Cup qualifying play-offs: Eight European teams desperate for a place in Russia

International football is back in focus over the next fortnight, with an array of friendlies to be played across the globe.

However, competitive action is also on the menu, as World Cup qualifying playoffs will take place to determine which teams will complete the line-up in Russia next summer.

The European clashes will capture the attention, with a number of historic nations playing for the right to step out in the global tournament next year.

The two-legged affairs are set to take place over the next week, with the first encounters to start from Thursday night.

For those betting on the eventual outcomes, sports betting tips are available to assist the gambler to make an informed decision.

Northern Ireland have had a memorable qualifying campaign but finished second in their pool to Germany – and now must overcome Switzerland to earn a place in Russia.

Michael O’Neill’s men have improved drastically over the last few years and did themselves proud by making it through to the second round of Euro 2016 in France last summer.

A commendable team spirit is the crux of the Northern Irish outfit, but regardless of recent success, the British side are still at relatively long odds of 9/2 to win the first leg in Belfast.

Croatia and Greece have both had memorable campaigns on the European and world stage this century but there is only room for one in next year’s competition.

On paper, the Croats look the stronger of the two sides and boast the likes of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic in their starting XI.

Croatia play the first leg at home in Zagreb and are worth their 4/11 favourite tags.

Arguably the most glamorous of the four ties sees Italy and Sweden face off, with the Azzurri certainly favourites to progress but facing a tough challenge to make the competition in Russia.

The first leg in Scandinavia will be a test for the historic nation and the visitors will surely look to keep it tight and not lose in Solna.

Sweden cannot count of Zlatan Ibrahimovic any longer but are still 5/2 favourites to prevail in the first meeting of the teams.

Finally, Denmark and Republic of Ireland will contest the final European qualifying berth and will clash in Copehagen on Saturday night.

The Irish will fancy their chances of prevailing over two legs but much will depend on the role Christian Eriksen plays for the Scandinavians.

The Tottenham Hotspur star scored against Real Madrid recently and has the quality to fire Denmark to success – back the skillful midfielder to score at any time on Saturday at odds of 7/1.

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