Northern Ireland 1.511/2 v Estonia 8.415/2; The Draw 4.1
Thursday 21 March, 19:45
Live on Sky Sports Main Event
Fast start essential for Ireland in tough group
Northern Ireland have been given a good opportunity to make a strong start to the qualification campaign for the 2020 European Championship and it's one that they must take if they are to stand any chance winning automatic promotion.
Having been drawn alongside Holland and Germany in Group C, the odds are firmly stacked against Northern Ireland. Their back-to-back home matches against first Estonia and then Belarus in the next week, are therefore must-win games.
Michael O'Neill's team had a disastrous time in the Nations League last year, losing all four matches as they were relegated from League B. The Irish have been over-performing for some time though and such a reckoning was always going to come. A series of games against weaker opposition - their first four qualifiers are the home and away matches against Estonia and Belarus - should give us a better idea of Northern Ireland's current status.
O'Neill's squad contains plenty of the old guard that have served him so well and won qualification for Euro 2016, but some new names are beginning to emerge. Leeds goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell and the Norwich left-back Jamal Lewis are establishing themselves as regulars, while O'Neill has given a first call up to Arsenal's teenage defender Daniel Ballard.
Relegated Estonia in surprisingly good form
If Northern Ireland's relegation from their Nations League group is a cause for concern, it should be noted that Estonia were also demoted.
The Eastern Europeans finished bottom of Group 2 of League C, behind Finland, Hungary and Greece. Estonia will now compete in the bottom tier of the Nations League when the competition next takes place in 2020.
Yet despite their relegation there are signs of improvement. Estonia have only lost one of their last five matches (W2 D2) and beat Greece 1-0 in their most recent competitive away game.
This run took the pressure off the manager Martin Reim, with his side having lost all of their previous five matches. Reim has named an experienced squad for this qualifier and the subsequent friendly with Gibraltar, containing two players with over 100 caps and seven with over 50 appearances.
Irish defence can hold firm
Northern Ireland are 1.511/2 favourites, with the draw at 4.1 and a Estonia win at 8.415/2.
There's little value in backing a home victory at that price, considering that Northern Ireland come into this match off the back of a four game winless streak (D1 L3). The key to finding some value could be to back Northern Ireland's reliable defence to keep a clean sheet. Northern Ireland are 2.01/1 to win to nil, against an Estonia side that failed to score in four of their six Nations League matches.
Goals could be scarce
Three of Northern Ireland's last four games have gone into half-time with the match goalless.
The 0-0 half-time score can be backed at 2.3811/8. Under 1.5 goals in the match is another bet to consider at 2.68/5. It has landed in two of Estonia's last three outings.
Back Northern Ireland to beat Estonia to nil at 2.01/1