Europe & Africa Cup of Nations Qualifying Projections & Best Bets

Europe & Africa Cup of Nations Qualifying Projections & Best Bets article feature image

Pictured: FRANCISCO MADINGA, GOMEZGANI CHIRWA, LAWRENCE CHAZIYA, KHUDA MUYABA and CHIMWEMWE IDANA of Malawi during the Africa Cup of Nations. (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)

Did you miss International soccer after the World Cup ended? Well, it's back and better than ever as we have important qualifiers in Europe and Africa.

For those who are unaware, I created the Action Network's International Soccer Power Rankings for all 209 countries. Those rankings help me project lines for any given matchup across the world.

Both the rankings and projections are based on four critical factors I believe are essential when trying to handicap international soccer.

1)Expected Goals Results

I am a big believer that expected goals are a better indicator of a nation's performance than what the final score winds up being.

Expected Goals (xG) measure the quality of a chance by calculating the likelihood it will be scored from a particular position on the pitch during a particular phase of play. This value is based on several factors from before the shot was taken. xG is measured on a scale between zero and one, where zero means it is impossible to score and one being a chance in which a player would be expected to score every time.

I have gone through and logged every country's xG results, but only from competitive competitions, meaning no results from friendlies or Nations League competitions were included.

2) Transfer Value Adjustment

I use Michael Caley’s method of using a team's overall transfer value to account for the talent level of each country.

3) FIFA Coefficients

Similar to the idea of UEFA Coefficients, which help determine how many teams each country can get into the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League, I wanted to put a coefficient on each continent.

UEFA Coefficients are determined by how well the club teams from each country do in European competitions.

So, I applied that same method to FIFA Coefficients by going back through the past five World Cup competitions. I gave out point values (based on the criteria below), along with a weight for the average transfer value by continent, to get to a value that can be added to each country's rating based on what continent it resides in.

FIFA Coefficient Points: 

  1. Two points: For all wins in the group and knockout stages
  2. One point: For all draws in the group stage
  3. Two points: Bonus for finishing second in the group
  4. Four points: Bonus for winning the group
  5. One point: Bonus for each round reach from the Round 16 onward

After some calculations, here are the following "FIFA Coefficients" that are added to each country's xG differential plus transfer value adjustment:

4) Strength of Schedule 

Strength of schedule needs to be taken into account when determining rankings like this:

Inside Continent

First, there is a strength-of-schedule adjustment at the intra-continent level, which starts by ranking each team based on its xG differential plus transfer value adjustment. Then, from the average strength of schedule for that specific continent, divided by each team's average rank played, you get the "percentage above/below the average strength of schedule."


Even though FIFA coefficients can give us a good weight for each continent's true level of play, another strength of schedule at the world level is necessary to properly rate each country.

So, there's a "final ranking before strength of schedule adjustment," which is the final rating after taking into account xGDiff plus transfer value adjustment in addition to the intra-continent strength of schedule adjustment.

After that, the same method mentioned above at the intra-continent level is applied at the world level, taking the average strength of schedule of the World Cup teams divided by the average rank of opponents faced minus 100%.

After all of that, let's get to the projections & best bets:

Euro Qualifiers (Thursday March 23rd-Saturday March 25th)


Best Bets

Bulgaria vs. Montenegro

Bulgaria Odds+155
Montenegro Odds+200
Over/Under2.5 (+140 / -175)
Day | TimeFriday | 11 a.m. ET
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This line is way off in my opinion because of the talent gap and results from World Cup qualification. 

Montenegro was put in one of the most difficult World Cup qualifying groups with Netherlands, Turkey and Norway and came out of that with a +3.82 xGD in 10 matches. Sure, they did a lot of their damage against Gibraltar and Latvia, but they played both Turkey and Norway fairly evenly in all four meeting — the combined expected goals was 5.1 to 6.3 over the four meetings.

What is especially important in these types of qualifiers, especially after a World Cup cycle when national teams are changing managers for the next four-year cycle, is continuity. Montenegro has that in Miodrag Radulovic, who has been at the helm since the beginning of 2021. They also play out 4-4-2, which gives them good defensive structure. Tactically, every player on the pitch knows his assignment since they've been playing the same formation for over two years.

Bulgaria, on the other hand, is under a new manager in Mladen Krstajic, who took over in July, meaning they've only really played two competitive matches under him in the UEFA Nations League, beating Gibraltar 5-1 and North Macedonia 1-0.

Although it was under a previous manager, if we go back to World Cup qualifying, Bulgaria was in a group with Switzerland, Italy, Northern Ireland and Lithuania. Outside of the matches against Lithuania, Bulgaria lost the expected goals battle in every single match and had a -7.93 xGD in eight matches overall.

Montenegro also has way more talent than Bulgaria. Per, Montenegro's total squad transfer value is $48.55 million, while Bulgaria's is at $26.8 million.

I have Montenegro projected as a -141 favorite, so I love the value on them Draw no Bet at +105 (DraftKings).

Pick: Montenegro Draw no Bet (+105)

France vs. Netherlands

France Odds-115
Netherlands Odds+320
Over/Under2.5 (+105 / -130)
Day | TimeFriday | 3:45 p.m. ET
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I think this price is a little too inflated on France. Yes, France went all the way to the World Cup final. Yes, they have Kylian Mbappe, who is the best player on the planet. However, the way Didier Deschamps sets them up, doesn't help their case as a favorite.

France forever has been a very passive, low block, counter attacking style team, and it's worked. They've had Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Karim Benzema, who are some of the best attackers in the world. However, throughout their World Cup run, there were a couple really concerning matches where they got pretty thoroughly dominated.

The quarterfinal match against England is a perfect example. France didn't hold a majority of the possession. They let England come right into their final third, but capitalized off the few chances they got on the counter and won the match, despite losing the expected goals battle.

England 1 : 2 France

▪ xG: 2.02 – 1.1
▪ xThreat: 1.79 – 1.49
▪ Possession: 57.0% – 43.0%
▪ Field Tilt: 54.6% – 45.4%
▪ Def Line Height: 47.5 –

— markstats bot (@markstatsbot) December 10, 2022

Netherlands is now under the management of former Everton and Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman, who did manage the Dutch National Team for a brief stint from 2018-2020.

Koeman will apply a lot of the same tactics Louis van Gaal did in the World Cup, which is utilize the wide areas, allow Frenkie De Jong to conduct and control the match from the midfield and stay very compact in the middle of the pitch.

I think this line is a tad inflated for France and the Netherlands should be able to control a majority of the possession.

Pick: Netherlands +0.5 (-115) (DraftKings)

Armenia vs. Turkey

Armenia Odds+700
Turkey Odds-235
Over/Under2.5 (+105 / -130)
Day | TimeSaturday | 12:45 p.m. ET
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This is a really inflated line. In case everyone forgot, Turkey was without a doubt the worst team at Euro 2021. I understand that was a year and a half ago, but the players have not changed from that team that had a -4.7 xGD over three matches.

They are under a new manager Stefan Kuntz, who was hired in September 2021 after the Euros and World Cup qualifying playoff against Portugal. I don't put too much stock into the UEFA Nations League, so take what you are about to read with a grain of salt. Turkey drew Luxembourg and lost to the Faroe Islands away from home this past September.

Armenia was in a pretty easy World Cup qualifying group that had Germany, who beat them pretty soundly in both meetings, but outside of that they actually had a +4.45 expected goal differential against North Macedonia, Iceland, Romania and Liechtenstein.

Armenia also has some talent on their squad. Per, Armenia's total squad transfer value is $31.45 million. Included in the squad is Eduard Spertsyan, who is having a breakout season in the Russian Premier League with nine goals, eight assists and a 0.56 xG + xA per 90 minute rate, per They also called up promising young striker Grant-Leon Ranos, who has 15 goals and eight assists for Bayern Munich II this season.

Turkey doesn't play a style conducive to getting margin, especially on the road. They want to sit deep, allow their opponents to have the ball and counter. They're also very reliant on set pieces to produce a lot of their chances.

I think this is a highly inflated line for Turkey, especially going on the road to a neighboring country.

I actually have Armenia projected as a slight favorite, so I love them on the spread of +1 at +110 odds (DraftKings).

Pick: Armenia +1 (+110)

AFCON Qualifiers (Thursday March 23rd-Friday March 24th)

Best Bets

Ghana vs. Angola

Ghana Odds-235
Angola Odds+600
Over/Under2.5 (+105 / -130)
Day | TimeThursday | 12:00 p.m. ET
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Ghana is really inflated here. For those new to African soccer, it's very low-scoring event. Throughout the Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup qualifiers since 2021, the match average is 2.21 expected goals. That means a lot of the bigger countries across the continent get inflated, as most of the smaller countries play ultra conservative low blocks. So, it becomes more difficult for the bigger countries to break down the opposing defenses due to the very limited time they have to prepare for these matches.

This is one of those instances. Ghana had one win at the World Cup over South Korea, but it was an incredibly lucky one as they scored on all three of their shots on target and then proceeded to gave up a boat load of chances, barely surviving to get all their only three points of the group stage.

South Korea fired in 35 open play crosses in the game against Ghana.

15 of those crosses found a team-mate, which has never been bettered in a #FIFAWorldCup match in recorded history (since 1966).

— Opta Analyst (@OptaAnalyst) November 28, 2022

Going back to before the World Cup, Africa Cup of Nations Qualification started in June. Ghana played two matches, one of them was against Central Africa Republic, which they drew 1-1, and the xG suggests that was a deserved result at 1.3 to 1.0. I have Central Africa Republic power ranked as the 43rd best team in Africa and 158th in the World out of 209. 

Ghana is also playing their first competitive match under Chris Hughton. He was an assistant with the national team for the past year, so I'd imagine the tactics are not going to be drastically different than they were under Otto Addo.

Tactically, Ghana is going to set up in a 4-2-3-1 with Alexander Djiku and Daniel Amartey as a center back pairing, but the whole system is very reliant on Thomas Partey as the holding midfielder to not only protect the back line, but also be the main ball progressor when Ghana tries to play out the back.

The Black Stars have a ton of pace down the left hand side of the pitch with Southampton’s 20-year-old winger Kamaldeen Sulemana. They also have talent with Mohammed Kudus and Inaki Williams up top.

Angola is a highly underrated team in Africa. Throughout World Cup qualification and their first two Africa Cup of Nations qualification matches, they have a +1.75 xGD and thats with having to play both Egypt and Gabon twice.

While Angola lacks a lot of talent, they do have continuity as Pedro Gonçalves has been at the helm since 2019.

I think Ghana is inflated here as I only have them projected as +104 favorites. Give me Angola +1 at -115.

Pick: Angola +1 (-115) (DraftKings)

Egypt vs. Malawi 

Egypt Odds-235
Malawi Odds+600
Over/Under2.5 (+105 / -130)
Day | TimeFriday | 3:00 p.m. ET
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Egypt was one of the luckiest teams in the world from 2021 to 2022 before losing in the AFCON final to Senegal and then over two legs in the World Cup qualification playoff. They reached the Africa Cup of Nations final by winning three consecutive times in extra time, despite having a -2.4 xGDiff for the tournament. 

How Egypt has continued to get results throughout AFCON is really beyond comprehension, but of course they had one of the best attackers in the world in the form of Liverpool's Mo Salah. Suddenly though, Salah isn't in insane form. 

For Liverpool this season, Salah is only at a 0.70 xG + xA per 90 minute rate, which is his lowest ever in a Liverpool shirt. To make matters worse for Egypt, their main midfielder, Arsenal's Mohamed Elneny, is out injured.

So, why is Egypt -475 over a Malawi team that made the Round of 16 in the Africa Cup of Nations? I have no idea. Throughout the entirety of AFCON, World Cup qualifying and the two AFCON qualifiers this summer (to be fair Salah didn't play), Egypt has a -2.54 xGD, but is being priced like they are Nigeria or Morocco, which is just not the case.

I love Malawi's spread of +1.5 at -120 odds (DraftKings)

Pick: Malawi +1.5 (-120)

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