European Championship qualifiers preview
We have approached our first international break of the season, and in a previous article, we took a look at the fixtures that the Home Nations have on the horizon this weekend.
Of course, it would be remiss to just shed the spotlight on four nations that are attempting to qualify for next season’s European Championship, especially when you consider that another 51 also share that same dream.
With an array of top-level international fixtures being played all across the continent over the course of the next few days, we are going to take a look at some of the most important clashes.
A titanic clash awaits in Group C
A quick look at Group C of the Euro 2020 qualifiers would suggest that it is all very much to play for, and although Germany and the Netherlands are undoubtedly the biggest names in this mini-league, it is actually Northern Ireland who find themselves leading the way at present.
Whether Michael O’Neill’s men can last the pace and book a second successive finals appearance remains to be seen, and their fixtures against Germany and the Netherlands are going to be pivotal in whether they qualify or not.
The same could be said for the meetings between Germany and the Netherlands themselves, and Friday evening will see the two European heavyweights square off once again, with the stakes arguably being higher for the Dutch.
Ronald Koeman has already overseen one defeat to Germany in this qualification process, though the Netherlands did pick up four points from the six that were on offer in their Nations League clashes last season.
There is already added pressure for the Dutch, as they currently lie third in the group, and have not qualified for a major finals (Nations League final appearances notwithstanding) since the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
To miss out on another international party, especially one that they are playing a part in hosting next summer, would be a very bitter pill for the nation to swallow, and that’s why they need to find a performance on Friday night.
They may be the underdogs going into this game, but at Sportsbet’s inviting odds of 3.60, they must be highly considered for an away win and one that would give an almighty boost to their Euro 2020 qualification hopes.
Spain look to continue perfection
When you talk about Spain in international footballing circles, you immediately look back to the golden era that saw La Roja win an unprecedented three successive major tournaments between 2008 and 2012.
Those four years saw some of the best international football ever played, and the ‘tiki-taka’ style that was adopted is one that has had a profoundly positive effect on the game.
Players such as Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and David Silva may no longer be part of Spain’s international set-up, but when you look at the make-up of their latest squad and perhaps the players who did not make the cut, it is fair to say that this is a nation that has an embarrassment of riches to call upon.
The Spanish have made a perfect start to their European Championship qualification proceedings with four wins on the board already, and on Thursday night, they will look to extend that record to five in Bucharest.
With a trip to Bucharest on the agenda, this means that Romania will provide the opposition, and although the Romanians have picked up seven points from the first 12 that have been made available, this is set to be their sternest test so far.
Spain have breezed past all that have stood before them, and with the camp brimming with at the moment, they are undoubted favourites to win this one – if you think that they will return home with all three points, you can back them with Sportsbet at odds of 1.42.
Portugal need an ignition spark
Although Portugal added the UEFA Nations League to their Euro 2016 success, their record in qualification for next summer’s finals has been rather lacklustre, and with two draws from as many matches, they will need to discover their winning groove once more.
They are battling it out in Group B, which is arguably one of the more perplexing of the groups due to the amount of nations that can rely on the safety net of a play-off berth that has already been earned.
Portugal, along with Saturday’s opponents Serbia and also current table-toppers Ukraine, all go into this qualification procedure knowing that if they finish outside the top two, they still have the play-offs to fall back on.
However, with Ukraine already on 10 points from their first four matches, it looks as if there is only going to be one automatic berth that is realistically left up for grabs – one that will likely be contested by Serbia and Portugal.
The Serbs may have made a slightly unconvincing start to their qualification campaign with four points from their first three matches, but that does include a 1-1 away draw against Portugal in March of this year.
Therefore, home advantage will be key in this encounter as they look to turn the screw on an already faltering Portuguese qualification plan. At the same time, you must never forget that Portugal will have Cristiano Ronaldo among their ranks this weekend.
The Juventus forward and Portuguese icon has just won their player of the year award for a staggering 10th time in his career (in fairness, who else could even lay claim to such an honour?), and he will want to show just why he has been handed the accolade once again.
Portugal may be away from home in this one, but you do get the feeling that their Nations League success will prove to be the spark they needed – and that’s why Sportsbet’s odds of 2.15 for them to pick up maximum points must be given some serious thought.
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Words: Josh Dixon