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Our previews will be rolling out based on the day of the games. Today is these 3, and we’ll keep rolling out predictions each day.
Latvia v. Iceland – Riga, Latvia
Latvia did well to get a point on the road at Kazakhstan. They’ll return home where one end of the stadium is an open field, and the other is a collegiate field house. Iceland currently tops Group A. They took full advantage of 10 man Turkey to get off to a hot start. This group is certainly blown wide open after just one round of games. The Dutch are still the favorites, but if Iceland can start off on 6 points, they must be feeling great about their chances to finish in the Top 2. Iceland is the better team despite coming from a lower pot, and Latvia is not known for their raucous home crowd. We think Iceland gets the job done.
Prediction: Latvia 1 – Iceland 2
Netherlands v. Kazakhstan – Amsterdam, Netherlands
After losing their first match to Czech Republic, the Dutch have far less margin for error. Thankfully hosting Kazakhstan should not be much difficulty. While they certainly do not want to be caught looking ahead to Iceland, jumping on the Kazakhs early should enable some extra rest for the regulars. Kazakhstan couldn’t take care of Latvia at home, and things will probably get far worse for them here. This one could get ugly and should never be in doubt.
Prediction: Netherlands 4 – Kazakhstan 0
Turkey v. Czech Republic – Istanbul, Turkey
With the 3rd place finisher in each group still having a shot to move on, you can’t say this is a “must win” for Turkey, but you don’t want to fall behind here. Having lost to Iceland and the Czechs already defeating the Netherlands, any missed points here for Turkey will make things very, very difficult, especially if Iceland keeps it rolling at Latvia. This is certainly the game to watch in Group A as each team will have something to prove. Ultimately, we don’t think there will be enough Krusovice left in the barrel to hold off the hosts.
Prediction: Turkey 2 – Czech Republic 1
Our standings also project out very similar to our previous estimates. Things could change, however, based on the Turkey-Czech result.
- Czech Republic
Belgium v. Andorra – Brussels, Belgium
Belgium gets their campaign underway with the easiest match they’ll get in the group stage. Given that Cyprus clearly is no pushover, they’ll want to come out strong and make a statement. We have Andorra projected to finish more than 9 points behind the 2nd to last place team, whoever that may be. Belgium may be looking forward to Monday’s showdown at Bosnia, but they’ll be OK. As was the case with San Marino, we’ll round their negative projected goals up to 0.
Prediction: Belgium 4 – Andorra 0
Cyprus v. Israel – Nicosia, Cyprus
We got a first timer! Israel likewise starts their qualifying bid here, and this game is not going to be an easy one. Cyprus’ win at Bosnia solidified them as a team that is going to be tough to beat on a consistent basis. Israel has not played since a June win over Honduras, so they could be a little rusty here. It might be a little bit of a stretch to expect the home team to pull out another win, but at least a point is certainly within reach. This will probably be a low scoring, but exciting game. Our predictor has this one very close, as it should be.
Prediction: Cyprus 1 – Israel 2
Wales v. Bosnia-Herzegovina – Cardiff, Wales
If you can only see one match on Friday, make it this one. Wales almost didn’t come back home from Andorra with 3 points, but they got the goal they needed. Bosnia, meanwhile, never left home and still wound up empty handed. We had Bosnia as the clear favorite for 2nd in this group, but just one match opened this group wide up. Each of these teams has a legit shot at directly qualifying for France. We honestly would not be surprised to see any result in this match. If Wales can get 3 points here, they’ll be the clear favorites to grab that spot. We think that’ll be tough to do.
Prediction: Wales 1 – Bosnia-Herzegovina 1
Projected Standings remain the same if these results hold but teams 2-4 are all right there.
Bulgaria v. Croatia – Sofia, Bulgaria
Now we’re talking. This is one of those rare instances where our goal matrix likes two results exactly the same. A Croatia narrow victory and a draw are by far the 2 most likely instances here. Bulgaria did well to get off to a good start, but a road win at Azerbaijan wasn’t enough to catapult them into the WGF Top 50. Croatia handled Malta and moved on. They could have had more than 2 but did not convert. This is another match that should be tight the entire way through. If the visitors can take all 3 points here, it should be relatively smooth sailing to France. Bulgaria needs to win this match to have a shot at the Top 2.
Prediction: Bulgaria 1 – Croatia 2
Italy v. Azerbaijan – Palermo, Italy
This one may not be as straightforward as it seems. Italy struggled at home in a 1-1 draw against Luxembourg before the World Cup and didn’t make it out of the Group Stage. They got it together in September though, defeating Norway on the road in qualifying and an impressive home friendly win over the Netherlands. We liked Azerbaijan as a dark horse in this group, but perhaps we were a little too optimistic. Italy should get the job done, and if Croatia does indeed defeat Bulgaria, the top 2 in this group should just be a formality.
Prediction: Italy 3 – Azerbaijan 0
Malta v. Norway – Ta’Qali, Malta
Looking at this fixture does not scream out exciting match, but you may be surprised by this one. We have Norway all the way down at #73, as their recent form hasn’t been anything special. Malta is not a good team, but they’re certainly not on the level of Andorra or San Marino. They’ll put up a fight, and we think they’ll even bag a goal. These are the matches where Norway needs to exceed expectations to have a realistic shot of catching Bulgaria for 3rd place. Definitely one to wathc.
Prediction: Malta 1 – Norway 2
No change in the projections whatsoever. Italy and Croatia are well ahead of the pack.
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