European World Cup Qualifiers: Match Days 2 and 3

As we hurtle headlong into six days of European qualifying action, there is one standout fixture that sits above all others in this round of fixtures. On Thursday evening in Turin, Italy will take on Spain in a Group G clash that sees the first opportunity for one of these global powerhouses to take a significant step to grabbing the lone automatic qualifying spot from this group.

It is a fixture with a great deal of history, even if it hasn’t actually been played competitively all that often. But when they do clash, tensions invariably run high. Until a Euro 2008 quarter-final in which Spain finally overcame their Italian hex with a penalty shoot-out victory on the way to winning the tournament, the two sides had met four times in major tournament finals. Spain had not prevailed in any of them,

Most controversially of all there was the quarter final clash in the 1994 World Cup in Foxboro, Massachusetts, when Mauro Tassotti smashed Luis Enrique’s nose all over his face only to escape without a red card or even a penalty kick, and then Roberto Baggio winning the match with a fabulous goal in the dying moments.

That defeat haunted Spain for years. One journalist in Spanish sports newspaper Marca summed their Italian obsession rather neatly:

“I go to fill the car with petrol and there’s Luis Enrique vomiting blood behind the pump; I go to take a piss and there’s Luis Enrique in the cubicle, doubled over, cleaning the blood off his disfigured face; I climb into bed and there’s someone there next to my wife – it’s Mauro Tassotti.”

That all changed after Spain edged the Euro 2008 quarter final on penalties, before turning the humiliation on their rivals four years later in the Euro 2012 final in Kiev, when Spain reached their glorious peak and won 4-0.

If there is only one European match you watch in this current round of fixtures, make sure it is this one.

My Prediction: Italy 1-1 Spain
WGF Prediction: Draw

And the rest…

 

Group A

France are the huge favourites in this group, and yet they only managed a 0-0 draw in Belarus in their opening match, while their next opponents, Bulgaria, sit atop the group as the only team with a win so far. But that came with a last gasp 4-3 win over Luxembourg. This isn’t a great Bulgarian team, so expect France to get back on track before they head to Amsterdam for a crunch tie with the Netherlands on Monday.

Meanwhile Sweden have the chance to get a few points on the board against Luxembourg and Bulgaria. Two wins would really be the expectation of they are to make much of a realistic challenge on the qualifying places, but in their post-Zlatan era, that may be tough.

My Prediction WGF Prediction
7th October
France v. Bulgaria 3-0 France by 3 goals
Luxembourg v. Sweden 1-2 Sweden by 2 goals
Netherlands v. Belarus 3-1 Netherlands by 1 goal
10th October
Belarus v. Luxembourg 1-1 Belarus by 3 goals
Netherlands v. France 1-2 Draw
Sweden v. Bulgaria 1-0 Sweden by 2

 

Group B

European Champions Portugal managed to lose their opener to Switzerland in September, but were without a certain Cristiano Ronaldo (although they did of course win the Euro final without him). If they fail to pick up 6 points from this week’s tow fixtures, something really will be wrong. Andorra and the Faroe Islands can surely not match up to the European Champions.

Hungary against Switzerland on Friday is probably the pick of the fixtures, with these two sides expecting to be challenging for qualification, or a play-off spot. Another Swiss win would put them in pole position in the group, particularly if they followed that up by winning in Andorra.

My Prediction WGF Prediction
7th October
Hungary v. Switzerland 1-2 Draw
Latvia v. Faroe Islands 1-1 Latvia by 1 goal
Portugal v. Andorra 5-0 Portugal by 5 goals
10th October
Andorra v. Switzerland 0-3 Switzerland by 4 goals
Faroe Islands v. Portugal 0-2 Portugal by 2 goals
Latvia v. Hungary 1-2 Draw

 

Group C

This is Germany’s group. All the others are along for the ride and a play-off spot. However, Germany’s two home games this week are against the toughest opposition they will face in the Czech Republic and Northern Ireland. But really, it would be a big surprise for Die Mannschaft to fail to win both, although Northern Ireland have given Germany problems more than once over the years.

For the Czechs and the Irish, after they drew in Prague last month, it is a case of keeping the pressure on each other. Northern Ireland were undoubtedly the happier after that opening draw and can surely add a win against San Marino before they go to Germany. If either team could grab a point in Germany, then they would take pole position in the race to finish second.

My Prediction WGF Prediction
8th October
Azerbaijan v. Norway 1-1 Norway by 1 goal
Germany v. Czech Republic 3-1 Germany by 1 goal
Northern Ireland v. San Marino 3-0 Northern Ireland by 4 goals
11th October
Czech Republic v. Azerbaijan 2-0 Czech by 3 goals
Germany v. Northern Ireland 3-0 Germany by 1 goal
Norway v. San Marino 4-0 Norway by 3 goals

Group D

Austria and Wales were the only teams to win their opening games in this group, and they face each other in Vienna on Thursday in a vital clash. They Euro 2016 fortunes contrasted sharply with each other, but there is sufficient talent in the Austrian team to trouble a Welsh side that will be without the influential Aaron Ramsey. They still have Gareth Bale of course though.

Ireland picked up a good point in Serbia last month and will expect to consolidate that decent start with wins over Georgia and Moldova. Nothing less than 6 points will do if Ireland are to push for qualification.

Serbia also face Moldova before hosting Austria. This will be an interesting clash between two teams with talent to spare, but often not too much to show for it. If there is a winner in Belgrade on Sunday that will have a significant bearing on the group.

My Prediction WGF Prediction
6th October
Austria v. Wales 1-1 Draw
Moldova v. Serbia 0-2 Serbia by 2 goals
Ireland v. Georgia 3-0 Ireland by 2 goals
9th October
Wales v. Georgia 3-0 Wales by 2 goals
Moldova v. Ireland 0-3 Ireland by 3 goals
Serbia v. Austria 1-0 Draw

Group E

Poland were shocked by Kazakhstan last month, only managing a 2-2 draw. This really ought to be a group they can win comfortably, and it may yet be, but that disappointing start has piled a bit of pressure on their next match. They have two home fixtures this week, but both have their potential hazards. Denmark are first to visit Warsaw on Saturday, before Armenia three days later. How Poland fare in these will show whether we are right to expect them to top this group comfortably or not.

The other teams in the group are all rather closely matched. Don’t be surprised if Armenia manage a positive result against Romania, or Montenegro make Denmark struggle.

My Prediction WGF Prediction
8th October
Armenia v. Romania 1-0 Romania by 1 goal
Montenegro v. Kazakhstan 1-0 Draw
Poland v. Denmark 2-1 Poland by 1 goal
11th October
Kazakhstan v. Romania 1-2 Romania by 1 goal
Denmark v. Montenegro 2-0 Denmark by 2 goals
Poland v. Armenia 3-1 Poland by 3 goals

Group F

Oh England! From one crisis to the next. After Icelandic humiliation comes the greed and stupidity of Sam Allardyce. He departed his managerial post after 60-odd days and one game in charge. He is destined to become the answer to a pub quiz question as he is the only England manager to leave the post with a 100% record.

That win came in stoppage time in Slovakia, but England, even in their current shambles and with yet another new, possibly temporary, regime will surely make better work of beating Malta on Saturday. The trip to Slovenia on Tuesday next week may be rather trickier though – one to keep an eye on.

Scotland will hope to pick up a win at home to Lithuania to keep up their good start, though the trip to Slovakia next week is an intriguing clash. If Scotland are to challenge for qualification, that is a match they surely can’t afford to lose. For Slovakia, it is one they need to win after losing out so late to England. They also face a trip to Slovenia so it could be a make or break week for Slovakia even at this early stage of the process.

My Prediction WGF Prediction
8th October
England v. Malta 5-0 England by 5 goals
Scotland v. Lithuania 2-0 Scotland by 3 goals
Slovenia v. Slovakia 1-1 Slovakia by 1 goal
11th October
Lithuania v. Malta 2-1 Lithuania by 1 goal
Slovakia v. Scotland 2-1 Scotland by 1 goal
Slovenia v. England 1-2 England by 2 goals

Group G

I’ve already covered Italy and Spain, which is far and away the most interesting fixture in this group. But it may be worth keeping an eye on Albania, who take on Liechtenstein and then Spain. They have come on leaps and bounds in recent years, culminating in their qualification for the last Euros, and winning their final group match there against Romania. But they have lost some of their squad depth to Kosovo so the interest lies in seeing if they can keep up their progress.

Realistically though, both Albania and Israel are only fighting each other for third place behind the big two. Israel face a tricky trip to Macedonia before hosting Liechtenstein, and could do with a good handful of points from those two.

My Prediction WGF Prediction
6th October
Italy v. Spain 1-1 Draw
Liechtenstein v. Albania 0-2 Albania by 2 goals
Macedonia v. Israel 1-1 Draw
9th October
Israel v. Liechtenstein 3-0 Israel by 2 goals
Albania v. Spain 0-2 Spain by 1 goal
Macedonia v. Italy 0-1 Italy by 2 goals

Group H

This group had three winners last month, with the three teams likeliest to challenge for qualification all managing to earn three points in very comfortable fashion. Those three – Bosnia, Greece and Belgium – can hope to add to their tally again this month, but it won’t be quite so straightforward. Bosnia must travel to Brussels to take on a Belgium side that seems to have swapped one manager who couldn’t get the best out of a talented squad, for another. Roberto Martinez, formerly of Swansea, Wigan and Everton, is the man in charge, but is yet to convince. If he can plot a course to victory over Bosnia though, then qualification prospects will be looking good for the Red Devils. They will undoubtedly follow that up with a win over Gibraltar on Monday.

And speaking of Gibraltar, I will keeping a check on their progress against Estonia on Friday, as this is an opponent that Gibraltar have actually enjoyed a bit of success over in the recent past, with a 1-1 friendly draw in Tallinn a couple of years ago. Back in the same venue it will be interesting to see if they can repeat that performance. They also lost 0-2 at home to Estonia in another friendly, which may not have been so successful but does certainly demonstrate that these two sides are not worlds apart at all.

Greece, meanwhile, face a derby clash with Cyprus on Friday; a match that will be notable for the fact that both teams share the same national anthem. It may prove to be quite a close contest, though the Cypriot national team hasn’t enjoyed as much relative success as some Cypriot clubs have done in recent years. But after Greece’s disastrous Euro 2016 campaign, they need to keep the winning feeling going if they aren’t to fade from contention early once again.

My Prediction WGF Prediction
7th October
Belgium v. Bosnia 2-1 Belgium by 1 goal
Estonia v. Gibraltar 1-0 Estonia by 3 goals
Greece v. Cyprus 2-1 Greece by 1 goal
10th October
Bosnia v. Cyprus 2-1 Bosnia by 3 goals
Estonia v, Greece 1-1 Draw
Gibraltar v. Belgium 0-5 Belgium by 4 goals

Group I

This group could not be closer. All three matches last month ended in 1-1 draws, meaning that everyone is still tied for 1st place, and there are some very tasty fixtures this time around too. Iceland have two home games coming up, and they are notably strong at home in Reykjavik. They host Finland on Thursday in a match they really ought to win, before hosting Turkey in a crucial match in the context of the group. They beat Turkey in Euro qualifying, and will need to do the same if they are to keep pace in this difficult group.

Favourites Croatia face two awkward but winnable away ties in Kosovo and Finland. Having failed to win at home to Turkey, they need to rack up the points here to edge ahead in the race for the only automatic qualifying place.

Turkey face Ukraine before their trip to Iceland which again could be a crucial clash. This group is so evenly matched that the top spot really is up for grabs for whichever team can put a strong run of form together. Croatia may be favourites but it’s not by much, and it would be not great shock for any of Turkey, Iceland or Ukraine to win through instead. But that requires making no mistakes against Kosovo or Finland, while gaining a few wins against the other contenders. Each round of fixtures in this group will be intriguing.

My Prediction WGF Prediction
6th October
Iceland v. Finland 2-0 Iceland by 2 goals
Kosovo v. Croatia 1-2 Croatia by 1 goal
Turkey v, Ukraine 2-1 Turkey by 1 goal
9th October
Finland v. Croatia 0-2 Croatia by 1 goal
Ukraine v. Kosovo 2-0 Ukraine by 1 goal
Iceland v. Turkey 1-1 Draw

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