Soccer Europe Qualification Matches 26 March 2023
Armenia vs Turkey - Match Preview
The looming threat of war in Armenia provides an unwelcome backdrop to the beginning of their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign. That’s been made tougher by manager Oleksandr Petrakov’s flailing attempts to get all-time top-scorer Henrikh Mkhitaryan out of retirement in search of a first-ever major tournament qualification as an independent nation, albeit to no avail.
Although Armenia will enter this clash against Turkey as rank outsiders, they may be spurred on by the strange quirk that has seen four of their five victories since the beginning of 2021 come in the month of March. That’s not all as four of their five victories across the previous two calendar years also came right here in Yerevan, each time against higher-ranked nations than themselves!
In a group including both Croatia and Wales, Turkey will be well aware that maximum points will be required against the lesser sides if they’re to gatecrash the top two this time around. Head coach Stefan Kuntz is determined to make a strong start in that regard and “bring some joy” to a nation that faced devastating earthquakes in February.
Taking to the road is unlikely to faze the Crescent Moons, who have won four of their last six away games (W4, L2) which helped them gain promotion to UEFA Nations League B and feature in an unsuccessful World Cup qualification play-off. Settling for a share of the spoils simply isn’t in Turkey’s nature as those six games form part of a run of 11 competitive away matches without a draw (W6, L5), with the odds suggesting they are likely to improve that record and register a second win in Armenia after their only other game here resulted in a 2-0 victory in 2008.
📋 Players to watch: Armenia’s Eduard Spertsyan has raised eyebrows across Europe following his impressive 11-goal haul for Krasnodar this season, with five of the last seven opening the team’s scoring. Turkey’s Orkun Kökçü is similarly well revered throughout the continent after his 12 competitive goals this term have helped keep Feyenoord in the hunt for multiple trophies.
⚡ Hot stat: Just one of Armenia’s last seven internationals produced a goalless first half.
Croatia vs Wales - Match Preview
Croatia has impressed in the last two World Cup tournaments, finishing runners-up in 2018 and then third in 2022. However, they’ve struggled to replicate those performances at the UEFA European Championships, failing to progress past the round of 16 in each of the last three editions. They’ll aim to improve that next time around and are heavily fancied to seal qualification with ease, especially as they’re already assured of at least a play-off spot thanks to their performance in the Nations League.
Despite that, Zlatko Dalić’s men will want to secure their place with style, starting on home soil where they are protecting a proud record of never tasting defeat in a home Euro qualifying match (W27, D8). Six H2H games without a loss against Wales will surely boost confidence that such a home record can be extended again here (W4, D2).
There’s a fresh feel to Wales coming into this new qualifying campaign, with Gareth Bale’s retirement opening the door for fresh blood to join the ranks and manager Robert Page has opted to name four uncapped players in his squad. He’ll be hoping that can help spark a change in fortunes for the Dragons who are without a win in eight matches across all competitions (D2, L6).
While Wales’ first World Cup finals appearance in over 60 years ended with a disappointing exit at the group stage last year, showings at the Euro Championship have tended to be much stronger, reaching the round of 16 or beyond in each of their last two tournaments. That solid form extends to qualifying too, and Wales will head to Split having lost only three of their last 20 Euro qualifiers (W12, D5).
📋 Players to watch: Ivan Perišić scored what proved to be the decisive goal in the last home H2H meeting (2-1), and has been directly involved in four Croatia strikes across his last six international appearances (G1, A3). Nathan Broadhead will be eyeing his first cap for Wales; he’s already netted two club goals this month for Ipswich.
⚡ Hot stat: Croatia has conceded one or no goals in seven of their nine home games since the start of 2021, as well as each of the last three H2Hs.
Spain vs Norway - Match Preview
It’s the dawn of a new era as manager Luis de la Fuente makes his competitive debut as Spain boss with one clear aim - ensuring they qualify for UEFA Euro 2024! He’ll hope that kicking off Group A with a victory over Norway will help extinguish memories of their quarter-final exit in the World Cup last year, and help extend Spain’s impressive record of qualifying for every edition of this tournament since 1996.
"The issue is settled" remarked De la Fuente when asked about Sergio Ramos’ exclusion from their latest squad, with a lack of players from Spain’s ‘golden generation’ marking his intentions. But with reports surfacing that the manager has kept his El Clásico stars separated on the training pitch, he’ll hope there’s enough harmony in his new squad to continue their fine record against Norway (W5, D2, L1).
De la Fuente may have been relieved when news emerged that Norway’s goal-grabbing machine Erling Haaland would be absent from this match. His injury means he’ll also miss his side’s Tuesday clash against Georgia, so Norway boss Ståle Solbakken will be hoping his frontline doesn’t go stale as his side aims for a repeat of their famous Euro 2000 triumph over these opponents.
"Norway are more than just Haaland" stated Spanish and Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, and he may have a point with the Lions having lost just three of their last ten games in an opposition country (W6, D2). But without their pride male, FIFA’s 44th-ranked side will have to show some bite if they’re to avenge a bitter travelling qualification defeat to La Roja in 2019 (2-1), which ultimately saw them fail to qualify for Euro 2020.
📋 Players to watch: Celta Vigo forward Iago Aspas returns to the Spanish fold for the first time since 2019, so he’d love to score here after striking three goals across his last two club outings. Haaland’s injury means Norway look to fellow Premier League star Martin Ødegaard, who brings experience after securing four goal contributions (G1, A3) from his nine appearances in their last Euros’ qualification attempt (inc playoffs).
⚡ Hot streak: Norway has netted first in their last four away outings (W3, L1).
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