Soccer Europe Qualification Matches 28 March 2023
Hungary vs Bulgaria - Match Preview
Hungary head coach Marco Rossi is demanding more from his players as they get their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign underway against Bulgaria. The Magyars may have beaten Estonia 1-0 in a friendly on Thursday, but the defiant boss declared he was “not satisfied” with a number of aspects of their performance, particularly Dominik Szoboszlai and Roland Sallai using a game of rock, paper, scissors to decide who should take a penalty, which the latter missed in the second half.
Despite Rossi’s frustrations, that was an eighth win for Hungary in their last 13 matches (D2, L3), a period that includes a pair of UEFA Nations League victories over FIFA’s #5 ranked side, England. That kind of form will be needed as they look to win their opening group game in European Championship qualifying for the first time in ten attempts (D3, L6), a run that stretches back to 1983!
Standing in their way are Bulgaria, who suffered their second-heaviest defeat at the hands of Hungary in 1947 (9-0) and have won just four of the previous 25 meetings between the two sides (D8, L13)! That doesn’t bode well for the Lions, whose Euro 2024 qualifying campaign got off to a losing start when they were defeated 1-0 by Montenegro on Friday.
They’ll hope that was just a blip as it was the first time they had been beaten under manager Mladen Krstajić, who took charge last year and had won three of his previous four games (D1), conceding just one goal in the process. A swift return to winning ways is now required as Bulgaria, who have not qualified for a major tournament since Euro 2004, look to end a run of just three victories in their last 29 away fixtures (D11, L15 - excludes tournaments).
📋 Players to watch: Martin Ádám’s last eight goalscoring appearances for club or country have been the first or last of the game after he netted his maiden international goal in Hungary’s win over Estonia. He may be trying to outscore Bulgaria captain Kiril Despodov, who is looking for his first goal in European Championship qualifiers and has peculiarly lost six of his previous seven games (W1).
⚡ Hot streak: Bulgaria has not won any of the last 23 away matches in which they have conceded the first goal, a run which dates back to May 2012 (D3, L20 - excludes tournaments).
Ireland vs France - Match Preview
A young Ireland side beat Latvia 3-2 on Wednesday night after 18-year-old Evan Ferguson marked his first start with a goal as they won consecutive internationals for the first time since October 2021. Now the Boys in Green begin their European Championship qualifying (ECQ) campaign against World Cup runners-up France, a side they haven’t beaten since October 1981 – long before Ferguson was born!
Against a higher calibre of opponent, he could struggle to make another match-winning impact as Ireland has conceded twice in each of their last three home games (W2, L1), so their bid to qualify for the Euros for the first time since 2016 must start with more defensive solidity. That said, they’ve often made life difficult for France, who’ve never won an H2H meeting by more than a two-goal margin.
France famously needed an assist from Thierry Henry’s hand to win a two-legged World Cup play-off in 2009, but nothing of the sort was required as they opened their ECQ campaign by hammering the Netherlands 4-0 on Friday. After Kylian Mbappé’s reign as the captain began perfectly, manager Didier Deschamps said, “It’s a great return, even if this Dutch side had a few issues.”
Deschamps also stressed “we don’t have long to recover” before their clash with Ireland, and he’s got good reason to be wary as Les Bleus haven’t won any of their last three matches as the away side (D2, L1) and curiously, each of their last four such games produced exactly two goals. They’ve won their last three ECQ away games ‘to nil’ though, and haven’t conceded in any of their last three visits to the Emerald Isle (W2, D1).
📋 Key battle: Ireland’s new star Ferguson has netted three times in his last two matches for club and country, on both occasions netting the game’s second goal. To continue that run he’ll have to beat France’s new first-choice goalkeeper Mike Maignan, who has kept clean sheets in three of his six international appearances.
⚡ Hot streak: Each of Ireland’s last nine home ECQ games produced under 2.5 goals (W5, D4).
Poland vs Albania - Match Preview
Poland’s journey to Germany got off to the worst possible start as they opened their Euro 2024 qualification campaign with a 3-1 loss to the Czech Republic, their third defeat in succession. It wouldn’t have been the opening chapter newly appointed coach Fernando Santos would have scripted. Still, the hope will be that he draws on his wealth of experience - which includes winning Euro 2016 - to guide Poland to not only their fifth consecutive appearance at the European Championships, but also their fifth consecutive major tournament appearance.
Despite their early setback, qualification seems a highly attainable target on paper for the nation ranked 22nd in the world by FIFA, especially considering the rest of Group E features sides ranked outside the top 50 in Moldova (#174), Faroe Islands (#123rd), and their next opponents Albania (#66). Poland will know this is the perfect opportunity to get back on track, particularly since they’ve only lost one of their 13 encounters with Albania (W9, D3) while winning each of the last six.
This game acts as Albania’s qualification opener, and while the highlighted H2H record does spell trouble, they will come into the contest on the back of a solid 2-0 success over Armenia in November. That was a hugely morale-boosting win for Sylvinho’s men, especially as it halted what was a worrying ten-game winless run prior (D5, L5).
The Red and Blacks have only ever won the opening match of a European qualification campaign once in 13 attempts (D3, L9 - excluding walkovers), with that being for Euro 2016, where they went on to secure progression and make their only appearance at a major tournament finals. However, prospects of getting off to such a start here don’t look good, particularly when you throw in they’ve only won one of their last ten away assignments (D3, L6).
📋 Players to watch: Piotr Zielinski has won all his club matches which he’s scored in this season (W6), while also never suffering defeat when bagging for Poland (W5, D4). They’ll need to be on the lookout for Albania’s Myrto Uzuni who seems to do his best work late on, with all five of his international goals coming after half-time, and the last four arriving in the 80th minute or later.
⚡ Hot streak: Excluding one 0-0 draw, Poland’s last ten matches have seen the side scoring first avoid defeat.
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