Soccer Europe Qualification Matches 29 March 2023
Georgia vs Norway - Match Preview
Georgia head into Euro 2024 qualifying full of confidence after registering their third-biggest victory of all time on Saturday night. Giorgi Chakvetadze netted twice as the Crusaders hammered Mongolia 6-1 in a friendly, a result that means they have won ten of their 13 matches (D2, L1) since October 2021, form they’ll need to transfer into these qualifiers if they’re to secure a first-ever Euro finals appearance as an independent nation.
That form has seen them promoted to the second tier of the UEFA Nations League, and has given them an alternate crack at qualification via the play-offs should they be unsuccessful in Group A. Willy Sagnol’s side will be wary of the visit of Norway though, to whom they have lost each of their previous three meetings, including a pair of defeats in Euro 2000 qualifying.
If it comes as any consolation to the hosts, at least Ståle Solbakken’s side won’t have goal-machine Erling Haaland at their disposal, after he pulled out of international duty with a groin injury. In his absence, the Scandinavians got their Euro 2024 qualification campaign underway with a 3-0 defeat against Spain on Saturday, a third straight competitive loss.
Solbakken insists his side put in a performance better than the result suggests against Spain, claiming “there was a point waiting for us.” The fact is, however, that he has to find a way to consistently win games in Haaland’s absence, as Norway has worryingly picked up just two victories in the nine matches Haaland has missed since 2019 (D3, L4), compared to 13 successes in the 21 internationals in which he has featured over the same period (D2, L6).
📋 Key battle: Georgia star Khvicha Kvaratskhelia is unbeaten in his last ten internationals (W9, D1), including wins in each of his six goal-scoring appearances. He may come face-to-face with Napoli teammate Leo Skiri Østigård, who has failed to help Norway keep a clean sheet in his last six caps (W2, D1, L3).
⚡ Hot streak: Georgia has won each of the last 11 games in which they have scored the first goal.
Romania vs Belarus - Match Preview
After a 2-0 win over Andorra in their opening Euro 2024 qualifier, Romania is once again huge favourites as they aim to reach a second final from the last three cycles. Yet, with their latest maximum return from the first two European Championship Qualification (ECQ) rounds dating back to the autumn of 1998 (for Euro 2000), complacency isn’t an option.
Expect Romania to start well en route to any victory too, especially when taking their home results from the latest UEFA Nations League (UNL) campaign (W2, L1) at face value. Notably, all three games saw the day’s victors lead 1-0 at half-time, while Romania has also won the first half in a majority (three) of their previous five ECQ home victories.
Belarus could argue that starting against Group I’s top seeds at an empty Stadion Karađorđe in Serbia provides mitigation for Saturday’s collapse vs Switzerland (5-0). But Bucharest’s 55,000-capacity Arena Naţională offers no foreseeable respite, especially with September 2010 still marking Belarus’ last competitive win over a side in FIFA’s current top 50.
For that reason, it already looks as though Belarus’ maiden Euro finals appearance in the post-Soviet era will take a miracle. That feeling only gains traction when also looking at Belarus’ results posted as visitors in the 2022/23 UNL edition (D1, L2), within which they consistently dropped points via goals conceded beyond the hour mark.
📋 Key battle: Dennis Man netted Romania’s opener in Andorra on Saturday, and did likewise in his nation’s latest home win last September, with both strikes arriving in the 31’-45’ period. Given that, Belarus goalkeeper Andrey Kudravets will do well to stop him, especially after conceding a hat-trick in the first half-hour of his own ECQ curtain-raiser!
⚡ Hot stat: All three of Romania’s prior home H2Hs vs Belarus have seen both teams combine to produce over 3.5 total goals (W2, D1).
Scotland vs Spain - Match Preview
A handsome 3-0 victory over Cyprus in Scotland’s first UEFA Euro 2024 qualifier perhaps flattered them a little, with two late Scott McTominay goals glossing over a rather subdued performance against FIFA’s #110 ranked side. A far sterner test now presents itself for the Scots, with three-time European champions and #10 ranked Spain next to try and end their unbeaten competitive run (W4, D1).
Scotland would like to think that despite the 32-place gulf between the sides, a seven-match winning run in major tournament qualification matches (excluding play-offs) is evidence that they can rub shoulders with the best. There’ll have to be marked improvement on the Cyprus performance to extend that winning run, as boss Steve Clarke noted in the aftermath of Saturday’s win, but it does seem unlikely given Scotland’s last win against a team currently ranked in FIFA’s top-ten came back in October 2013.
There was a similar lethargy in Spain’s opening-day victory over Norway, scoring early before two late goals rounded off a 3-0 victory. Like his Scottish counterpart, Spain boss Luis de la Fuente has also called on his side to “improve” ahead of the first H2H clash since October 2011, a game won by the Spanish as part of a five-match unbeaten H2H run (W3, D2).
Spain look well placed to add to that here, as only once in 18 away Euros qualifiers have they tasted defeat (W14, D3), though the fact they’ve conceded exactly once in the last four of those does show they have some vulnerability about them. However, the fact Spain scored in each of those 18 games shows they have the firepower to offset that leaky defence as they seek an eighth-straight Euros finals appearance.
📋 Players to watch: John McGinn kick-started Scotland’s scoring against Cyprus and he has interestingly opened or closed the scoring in all five of his Euro qualification scoring appearances. Joselu was at the double in Spain’s opener, becoming the oldest player to score on his Spain debut since 2006.
⚡ Hot streak: Spain’s last six European Championship qualifiers have witnessed scoring after the 80th minute.
Turkey vs Croatia - Match Preview
After getting the better of Armenia with a 2-1 win in their opening game, Stefan Kuntz’s early group-toppers Turkey will look to spread some more joy following the country's devastating earthquakes last month. Next up they have the daunting task of welcoming World Cup semi-finalists Croatia, but a run of three consecutive 2-1 wins should serve to raise Turkish hopes as they look to bare their teeth at a stadium famously designed as a giant crocodile, the Timsah Arena!
Pre-match outsiders here, Turkey certainly have shown their bite on home soil in recent years as they haven’t suffered a single competitive home defeat since a UEFA Nations League loss to Hungary back in 2020 (W5, D5). The recent form between these two nations suggests they might be able to continue that home run as Turkey are unbeaten in each of the last three H2Hs, including two at home (W1, D1).
Perhaps further playing into Turkey’s hands is Croatia’s failure to justify their pre-match favourite tag on Saturday against a Wales side in transition, falling foul of a painful 93rd-minute equaliser to draw 1-1. That opening draw places more importance on this clash as defeating Turkey is the only realistic way Croatia can end this break inside the group’s top two as they search for their sixth straight European finals appearance.
Croatia boss Zlatko Dalić will hope for an immediate resurgence as he seeks to extend his nation’s incredible run of eight away internationals without defeat (W7, D1), since losing to England at Wembley in the last European Championship. An incredible six of the eight games in that streak saw Croatia keep clean sheets whilst three of the last four ended 1-0, so this could be another game of fine margins.
📋 Players to watch: Feyenoord star Orkun Kökçü successfully translated his prolific club form (G12) onto the international stage by scoring Turkey’s opener last time out. Similarly red-hot is Croatia’s Andrej Kramarić, who has scored three goals in his last two games for club & country despite not featuring for the full 90 minutes either time.
⚡ Hot stat: Turkey has scored before half-time in nine of their last ten internationals.
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