There are some tasty contests on the menu, among the European Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, due to take place in March. The next round of matches runs between the 24th and 31st of the month and here are some of Expat Sports top picks.
Finland v Bosnia and Herzegovina 24th of March 2021
Finland has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup™. However, in 2020 they made the UEFA European Championship for the first time. The team’s successful
UEFA European Championship qualifying campaign in Group J, was boosted by an outstanding performance from 30 year old Teemu Eino Antero Pukki.
A quality centre-forward, Pukki plays for Norwich City in the English Championship league and scored ten goals during qualification. Another to watch is Fredrik Jensen a 23 year-old winger with FC Augsburg in Germany, who has also been among the goals since his promotion to the senior national side.
Arguably the best assembly of players Finland has had in many years, the side is in excellent form having won their last 4 games against top opposition. Beating Bulgaria home 2-0 and away 2-1, France away 2-0 and Ireland at home 1-0. The majority of the squad play their football abroad, mainly in Europe, with players plying their trade in the upper tiers of Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the UK.
While Bosnia and Herzegovina are a young side, mainly early to mid-twenties with plenty of promise, in terms of momentum going into the game they are not on a high, having lost four games and drawn their last against the Netherlands. The team lost their first encounter against the Netherlands 3-1, this was interspersed with losses against Italy and Ireland, going down 2-0 in both games, followed by a 3-0 drubbing in Poland.
Bosnia and Herzegovina achieved their best result when they reached the
2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ as winners of their qualifying group. They were eliminated after narrow group stage defeats to Argentina and Nigeria and a win over Iran. Unfortunately, more recently being beaten by Portugal, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland has prevented the team from reaching their first
UEFA European Championship.
The national side has called up a wide selection of players, unlike Finland they have selected more players from their domestic league, as well as those spread further afield with Turkish clubs along with others based in Italy, Germany Belgium and Spain.
All in all, this has the hallmarks of an enthrallingly balanced match, in other words, a true football fan’s fixture of choice to savour.
Turkey v Netherlands 24th of March 2021
Another fascinating contest given that both sides have drawn their last three games.
The Netherlands was not at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ after failing to qualify for their second straight major tournament and as historically regular qualifiers will be keen to restore their status.
Turkey has home advantage and a very respectable pedigree. They too have already qualified for the latest UEFA European Championship, their fifth under returned coach Şenol Güneş.
A former national goalkeeper, Güneş took his country to third place at
2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, their most recent qualification for the tournament. Güneş won two championships in charge of Istanbul-based club Beşiktaş, prior to returning to take charge of Turkey again in 2019.
Key to Turkey’s campaign is Cenk Tosun, a hardworking thoroughbred finisher also at Beşiktaş with Güneş; under a coach who certainly knows how to get the best out him as the focal point of the Turkish attack.
It also is worth keeping an eye out for elder statesman Burak Yılmaz, who at 35 is Güneş’ first-choice striker as well as Turkey’s second-highest international goal scorer. Yilmaz has averaged a goal every other game throughout his career and remains prolific in the top tier of French football at LOSC Lille.
Form over the last five games: Lost to Hungary away 2-0, beat Russia 3-2 at home, then three draws; 3 all and 2 all against the mighty Croatia then Serbia, both at home and the latest 1-1 against Russia in the VTB Arena in Moscow.
Moving back to the Netherlands, they have an extra win in their form guide, having beaten a doughty and talented Poland team 2-1 in Chorzow, followed by a 3-1 home win against Bosnia and Herzegovina. Then came three less than spectacular draws, two ending 1 goal apiece against serious opposition in the shape of Spain, and Italy on home turf and an unfortunate 0-0 in Zenica home of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Coach Frank de Boer replaced his Barcelona-bound former team-mate Ronald Koeman in September 2020, prior to that he had coached Ajax, Inter Milan, Crystal Palace and Atlanta United.
Known as Oranje, the Netherlands have plenty of depth in their squad, nonetheless a lot of the weight in attack falls on the shoulders of key player Memphis Depay, the powerful free running forward for Lyon, with an unerringly accurate right foot.
Meanwhile on the to watch list is Frenkie de Jong, with his outstanding ability to steal and keep possession, create seemingly endless pockets of space, glide through the channels and build rapid effective attacks from the back. De Jong is the Oranje’s midfield master puppeteer.
Everything points to a simply cracking game of football, one for the connoisseurs
Spain v Greece 25th of March 2021
This encounter always promises a close game with plenty of goals and given Greece have failed to qualify for the UEFA European Championship, national pride will have them energised to pull off some unpredictable wins to join the line-up for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.
In form terms, Greece are slightly ahead of Spain, having won 3 and drawn two of their last five matches, while Spain lost their penultimate game in addition to two wins and 2 draws. Greece will be looking to grab a win at Estadio Municipal Nuevo Los Cármenes in Granada but would probably settle for a draw but with goals involved.
Konstantinos ‘Kostas’ Fortounis an attacking midfielder known as the ‘Bomber’ is the lynchpin of Greek attacking potential. ‘Kostas’ plays for Olympiarcos accumulating an overall total of 31 goals and 11 assists in the 2020/21 season, seven of these goals were recorded in the UEFA Champions League.
Rocks of the Greek defence are respected goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos, with leading Portuguese club Benfica, and in front of him is Konstantinos “Kostas” Manolas who plays as a centre-back in Serie A for Napoli.
Man to watch, Georgios Giakoumakis at 26 has evolved into a goal scoring machine after joining VVV-Venlo, in the Netherlands last summer, the Greek striker has 21 goals in 20 Eredivisie appearances.
Spain are of course a leading light in both European and World football, looking at the national side team in 2020 the majority of players in and around the squad either play in La Liga or the English Premier League.
Manchester City winger Ferran Torres and Villa Real’s centre forward Gerard Moreno are both looking good in front of goal. Plus all of a sudden prominent strikers have evolved from familiar faces i.e. Aduriz, Agirretxe, Guerra and Alcacer.
While there has been a subtle move away from the tiki-taka style which is now well read by other top teams, Spain still enjoys a wealth of defensive and attacking midfielders, which strengthens the chassis so to speak. Jesús Navas from Sevilla FC and Barca’s, Sergi Busquets to name but two among a veritable host.
I fancy that both home and away ends of this fixture are likely to be entertaining, and neither side will disappoint.
Czech Republic v Belgium 27th of March 2021
Belgium has so much quality on an individual basis it is hard to deny their chances; they are the world’s top national team according to the recent FIFA rankings. Yet this Czech Republic side are real battlers with an indomitable never say die team spirit. Both teams have qualified for the UEFA European Championship, notably the Czech Republic has reached seven successive tournaments as an independent nation.
Therefore I am willing to take a punt on this one and suggest a lively contest with every chance of a turn up for the book.
Form comparison is interesting. In their last 5 games the Czech Republic lost to Scotland 2-1 at home and 1-0 away, they then beat Israel away 2-1 and at home 1-0, followed up by a home win against Slovakia 2-0
Meanwhile, Belgium have only lost to England 2-1 away in their last five games, however they have beaten Iceland away 2-1, while their last three matches have been played at home, beating Switzerland 2-1,England 2-0 and Denmark 4-2.
Czech republic Coach Jaroslav Šilhavý won two titles as a coach before taking charge of the national side Czech in September 2018.
Šilhavý’s most influential player is Vladimír Darida, a vibrant bustling midfielder who leads by example and plays his football at Hertha Berlin he also inspired the team’s surprise victory over England.
One Tomáš Souček is definitely on the watch list. Considered, “The beating heart of the Czech midfield,” he is a big, big man with two intelligently good feet. Czech player of season in 2018/19, when Slavia Praha won the title, he was voted No1 again by journalists in 2020, he is now at West Ham in the English Premier League.
Roberto Martínez is the established Belgium coach, a Spanish midfielder who carved out a playing and coaching career in English football. Martínez has been in charge of the national side since 2016.
Belgium’s key player is Kevin De Bruyne, midfielder for English Premier League Club Manchester City, he is also the 2019/20 UEFA Champions League midfielder of the season. He managed four goals and chalked up seven assists in a mere six
UEFA European Championship qualifier games; job done Belgium through in group I. He also set up 20 Premier League goals for his club in the 2019/20 season.
Youri Tielemans, a youthful 23, is the one to watch in a side full of acknowledged talent. He plays with Leicester City, another English Premier League club. A versatile midfielder, he has a vicious shot connecting from considerable distance outside the box, as well as extraordinary ball distribution skills.
There is no doubt that this will turn out to be a good game, all the plus points are there, both sides are tough to beat and they are hungry to score goals. Belgium have beaten many good sides, but so have the Czech Republic on their day. One to look forward to.
As you will note, we’ve only covered the first three match days in March from the upcoming European Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, so there are many more matches to go at kicking off from the 28th to 31st of March. We intend to run through those in the not too distant future and hopefully offer up the games that we’d like to think could well produce a thriller or two. We wish one and all, nothing but the best of football enjoyment as we build steadily build toward the main event.
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