The 2020 UEFA European Qualifying matches resume this week with several teams looking to punch their tickets for next year’s tournament.
Several top matches occur on the first slate of matches which runs from Thursday to Saturday cross Europe. Russia and Belgium will meet in Group I with three points separating the two favorites to advance. Russia will have the homefield advantage, but Belgium has plenty of firepower offensively to call on.
Elsewhere, the Netherlands take a trip to Belfast for a date with Northern Ireland in Group C. A win for the hosts could see them level with the Dutch and the Germans if other results go their way. Croatia and Slovakia are separated by four points in Group E ahead of Saturday’s clash in Zagreb, while Iceland also visits Turkey.
Here’s a closer look at Thursday-Saturday’s top matches:
Russia vs. Belgium – Saturday
Three points separate Russia and Belgium in Group I, with the Russians only loss so far occurring in Brussels back in March.
Roberto Martinez has several top European players to call on for this clash, with the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, and Kevin De Bruyne all some of the best at their positions. The trio has 11 goals between them in qualifying, and a win for Belgium would clinch them the top spot in the group.
Russia are underdogs in this contest, despite being at home on Saturday. Stanislav Cherchesov with rely on a strong defensive unit to slow down Belgium, while also looking to keep the visitors honest. Aleksandr Golovin has two goals in qualifying and is a main piece in Russia’s build-up play. However, the focus will be on striker Artem Dzyuba who has nine goals to his name.
Northern Ireland vs. Netherlands – Saturday
Group C will see another twist on Saturday with the Netherlands visiting Northern Ireland in a top three clash.
A win for the hosts would see them level with the Dutch heading into their final qualifying match next week. Michael O’Neill’s side lost 3-1 to the Dutch back in October and will look to exact revenge on home soil. Leicester City centerback Jonny Evans will lead the backline, while Josh Magennis’ three goals lead the team.
Ronald Koeman’s side could clinch an automatic berth in next year’s tournament with a win in Belfast. Four-consecutive wins have the Dutch flying in on good form for this clash, but they will be without their leading scorer in qualifying. Memphis Depay is injured, so the likes of Quincy Promes and Ryan Babel will look to fill the void left by the Lyon forward.
Croatia vs. Slovakia – Saturday
Slovakia sits four points behind Group E leaders Croatia as the pair meet in Zagreb on Saturday.
The visitors have gone unbeaten in their last two qualifying matches against Hungary and Wales respectively and will look to keep that trend going this weekend. Marek Hamsik, Albert Rusnak, and Juraj Kucka all will be counted on to run the show in midfield, while forward Robert Bozenik leads the forward group in scoring.
Croatia will clinch the top spot with a win at home after positive results in October’s matches. A 3-0 win over Hungary was followed up by a 1-1 draw vs. Wales in Cardiff. While Ivan Rakitic has returned to Barcelona with an injury, Zlatko Dalic has the likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic, and Nikola Vlasic to fill the gap.
Turkey vs. Iceland – Thursday
Iceland’s hopes of a top-two finish in Group H come down to this final set of qualifying matches this month.
A trip to leaders Turkey won’t be easy, but Iceland have proved in the past they can compete with some of Europe’s best. Gylfi Sigurdsson will be the creative force in Iceland’s midfield, while defensively the team need to be wary of Turkey’s wide players.
Turkey are level with defending World Cup winners France heading into Thursday’s match and know a win will seal their spot. Everton striker Cenk Tosun leads the team with five goals and has had a knack of scoring of late for the Turks. Should Tosun be tied up though by Iceland, Turkey can call on one of their seven other current goalscorers from this qualifying campaign.
Here’s a full schedule of Thursday-Saturday’s matches:
- Turkey vs. Iceland
- Albania vs. Andorra
- Czech Republic vs. Kosovo
- England vs. Montenegro
- France vs. Moldova
- Portugal vs. Lithuania
- Serbia vs. Luxembourg
- Armenia vs. Greece
- Finland vs. Liechtenstein
- Norway vs. Faroe Islands
- Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Italy
- Denmark vs. Gibraltar
- Romania vs. Sweden
- Spain vs. Malta
- Switzerland vs. Georgia
- Cyprus vs. Scotland
- Azerbaijan vs. Wales
- Russia vs. Belgium
- San Marino vs. Kazakhstan
- Slovenia vs. Latvia
- Austria vs. North Macedonia
- Croatia vs. Slovakia
- Germany vs. Belarus
- Israel vs. Poland
- Northern Ireland vs. Netherlands