Northern Ireland v Greece
These two sides will expect to vie for top spot in a pool alongside Cyprus and Kosovo, though it should prove a cagey and rather low-scoring affair.
There have been fewer than three goals in 12 of Greece’s past 16 appearances, including each of the past six as they even limited Spain to a narrow 1-0 win in November. In fact, there haven’t been more than three goals in any of Greece’s 28 matches since September 2019.
A solid defence saw Greece take third place in their World Cup qualifying group behind Spain and Sweden. Similarly, Northern Ireland had the same outcome as they finished behind Switzerland and Italy, even taking points against that duo on home turf in goalless stalemates.
Scoring goals remains a problem for Ian Baraclough’s men however. They’ve bagged just six across their last eight games, as those were plundered against Estonia (1), Bulgaria (1), Lithuania (1) and Luxembourg (3) – with each of those sides a minimum 39 places lower than Greece in FIFA’s current world rankings.
Limited to results at Windsor Park, Northern Ireland have scored five times across their last 12 outings, and never more than once in a single game. They were an uninspiring W1-D6-L5 over 90 minutes as a consequence and in fact, they’ve managed just the solitary strike over the past five on their own patch.
UNDER 2.5 GOALS
Spain v Portugal
Spain have won seven of their last eight games as only France got the better of them, though by the same token, the only elite level side they beat over this period was Italy. Those two clashes with quality opponents were both tight encounters that finished 2-1, and in meetings with top sides France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Portugal, there have been five draws across Spain’s last eight matches since 2020, with each stalemate finishing either 0-0 or 1-1.
That includes a pair of goalless meetings with Portugal themselves, and in fact nine of 13 head-to-heads since 1984 have ended in a stalemate – including each of the four fixtures over the past decade. Portugal are certainly no strangers to these types of results and have actually drawn all four of their away matches to elite sides Belgium, Italy, France and Spain since 2018, as each of them finished goalless.
These two sides will expect to compete for a place in the semi-finals ahead of Switzerland and the Czech Republic, so it would be no surprise to see the pair settle for yet another stalemate. Neither side are inundated with missing men either, with Aymeric Laporte, Pedri and Gerard Moreno the host’s main absentees from the squad, while the Portuguese squad doesn’t include Ruben Dias, Renato Sanches or Joao Felix.
Czech Republic v Switzerland
Switzerland have proven themselves a competitive side over the past decade and kick off their Nations League campaign with just two defeats from their last 21 appearances, as even those were inflicted by England at Wembley and Italy in Rome. It’s not as though they’ve benefitted from a kind schedule either, with a third of those 21 games against either England, France, Italy or Spain.
Excluding those elite outfits, Switzerland have racked up 11 wins from 14 matches over this period. They demonstrated a ruthless streak against weaker opponents as a successful World Cup qualifying campaign saw them edge out the European champions to take first place, so it’s no surprise to see them billed as favourites ahead of this clash.
The Czech Republic are unbeaten over 90 minutes in seven matches themselves, though we wouldn’t pay as much attention to that run. Victories were achieved against much weaker outfits Belarus, Kuwait and Estonia, and while stalemates with Wales (twice), Ukraine and Sweden are respectable, the only clash that went beyond 90 minutes saw them downed in extra time as they failed to reach the 2022 World Cup.
The hosts are also without key Bayer Leverkusen striker Patrik Schick, who has bagged 37 goals in 67 competitive games for the German outfit and finished Euro 2020 with five goals from as many appearances. With experienced back-up Matej Vydra also sidelined through injury, the most experienced member of their frontline will be 19-year-old Adam Hlozek – who has just the single goal from 14 caps so far.
The visitors most notable absentee is Juventus midfielder Denis Zakaria, but they have plenty of options with Granit Xhaka and Remo Freuler both available in the centre of the park. Their other key players are all available, including Xherdan Shaqiri, so they’d be hugely disappointed not to take advantage of the weakest opponents in their group with more difficult games to come.
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