Belgium v Poland
Poland have recovered from a disappointing Euro 2020 showing with a W7-D2-L1 record since then, even if five of those victories were achieved against Albania, Andorra or San Marino. They did however take a point off England during World Cup qualification, beat Sweden in their play-off to reach Qatar 2022, while most recently they kicked off their Nations League campaign with a win over Wales.
Belgium’s campaign began with a devastating 4-1 loss at home to the Netherlands, leaving Roberto Martinez’s men with just two wins from seven appearances (W2-D2-L3). Even those were picked up against Estonia and Burkina Faso, with the latter the only team that failed to score against them across those games as both teams scored in six.
With that in mind, a Polish side featuring Robert Lewandowski must fancy their chances of registering on the scoreboard. In fact, both teams have scored in 15 of Poland’s past 19 matches as they found the net on every occasion, with three of their clean sheets coming against minnows Andorra, San Marino and Albania.
Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku continue to perform for Belgium, but there’s no doubt that their golden generation is starting to fade. Eden Hazard has spent recent seasons plagued by injuries and Dries Mertens is now 35 years old, but it’s at the back where they’re suffering most.
Retired duo Vincent Kompany Thomas Vermaelen are no longer around, while fellow defensive stalwarts Toby Alderweireld (33) and Jan Vertonghen (35) are no spring chickens any more. Jason Denayer is also absent through injury, as is world-class goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois following a groin strain, so the Red Devils appear visibly weakened at the back.
BOTH TEAMS TO SCORE
Wales v Netherlands
Both of these sides will be on a real high, with the Netherlands thumping Belgium 4-1 on the road to kick off their Nations League campaign in blistering fashion, while Wales ended a 64-year wait to qualify for the World Cup with a win over a spirited Ukraine.
The visitors may hold the edge physically however, having an extra two days to prepare for this game, while this will be Wales’ third game in the space of eight days after starting the month with a defeat to Poland. That’s especially the case when considering that Aaron Ramsey played the full 90 against Ukraine and Gareth Bale lasted 83 minutes, with the Welsh star duo enduring injury problems in recent years, as the latter has also significantly lacked game time at Real Madrid.
With plenty of changes expected from Robert Page and a number of first team regulars likely to start from the bench, this could prove a bruising evening in Cardiff. The Netherlands have lost just once in 18 appearances now (W13-D4-L1), and in addition to their most recent win over Belgium, they’ve also taken down Denmark (4-2) and drawn with Germany in 2022 so far.
Wales aren’t a team to cave too readily, with just a single defeat in 11 appearances since the Euros. However, they are certainly more susceptible against top-tier teams, with a poor W1-D3-L10 record against the best sides they’ve faced since September 2018 (Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, England, France, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Spain and Switzerland). Limited to truly elite sides Belgium, England, France, Italy and Spain, that record becomes five defeats from six winless matches, as they conceded at least three times on four occasions.
NETHERLANDS TO WIN
Scotland v Armenia
Scotland have had a week to prepare for this fixture following their World Cup play-off defeat to Ukraine, but they had won six of eight unbeaten fixtures prior to that result. Failure to make it to Qatar shouldn’t derail Steve Clarke’s side too badly, and a home fixture with a side ranked 92nd in the world according to FIFA represents a good opportunity to get back on track.
Armenia have made a fantastic start to their Nations League campaign with a shock 1-0 win over Ireland in Yerevan, but Scotland should prove a more challenging assignment. Ireland had their chances in front of goal, though wasteful finishing meant that they didn’t even register a shot on target until after an hour had already been played.
Away from home, Armenia are W2-D5-L7 over their past 14 trips, with victories picked up over Georgia and Liechtenstein. The only decent team that failed to beat them were Croatia, with further stalemates against Liechtenstein, Estonia, North Macedonia and Iceland. In addition, they suffered heavy drubbings at the hands of Italy (9-1), Germany (6-0) and Norway (9-0), while even Finland put three goals past them.
Nine of Scotland’s past 10 victories have been accompanied by clean sheets, and with key Armenian creative force Henrikh Mkhitaryan retiring from international football earlier this year, another shutout should be expected. However, the visitors are capable of grabbing a consolation effort, and the hosts appear to hold better value in the half time/full time market.
Indeed, Armenia’s shocking defensive record should mean that Scotland carve out opportunities, with the visitors having trailed at the break in each of their past 10 defeats. By contrast, Scotland have led at half time in seven of their past nine victories, while they’ve opened the scoring in five of their past six matches now.
SCOTLAND/SCOTLAND - HT/FT
Republic of Ireland v Ukraine
Ukraine have already played twice this month having beaten Scotland before a defeat to Wales, with failure to overcome the latter costing them a place at the World Cup. However, they remain a solid W3-D5-L1 since the Euros, even picking up a point against France in competitive action.
Ireland suffered their first defeat in nine appearances away to Armenia, but this was a bitterly disappointing result given the level of opposition. Further, their only victories over this spell have come over Azerbaijan, Qatar, Luxembourg and Lithuania, with the three European sides all 94th or lower in FIFA’s world rankings, while Qatar don’t even make the top 50.
A Ukrainian defeat appears highly unlikely then, though with 10 stalemates from 20 games over 90 minutes since the start of 2021, they can’t be fully trusted to extract maximum points. That’s especially the case given the visitors have managed just three clean sheets across this period, and just one from the last 14 outings.
Still, it would come as no surprise if the hosts were to draw a blank. Goals remain at a premium for Ireland, as excluding clashes with minnows Andorra, Azerbaijan, Lithuania and Luxembourg, they’ve scored just seven times in 16 games and drawn a blank on 11 occasions.
UKRAINE-DRAW DOUBLE CHANCE
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