The first of the Home Nations to get their Euro 2020 campaign underway does so in the opening match of the three on Saturday afternoon when Wales go up against Switzerland in the heat and humidity of Baku.
These two sides watched on as Italy gave an impressive performance on Friday night and it won’t be lost on them that with the Azzurri still to play, this is a match that neither of them can afford to lose if they want to keep qualifying realistic.
Where to watch
For those of us who are in the UK this match will be shown in full on BBC1. The lead up to the match begins at 1.15pm with the game itself kicking off at 2pm.
I would imagine the Wales players will be eager to get their campaign up and running at long last. Of course they should have been competing in this tournament a year ago but we know the reasons why that wasn’t the case. Since then they’ve seen their manager disappear due to alleged criminal activity and while that has been going on there have been calls for this team to emulate the 2016 heroes, something that was always going to be hard.
Without putting too much of a dampener on things for the Welsh, the class of 21 doesn’t look as good as the side which competed in France five years ago. Their task is to prove that they are, or if they are not then get as close to that level as they possibly could. This is a young side but one which can’t afford any nerves. They need to go out and look to take the bull by the horns here rather than adopt a cautious approach. You sense the first goal here is enormous.
Switzerland go into this match having won their last six matches but before we get too carried away with that record it is important to note that they were awarded one of those matches when Ukraine couldn’t put a team out because of Covid. The other five their opponents were Bulgaria, Lithuania, Finland, USA and Liechtenstein. No disrespect to any of those but they aren’t going to pull up any trees for a while so we do need to look at their form with some caution.
There is no substitute for winning though and a side should never been criticised for doing so. It will be interesting to see if they can raise it further in what will be a tougher match here. If they can then they will feel they have enough about them to win this match, but if they don’t or can’t this could be a long afternoon. It would help Switzerland immensely if they can hit the ground running in front of goals as a shutout here could see doubts surface within.
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Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey has declared himself available despite missing training on Thursday. That means caretaker boss Robert Page has a fully fit squad of 26 to choose from. All eyes will be on the forward area to see who supports Gareth Bale.
Vladimir Petkovic has also declared that he has a fully fit squad to pick from for this Switzerland opener in the tournament. His key decision will be whether it is Haris Seferovic or Mario Gavranovic to lead the line. The former is the senior man but the latter is the form horse.
You often see trends in tournaments appearing quite quickly and being maintained throughout an event and one such thing that I expected to see during this tournament is the majority of goals to be scored in the second halves of matches. This tournament comes at the end of an extraordinarily long season and legs are going to be tired. When you then add in we’re in the heart of summer in a place like Baku here where it is going to be roasting, the petrol tanks could well empty quickly the longer this game goes on.
That is alleviated a little with five substitutes being allowed but you can’t change everyone so there will still be some tired legs on the pitch here. We saw that on Friday night when Turkey visibly tired quite badly. The other thing we saw is that this is going to be a tournament where possession of the ball is key, although neither of these really look to dominate possession. The tired legs is going to be a factor here though so the 13/10 that more goals come in the second half rather than the first appeals to me. It is going to be 30 degrees in Baku during game time which will be much warmer at pitch level. I expect a tense, tight and cagey affair in the first half but as the teams tire we might see some goals in the second period as the game opens up.
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