The first set of matches in the World Cup qualifiers in this latest international break come to a close on Thursday evening when the groups which weren’t in action on Wednesday play the first of three fixtures over the next week or so.
That means we get to see the two Euro 2020 finalists Italy and England for the first time since that heartbreaking penalty shootout back in July. They headline a night where the likes of Spain and Germany are also in action.
One of the themes of the week so far has been how the top two in groups have battled each other and that is the case to open up Group B this time around too. That sees Spain travelling to Sweden looking to get three points but are likely to find a deep home defence as they did when these two sides met at Euro 2020 in a match which ended 0-0. There is an earlier kick off in this group too as Georgia play host to Kosovo in a match where you would think the losers will need snookers in order to progress.
All eyes will be on the newly crowned European champions Italy in this group on Thursday evening. They are already in control of the group and can confirm their domination of it when they host Bulgaria. Northern Ireland haven’t started the season how they would have liked to and if they are going to be in Qatar next year then you would think their trip to Lithuania has to yield three points else they are going to need something special against the big guns.
Belgium were expected to go deep at Euro 2020 but ran into the eventual champions Italy in the quarter final which didn’t prove successful for them. They will need to have dusted themselves down and be ready to go again here when they make the journey to Estonia in a match they will be expected to dominate. The other match in the group sees Czech Republic hosting Belarus in a match the Euro 2020 quarter finalists have to win to stay relevant in the race for top spot.
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England will be in action for the first time since that penalty shootout failure in the final of the European Championship. They make the possibly awkward trip to Budapest to take on Hungary, who showed how competitive they can be at the Euros. Poland didn’t get off to a flying start in the group and they know they can’t avoid to drop points when they welcome Albania on Thursday evening. The other match in the group sees the two minnows Andorra and San Marino meeting in a rare match both will fancy winning at this level.
Germany bombed out early at Euro 2020 and now begin life after Joachim Low. To be fair they should start in emphatic style because they open up with a routine looking trip to Liechtenstein. North Macedonia showed their stuff at the Euros and look to have a good chance of building on that with a win on Thursday when they host Armenia. The most competitive match of the three in this group is the other one which sees Iceland taking on Romania.
As with Wednesday evening, I’ll build my way into these groups this week and go with just the one bet which involves England in their match against Hungary. I think the days when Hungary were pushovers even for a side like England might be long gone. I still think England will win the match just on the extra bit of class that they have in the key areas but I don’t think this is going to be one of those routine nights at the office that Gareth Southgate and his men might have wanted to kick off a busy week.
I think the best bet in this match is for England to win but there to be under 3.5 goals. England aren’t the most expansive side under Gareth Southgate, much to the frustration of their supporters, while Hungary are unlikely to go gung ho and leave themselves open because realistically their fight is with Poland for second place in this group. England’s defence should be good enough to contain the attacking threat of the home side too. I think England will win a low scoring match here.
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