Austria v France
Following a pretty disastrous spell in charge of Manchester United, I didn’t expect much from Ralf Rangnick as head coach of the Austrian National team. Credit to him though, he has made a promising start to life at the helm and has been praised by captain and star player David Alaba. He was unable to implement his high-pressing style at United due to ageing forward players who seemed unwilling to put in the hard yards. This isn’t such a problem with Austria though and Alaba said this on the style of Rangnick “He doesn’t want us to let the opponents breathe air. It is good for us. I have known Ralf since I was 18 years old and he is a world-class coach”.
Performances have been impressive too and they got off to a perfect start with a 3-0 win in Croatia and were unlucky to lose 2-1 at home to Denmark last time out. They created plenty and on another day could have easily scored 2/3 goals. The previous coach kept them in shackles. So far in Rangnick, they are playing without fear and absolutely going for it. They seem happy to surrender possession of the ball and are most dangerous on the counter-attack or nicking the ball off the opponent high up the pitch due to the high-press. In the 3-0 win against Croatia for instance they managed just 39% of the ball but completely dominated the game in terms of chances created. This style I expect will thrive against the French who will look to dictate play throughout and could well play into the Austrians hands.
The French are actually in pretty dire need of a result here after a poor start to their Nations League campaign. Les Bleus have claimed only one point from their opening two games in League A Group 1 and currently sit five points behind leaders Denmark, while Austria sit in between both nations with three points. France rested & rotated heavily against Croatia and the risk didn’t pay off as they only drew 1-1 on the night. Deschamps isn’t expected to take such risks tonight and will go as strong as he possibly can with the likes of Benzema, Mbappe, Coman and Griezmann all likely to be reintroduced- they need the 3 points and will go all out for it.
Goals seem likely and Austria have no issue scoring in recent home matches as they have netted 11 times in their last four internationals on home soil. Clean sheets, however, have been hard to come by as they have conceded in each of their last six games on their own turf. With France needing a win and all of their attacking stars returning, I have little doubt they will score but I also expect Austria to cause them plenty of issues with their new look front-front approach. BTTS the standout in this one.
Denmark v Croatia
Denmark have shown that their stellar performance at Euro 2020 was no fluke and are now fully established as a world class international outfit. They return home on Friday night following brilliant victories away at France and more recently Austria to continue what has been a fantastic 2 years in charge of the National Team for Kasper Hjulmand. Spirits are certainly high among the Euro 2020 semi-finalists as they have now won eight of their last nine competitive international matches, scoring at least twice on six of these occasions. They are favourites for this one but Croatia are a very capable and dangerous outfit and I prefer the look of goals in this one.
Also very reluctant to back against a side which is likely to contain the mercurial talents of Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic, Mario Pasalic and Andrej Kramaric. That team is likely to give as good as it gets and another reason why I really like the look of goals as two technically outstanding teams go head to head.
Croatia haven’t enjoyed a good time of it in the Nations League it has to be said. Despite their talented team they have won just two of their 12 Nations League games since the tournament began back in 2018. Most worrying of all they have conceded at least twice, in nine of those 12 games. Defensively there have been issues in the Croatian backline for some time, the likes of Domagoj Vida and Martin Erlic just aren’t quite at the level required to compete against world class international outfits and they will be targeted by the Danes. The defence and goalkeeping positions certainly aren’t on a par with the more advanced areas of the team and is another reason why goals is always a solid market to look at when focusing on Croatia.
Over 1.5 goals has delivered in each of the last 6 Denmark games and in 8 of the last 10 games for Croatia. The forward quality on the pitch is such that I just can’t envisage there not being a couple of goals. Denmark will probably get the victory but goals feels a far safer bet in what should be a thoroughly entertaining game in Copenhagen on Friday night.
Albania v Israel
Down to League B, Group 2 now which due to the withdrawal of Russia is now just a 3 team group with Iceland the other side involved. As a result, there is no relegation from this group meaning all teams involved can play with the handbrake off knowing there is no severe consequence to finishing bottom.
Playing with freedom is something Israel have been doing for some time in all honesty and they have developed into quite an entertaining team to watch since they reintroduced Israeli coaches back into the coaching setup. For 4 years they allowed a trio of Austrian coaches to take charge resulting in quite a boring and pragmatic approach to football matches. In recent months this hasn’t been the case with goals a regular feature. In fact, both teams to score has landed in six of Israel’s last seven games.
I quite liked the look of Both Teams to score in this one but while conducting my research I read that Albanian star striker Armando Broja is a major doubt due to Covid and without him leading the line their threat is largely extinguished. Konyaspor striker Sokol Cikalleshi is the likely deputy and he is a major downgrade on the Chelsea striker.
Israel are blessed with slightly more options in forward areas and have shown they are very consistent scorers in recent games. A front 3 of Liel Abada, Munas Dubbur and Manor Salomon is really quite something at this level and backed up by talented playmaking midfielder Mohammed Abu Fani. He has been described in the media ‘as the future of Israeli football’ and has been tracked by some prestigious clubs, namely Celtic, Frankfurt and Standard Liege. They will be without Eran Zahavi through injury but unlike Albania have the strength in depth in forward areas to be able to cope.
Israel have scored in 8 of their last 10 internationals with the only two teams they failed to score against being Denmark and Germany in that time. Over the past calendar year they are averaging 2 goals scored per game and registered some extremely impressive results including a 5-2 win over Austria in September of last year. Strongly fancy them to notch against Albania on Friday night.
Belarus v Kazakhstan
Belarus continue to be sanctioned by UEFA following Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine and it is really impacting on their performances and results. UEFA already announced that Belarusian football clubs and the national team must play all their home matches in UEFA competitions at neutral venues with no spectators allowed. Russian and Belarusian athletes have now been banned from competing in multiple sports because of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and the role that Minsk has played in the military aggression as an ally of Russia. These sanctions have clearly impacted on the morale of the National team and with ‘home games’ now being played in Serbia in front of no spectators, the home advantage they once had is now non-existent. Their form has faltered as a result with a disappointing 1-0 loss to Slovakia followed up by an ever more disappointing 0-0 draw with Azerbaijan.
Kazakhstan meanwhile have made a flying start to proceedings winning their opening two Nation Leagues games. New manager Magomed Adiev seems to have breathed a new lease of life into the national team began his tenure with a 2-0 home win over Azerbaijan before edging out a Slovakian side who are ranked 80 places higher than them in the FIFA world rankings. They have now, would you believe, won 4 of their last 5 international fixtures and will relish the chance of taking on a Belarusian side massively lacking in self-confidence and without home advantage.
Belarus under normal circumstances are the slightly superior footballing nation however these are far from normal circumstances and when you consider the current situation there seems to be decent value backing the Kazakhs to pick up a result in this one. They showed in their win in Slovakia that they are capable of competing with sides who are far higher in the world rankings, something they have previously been unable to do. There is a growing maturity about them as an international setup and it seems clear the national team is on the up. With the game being played in Belgrade, Serbia- it is essentially a neutral venue and it would not surprise me if Kazakhstan could continue their terrific form with another positive result in this one.
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