Kazakhstan v Slovakia
This afternoon clash should go a long way to determining the destiny of League C Group 3.
The hosts sit top with seven points, one more than Slovakia, whom they beat in Trnava last week to register their first ever away win over a side not considered one of the continent’s basement boys. After winning 2-0 against Azerbaijan in their opening fixture, and their last at home, they might have been out of sight had they not been pegged back to draw 1-1 against Belarus in Serbia on Friday night, too.
Slovakia rang the changes after their defeat in Trnava and boss Stefan Tarkovic was given the boot, with Samuel Slovak handed the position on an interim basis. He started with a win, at least, though Slovakia’s match-winner in Azerbaijan on Friday, veteran Vladimir Weiss, misses out on this one after receiving his second booking of the group stage at the end of their 1-0 win.
The hosts will also be forced into a reshuffle with Kazak talisman Islambek Kuat missing out through suspension and I think that will give Slovakia the advantage here. The Kazakhs had lost their three previous home games without scoring before the win over Azerbaijan and I am backing Slovakia to get back to business and take charge of the group here. The visitors are unbeaten in five competitive away games, scoring 12 goals, and having kept clean sheets in their last three, all wins.
Azerbaijan v Belarus
Azerbaijan have failed to score in their last five matches – a run of 473 minutes dating back to Emin Mahmudov’s strike in a 2-2 friendly draw against Qatar in Baku last November.
They are one of just two teams across Europe not to have scored in their opening three games and will be seeking to put that right on Monday night. The basement-boys face Belarus in Bardakan with both teams aiming to avoid the potential for relegation to the bottom tier.
Azerbaijan have lost 10 of 13 in all competitions since their last win, a year and a week ago, in which they came from behind late-on to win a friendly 2-1 in… Belarus.
Now you’re interested, right? Well Azerbaijan were pipped 1-0 at home by Slovakia thanks to a goal nine minutes from time on Friday night having gone down 2-0 in Kazhakstan on Matchday 1.
This might be Group C3 but don’t expect this to be explosive, these two drew 0-0 behind closed doors in Novi Sad in Serbia last Monday (Belarus are banned from playing at home or in front of home crowds under UEFA sanctions for their part in the Russian invasion of Ukraine). These two nations have only managed five goals between them in total in the four games they have contested in the past 25 years.
That’s partly why I’m plumping for Belarus or draw here… just in case another stalemate ensues. As it is I suspect they might just have enough to see-off the shot-shy hosts.
They have only lost one of their last six in all competitions, the 1-0 defeat against Slovakia on the opening day of this block, while they have conceded only twice in those half-dozen games, the second of which they cancelled out on Friday night to earn a 1-1 draw and another point to keep them ahead of Monday’s hosts.
France v Croatia
Incredibly, after three matches, France sit bottom of the group A1 and are already four points adrift of group leaders Denmark, who look to be in pole position for a place in the semi-finals.
Didier Deschamps’ side lost 2-1 against the Danes in their opening match in this block, allowing a second-half lead to slip and conceding an 89th-minute winner. It was their first home defeat in 10 and things haven’t got much better since.
These sides shared the goals and the points in the second group match, appropriately enough played in Split, and France then needed Kylian Mbappe to come off the bench to rescue a late point in a 1-1 draw in Austria on Friday.
France did boss the previous encounter but failed to convert their chances and they know they’ll need to do so at the Stade de France if they are to keep alive their hopes of defending the Nations League title they won just last October in Milan. Mbappe could return to the starting line-up if he suffered no ill-effects following his cameo on his return from injury.
Despite riding their luck once again, Friday’s 1-0 victory in Denmark was Croatia’s fourth straight competitive win on their travels and they have scored 12 in that spell and conceded only once – which surprisingly came in a 7-1 win in Malta. It helped banish the memory of the abject 3-0 reverse in Vienna on Matchday 1 and left them only two points off top-spot in the group themselves.
Five of the last six meetings between France and Croatia, dating back 18 years, have seen both sides on target and though I expect France to step-up and win this match when it matters to keep the group alive, I can see Croatia finding the target, as they have in 10 of their last 11 matches.
Denmark v Austria
Despite a set-back on Friday night, Denmark could take a giant stride towards the knockout stages if they can overcome Austria in Copenhagen on Monday.
They had won 10 straight at home and 11 of their previous 12 competitive games prior to Friday night’s 1-0 home reverse against Croatia, which came as something of a surprise after the Danes began the group with back-to-back 2-1 wins in France and Austria. They had also scored in 15 of their previous 16 internationals in all competitions so they’ll be looking to get back on the goal trail when Ralf Rangnick’s Austrian side come to town.
Denmark have an enviable record against the Austrians, winning the last four meetings in succession and seven of the last nine dating back to 1984.
Austria did stun Croatia 3-0 on the opening matchday with one of their best performances in years and they were within seven minutes of another shock result against France in Vienna on Friday night until Kylian Mbappe struck to secure a 1-1 draw. They had however lost seven of their 10 games on the road before that trip to Croatia, including 1-0 in Copenhagen last October.
Austria were made to pay for missed chances in the first meeting – only one of their 17 attempts on goal was on target and it got them on the scoresheet – but the Danes made them pay, converting two of their eight shots into the three points. I think they’ll need to be similarly efficient here but I suspect they can complete the double and continue their winning run against the visitors.
It won’t be, however, Austria have netted in seven straight games themselves and they could quite easily be sat top of the group with nine points and their improvement under Rangnick has to be respected.
Their last blank was in Copenhagen nine months ago but I’m going to say they don’t repeat it here. I suspect a narrow Denmark win but I’m going to plump for BTTS as the odds are far more generous.
Iceland v Israel
They might be next to each other in the UEFA alphabet but there’s a near 3,500-mile journey for Israel as their quest for promotion to the top tier of Nations League football continues in Iceland.
Despite missing talisman and record scorer Eran Zahavi and vastly experienced skipper Bibras Natkho to injury, Israel registered an eye-catching 2-1 win over Albania in Tirana on Friday. They showed character to bounce back after a penalty put the hosts ahead in first-half stoppage time and a double from Zahavi’s stand-in Manor Solomon ensured they claimed the points.
These sides drew 2-2 in Haifa on Matchday 1 with the islanders coming from behind to lead with goals either side of the break, only to concede a late leveller. The equaliser meant Israel have scored at least twice in seven straight competitive matches and eight of nine overall – the exception coming in a 2-0 friendly defeat to Germany in March.
Perhaps more surprisingly it means that Iceland have still never won a Nations League game. They lost all 10 matches they played in the top flight across 2018 and 2020 before picking up two draws in their group this time around following relegation. It’s all symptomatic of their decline in recent years, if we’re honest. Iceland have won just three of their last 20 competitive fixtures, and two of those came against Liechtenstein, while they have not kept a clean sheet in six matches, conceding 17 goals in that spell, including one in a draw against Uganda.
They did, however, manage to overcome San Marino 1-0 in a friendly on Thursday night – arranged as the fixture list is somewhat muddled given Russia’s exclusion from the group under FIFA sanctions.
It absolutely wouldn’t surprise me were Israel to win this one and secure top-spot in League B Group 2 after just three games, but I’ll err on the side of caution and go for the double chance as it’s a crucial game for Iceland too if they want to stand any chance of a return to the top-flight.
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