The first international break of 2019 is upon us and that must mean that the qualifying campaign for Euro 2020 is about to begin. Fifty-five nations are competing for a chance to play in next year’s European Championship that will be held in 12 different cities this time around rather than the one host country, celebrating the 60th birthday of the competition.
The countries have been split into 10 groups with the top two qualifying for the final tournament. The remaining four places will go to the winners of the play-offs decided by last year’s inaugural Nations League competition. Although UEFA has made this all very confusing for fans used to traditional groups, everyone is now looking forward to a qualifying campaign to reach Euro 2020 and attempt to take the title from holders Portugal.
With such a quick turnaround of games in match days one and two I’ve selected four games that look interesting – bringing together some of the best nations in Europe – and how the betting markets are looking.
Belgium vs Russia
It has never quite happened for Belgium’s ‘golden generation’. Sensationally dumped out of Euro 2016 by a rampant Wales side, its quest for World Cup glory was ended by France last summer. Time is still on this squad’s side though and their qualifying campaign kicks off on Thursday against the hosts of last year’s World Cup, Russia.
Here are the main betting prices courtesy of Betway.
Belgian to Win
Russia to Win
There is talent everywhere you look in the Belgium squad – with every position covered by more than one capable back up player. Led by Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Belgium will look at this group and believe that it can qualify without much trouble at all.
Russia and Scotland are the only potentially tough games for the Red Devils but even both of these two should be dispatched with ease. It is possible that with players such as Dries Mertens, Jan Vertonghen and Romelu Lukaku, Belgium could go through this entire qualification campaign without losing a single match.
Russia may well still be on a high after a World Cup on home soil that defied all expectations. Considered one of the poorest host nations for quite some time, Russia made it all the way to the quarter final stage before being knocked out by eventual finalists Croatia on penalties.
But the party may now be over for Russia as Belgium should be able to get three points to get their campaign started on the right footing. The only thing that might upset the host’s qualifying plans is the rumors surrounding head coach Roberto Martinez’ and the Celtic job.
Belgium’s odds to win here are not very attractive but Romelu Lukaku to score at anytime at 4.20 shows good value. The Manchester United striker is Belgium’s leading goal scorer and has been in good form of late.
My Pick: Romelu Lukaku to score at any time 4.20
England vs Czech Republic
England is riding a wave of optimism at the moment – something we have not seen for a long time. Gareth Southgate has managed to make his side not only hard to play against, but also likeable – a feat that has eluded English squads over the past few years. The Czech Republic is not the power it used to be so this should be another home win for the Three Lions.
England to Win
Czech Republic to Win
Despite the dreams and wishes of the country’s fans, football did not end up coming home last summer as England was knocked out of the World Cup by Croatia in the semi finals. The performance of the team has changed national thinking about the squad however – and for the first time in quite a while there is a real belief that this squad could end up winning a major tournament.
The World Cup in Russia was followed by a successful Nations League campaign that saw England qualify for the finals in Portugal in summer and give itself a back up option for qualifying for Euro 2020 should Gareth Southgate’s team need it.
But England’s group looks even easier than Belgium’s – with Bulgaria, Montenegro and new boys Kosovo making up the five. A win at Wembley should be a formality before moving onto an away trip to Montenegro on Monday.
The Czech Republic will see this group as an opportunity to get back onto the global stage after failing to qualify for a World Cup since 2006 and crashing out of Euro 2016 with one point from its three group games.
The form of forward Patrik Schick is vital for Jaroslav Silhavy’s side but he has not made an impact as hoped at Roma and it is a lot to ask from a 23-year-old to carry the dreams of a nation. A defeat against England will not be too disheartening for the Czechs as it is the other group games that will be more important if they are to qualify for Euro 2020.
Once again the home win will only bring meager returns at a price of 1.30 – but I expect England to carry on where they left off last year and can see Harry Kane leading his side to a big win.
My Pick: Total goals over 3.5 3.30
Spain vs Norway
Spain’s World Cup preparations were thrown into disarray in Russia when head coach Julen Lopetegui was dismissed on the eve of the tournament after it was revealed that he had agreed to join Real Madrid after the competition. Spain never really recovered but will want to kick off Euro 2020 qualifying with a home win.
Spain to Win
Norway to Win
Spain was knocked out of last summer’s World Cup by the hosts but had never looked comfortable after Lopetegui’s departure, drawing against Portugal and Morocco and only narrowly beating Iran. Its form since then has been more impressive, although the team did throw away a lead at the top of its Nations League group to finish second.
Group F is slightly more difficult than Belgium’s and England’s with tricky looking away trips to Sweden and Romania – as well as Norway – but it would still be a huge surprise if Spain did not qualify for the final tournament.
Norway enjoyed its most successful period in the late 1990s and has struggled to reach those heights ever since. But head coach Lars Lagerback has overseen a change in fortunes – his side only lost one game in the whole of 2018 and beat Iceland and Australia along the way.
An excellent Nations League campaign saw Norway promoted from Group C and are therefore already assured a Euro 2020 play off spot. This could mean that the Scandinavian side take it easier in these group games, but there is a newfound spirit in the squad and I feel that they will do their best to upset Spain – if ultimately fall short.
A Spain win is to be expected here but I do think that Norway’s defensive game will frustrate the home side.
My Pick: Total goals under 2.5 2.40
Netherlands vs Germany
My final featured game for this international break is probably the standout tie of the weekend. Netherlands vs Germany is an age-old rivalry that has only got more intriguing with the two nations’ differing recent form.
Netherlands to Win
Germany to Win
The Netherlands is another nation who has not performed over the last few years and didn’t manage to qualify for either of the last two major tournaments. But a stirring Nations League campaign – in which it took four points off a poor Germany side – continued the good work that head coach Ronald Koeman has been doing since taking over at the start of last year.
The Netherlands went on to win a group that also included World Cup winners France that also means that it is assured of a playoff spot if it needs it. That should not be required as, apart from Germany, it is really only Northern Ireland who could conceivably cause the Oranje any worries.
Germany had a 2018 to forget. A woeful World Cup campaign included being outplayed by Mexico and scraping through to a last minute win against Sweden, before losing to South Korea – causing Joachim Low’s side to exit a World Cup at the group stage for the first time ever.
As previously mentioned, the Nations League campaign did not go as planned either and it meant that Germany only won one competitive fixture in the whole of 2018. Joachim Low has sensationally told Bayern’s Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Thomas Muller that they are no longer needed – to a decidedly mixed reception – and is now planning to get his side back on track for the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.
Germany could really have done with an easier first game in the group to steady any existing nerves – and with Memphis Depay, Frenkie de Jong and Virgil van Dijk in the form that they are showing recently this looks like a home win to me.
My Pick: Netherlands to Win 2.50
With 24 nations qualifying for the final tournament next year it would seem as though the likes of the Netherlands, England and Belgium should have no problem with their groups and they should all be able to get off to a good start this week.
But as the Netherlands has shown in recent years, it only takes a run of bad form to change expectations and seedings – and suddenly one of the top soccer playing nations in the word has failed to qualify for a major tournament.
The next week of Euro 2020 qualifying games may show us if any of the supposedly smaller nations can upset the odds and help make this a fascinating campaign.