September 1, 2006
Euro 2008 Weekend Preview
The opening weekend of Euro 2008 qualifying fixtures for every group is upon us. And as Kazakhstan proved by getting a draw against Belgium, anything can happen. What follows are basically predictions for all of the matches with a bit of analysis for the more interesting games.
Serbia v. Azerbaijan – Serbia begins its first competitive fixture as an independent nation against an Azerbaijan side they should beat easily.
Serbia 3-0 Azerbaijan
Poland v. Finland – Poland should be able to field a full strength team against Finland’s English manager Roy Hodgson.
Poland 2-1 Finland
Scotland v. Faroe Islands – Scotland have welcomed back Lokomotiv Moscow striker Garry O’Connor into the side. However, he is not expected to start with in form Kris Boyd and struggling Kenny Miller preferred in attack. Barry Ferguson will miss out on this match, and David Weir will take his place as captain.
The Faroe Islands were humiliated by Georgia in their opening qualifier 6-0, but they have good reason to be encouraged by a trip to Scotland. The Faroese earned a 2-2 draw in the last meeting between the two and Julian Johnsson has returned from a year out due to injury.
Scotland 2-0 Faroe Islands
Italy v. Lithuania – Roberto Donadoni brings a full strength side in the opening fixture for the World Cup winners. Lithuania have not scored in four previous meetings with Italy and expect the trend to continue.
Italy 3-0 Lithuania
Georgia v. France – After forcing Claude Makelele to end his international retirement and Jose Mourinho’s talk of slavery, the match they were talking about can get underway. France are coming off a 2-1 win over Bosnia in a friendly last month, and they are expecting plenty of brutality. However, they continue to talk about a Ghost of Zidane, which they will have to overcome to do anything.
Georgia, on the other hand, can go all out as no one expects them to get anything from this meeting. Shota Arveladze scored three in their victory over the Faroes and I expect him to put his name on the scoresheet again.
Georgia 1-1 France
Malta v. Bosnia-Herzegovina – As with all their competitive fixtures, Malta will be looking to keep the score down.
Malta 0-3 Bosnia-Herzegovina
Moldova v. Greece – The holders of the trophy get their campaign underway with a rather easy trip to Moldova, that only Scotland could turn into a difficult one. Nikolaos Lyberopoulos is back in the Greek squad for the first time since February.
Moldova 0-2 Greece
Hungary v. Norway – This has the potential to be an entertaining match for neutral fans.
Hungary 2-2 Norway
Czech Republic v. Wales – The Czechs are filled with world-class talent and in Jan Koller they have a tall striker who is not awkward like Peter Crouch. Don’t tell that to Danny Gabbidon, who thinks he is prepared for this match after facing the Liverpool striker. Wales have also resigned themselves to defeat by admitting they are playing for a point. Expect little mercy from the Czechs.
Czech Republic 4-0 Wales
Slovakia v. Cyprus – Slovakia want to get their qualifying campaign off to a good start with a win over Cyprus. They won their only previous meeting 3-1 in 2003, and they also have form on their side.
Slovakia 3-1 Cyprus
Germany v. Ireland – Germany go into their first competitive match since the World Cup optimistic at taking three points. They will, however, be without the services of Mike Hanke, Christophe Metzelder, Robert Huth and Jens Nowotny.
Ireland were destroyed in their last friendly by the Netherlands, but they welcome back four of their best players who were absent that day. Their preparations were broken up this week due to a number of players having to leave to finalize transfers in the last days of the transfer window.
Germany 3-1 Ireland
England v. Andorra – England will miss Rio Ferdinand for their opening match of qualifying, not that it matters against an Andorra team that still loses by huge margins on occasion. There just isn’t that much that is interesting about the first meeting between these nations.
England 5-0 Andorra
Estonia v. Israel – Estonia find themselves bottom of the group after defeat to Macedonia and they will face superior opposition in Israel. The Israelis are hoping to finally make the breakthrough and qualify for a major tournament.
Estonia 0-1 Israel
Northern Ireland v. Iceland – Manager Lawrie Sanchez is thankful that Steven Davis has recovered from injury to make this match. Northern Ireland are coming off a win against Finland in a tuneup, and the IFA have put up a £1 million bonus should they pull off the seemingly impossible task of qualifying out of this group.
Iceland know they aren’t going to qualify, but Eidur Gudjohnsen has goals of his own. He lies one goal short of being record goalscorer for his country, and he may look to break it at Windsor Park.
Northern Ireland 1-1 Iceland
Latvia v. Sweden – Sweden come face-to-face with their bogey team in Latvia. The small Baltic state claimed four points off the Swedes in a Euro 2004 qualifying campaign that saw them lose just once. Sweden have hopes that a nearly full strength side can carry them to an elusive victory.
Latvia 1-1 Sweden
Spain v. Liechtenstein – Spain could probably field their fourth choice side and still win this one.
Spain 4-0 Liechtenstein
Belarus v. Albania – Belarus’ superiority over Albania should see them through a rather easy opening match.
Belarus 2-0 Albania
Romania v. Bulgaria – This should be one of the most intriguing matches at this point of qualifying, and a win for either side will put them well on their way to a spot in Euro 2008. Therefore, I see nothing but stalemate.
Romania 0-0 Bulgaria
Luxembourg v. Netherlands – Well Luxembourg will get to play along side some world class players, and their keeper will likely be extremely busy picking the ball out of his own net.
Luxembourg 0-5 Netherlands