Nations League – Lukaku to lead Belgium challenge on Friday

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WORLD football obsessive James O’Rourke (@JamesOR1) shares his best bets from Friday’s Nations League action.

Belarus v Luxembourg | Friday 12th October 2018, 19:45 | Sky Sports

It is fair to say that little Luxembourg are in excellent form; words very few would have expected to ever hear.

The reality is that The Red Lions have won five of their last seven matches, including victories over Moldova and San Marino to kick-start their Nations League campaign last month. However, it is worth noting that the vast majority of their games of late have come at their Stade Josy Barthel base.

Luxembourg have won on the road recently, when netting very, very late to defeat lowly Malta 1-0 in a friendly earlier this year. Therefore, we have to take their recent upturn of form with a slight pinch of salt, although they will clearly enter this clash in high spirits.

Belarus are yet to concede during the maiden Nations League so far. An expected 5-0 triumph over minnows San Marino was followed up by a 0-0 draw in Moldova; a game they should have won, having almost double their efforts of their opponents over the 90 minutes.

It is Belarus’ home record which affords them some degree of confidence heading into Friday’s clash in Minsk. Whilst they did lose to Sweden and Netherlands in World Cup qualification last year, those were their only defeats on their home soil since a slender 1-0 loss to Spain in Euro 2016 qualification back in June 2015.

There will be an expectancy from within to win this game. Having said that, only Curaçao separates these two in the FIFA World Rankings.

We’ve touched upon the fact Luxembourg’s strong form of late has come with a big emphasis on matches played at home. They have won their last two on the road, but San Marino and Malta are now strong opposition. Prior to that, we have to go back to 2008 when earning a shock victory in Switzerland for their last triumph out of the landlocked nation.

On paper, Luxembourg do look stronger than they have for a while, especially in relation to the clubs their squad players now play for. Mainz, Legia Warsaw, Metz and New York City suggests their quality from within is increasing.

Belarus have a large core from current Belarusian Premier League champions BATE Borisov, with only eight based outside of their division.

It is tough to find a way of being hugely confident on Luxembourg here. A draw would certainly be an excellent result for them, meaning it’d be seven points from nine available. They face San Marino at home on Monday, a game which in all likelihood they will win at a canter.

Belarus enter a double head-to-head encounter knowing six points are really needed. Belarus may have to be patient but if they can break Luxembourg down early enough it should be a routine win.

Luxembourg collected four points from the two meetings in the last World Cup qualification, but luck played a big role in that. Belarus outshot Luxembourg 34-12 on those occasions, and they are never easily beat at home.

Belarus to net two or more goals pays 9/10 (BetStars). Luxembourg have conceded at least twice in 14 of their previous twenty on the road, conceding at least three in 12 of those, too.

Belgium v Switzerland | Friday 12th October 2018, 19:45 | Sky Sports

An eye-catching meeting takes place in Brussels on Friday night as Belgium and Switzerland put their 100% Nations League records on the line. Belgium were successful in Iceland last time out, earning a fine 3-0 victory, whereas Switzerland were three better; defeating the same opposition 6-0.

Belgium face Netherlands in a friendly a few days after this, but given how Roberto Martinez often uses the friendly matches to experiment, then this clash with the Swiss will take priority.

As things stand, Belgium are officially the best team in the world, if the FIFA World Rankings are anything to go by. Martinez guided the Red Devils to their best ever World Cup finish in the summer, when finishing third in Russia. They will be missing the injured Kevin De Bruyne, but on paper they still retain one of the stronger squads in international football.

Vladimir Petkovic has overseen steady progression since taking the Switzerland job in 2014. They sit eighth in the rankings, and their form since 2016 has been nothing short of sensational.

Besides a defeat in World Cup qualification away in Portugal, when Sweden knocked them out of the World Cup last summer and the recent friendly defeat to England at the King Power Stadium, Switzerland last tasted defeat over 90 minutes in May 2016, coming against Belgium.

It could be said that Switzerland have had relatively ‘easy’ passages to the last few tournaments. They do tend to get tested when facing stronger opposition, and not the likes of Hungary, Latvia, Faroe Islands and Andorra, who were all in their last World Cup qualification group.

More was expected of the Swiss at the World Cup. A opening draw with Brazil, who were still nurturing Neymar back to full fitness, a slender win over Serbia and draw with Costa Rica saw them progress out of the group, before a rather timid exit to Sweden. Belgium will give them a proper test, one which they could struggle in.

For Belgium, it a case of goals, goals, goals. They netted six times at the World Cup, with Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku scoring four of those. Only Golden Boot winner Harry Kane found the back of the net more times than he did in Russia.

One thing Martinez can rely upon is the former Everton man to regular score for his country. Since the World Cup ended, he opened the scoring in the friendly success in Scotland, and twice more in Nations League action in Iceland last month. In qualification for Russia he scored 11 times, scoring nine more in 2017/2018 friendlies.

Eden Hazard is getting most of the headlines now because of his exploits for Chelsea, but he plays a slightly different role for Belgium, and everything tends to go through Lukaku in and around the box. Lukaku just to score anytime is a handy 10/11 (BetVictor).

Greece v Hungary | Friday 12th October 2018, 19:45 | Sky Sports

The two teams met in the opening round of the Nations League in September, with Hungary edging the contest 2-1 in Budapest. This was the first win of the Marco Rossi era for the Magyars, who are only just holding onto a top 50 spot in the FIFA World Rankings.

Rossi has started to introduce younger players to his squad, so there are some positive signs for the nation in footballing terms.

As for Greece, they too are starting to add some fresher faces to their roster. There is still an Olympiacos and AEK Athens trend, but they also possess players from the likes of Napoli, Arsenal and Marseille. On paper, they hold a much stronger squad than Hungary.

Considering that Hungary won the home encounter, they travel Athens knowing a draw would suit them much more. Four points from this head-to-head would reflect well on them.

The Greek fans will simply demand three points, or else their hopes of top spot could begin to look rather bleak for them already. Michael Skibbe has been at the helm since 2015 now and this is a positive as they went through three coaches in quick succession prior to this, including Premier League champion Claudio Ranieri.

During the first meeting between these two, Greece dominated possession. The Greeks had 61% of the ball in a behind-closed-doors encounter. They should do the same in the home match, with Hungary likely to sit back and counter, which is always tough to achieve away from home.

World Cup qualification went rather badly for Greece last time, but they still managed to make themselves quite tough to beat at home. Only Belgium came away victorious, and even that was a battling 2-1 win for Roberto Martinez’s charges.

Hungary, on the other hand, are quite simply very poor travellers. They last tasted three points on the road when defeating Latvia back in October 2016. They are winless in their last six away from Budapest, and we can include defeats to Andorra and Luxembourg in that as well.

With that being the case, it is tough to be hugely strong on them to win in a likely intimidating Greek atmosphere. Therefore, we can find quotes of Greece to win at 3/4 (William Hill). It is a match they won’t settle for anything less in, and Hungary would definitely take a draw, which is a risky strategy for a team with a bad away record to adopt.

Best Bets

Belarus v Luxembourg – Belarus to score 2+ (9/10 Bet Stars)

Belgium v Switzerland – Romelu Lukaku to score at anytime (10/11 BetVictor)

Greece v Hungary – Greece to win (3/4 William Hill)

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