QUALIFYING for Euro 2020 continues on Sunday night and international football fanatic Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) unearths his favourite fancies.
Poland v Latvia | Sunday 24th March 2019, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Poland made an excellent start to their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign in Group G on Thursday night, sealing a narrow 1-0 success away at Austria. Victory was the first in seven outings since Jerzy Brzeczek took charge of the national side after last summer’s World Cup.
It wasn’t entirely convincing, mind. Poland had a huge let off near the end when they allowed Austria substitute Marc Janko a free header but the veteran forward incredibly sent his effort wide from three metres. The White Eagles were relatively quiet in the opening half too, managing a sole on-target attempt from Kamil Grosicki.
Nevertheless, substitute Krzysztof Piatek continued his prolific season by scoring 10 minutes after coming off the bench. Serie A's second highest scorer this season with 19 goals could have added another minutes later when he was sent clear by Robert Lewandowski but he fired wide and the Pole’s were relieved to leave Vienna with maximum points.
Brzeczek sprang a surprise by opting to partner Lewandowski with Arkadiusz Milik in the White Eagles’ attack as Piatek was kept in reserve. The latter has only made two starts for the national side but having scored against Portugal on the only occasion he was paired with Lewandowski, Polish fans were dreaming of seeing the two unleashed together here.
That’s especially the case as the visitors have struggled for output in recent times and indeed, only four players in the squad have more than six international goals to their name. There’s been talk of Brzeczek starting all three forwards against Latvia on Sunday, but either way, we should expect a much more impressive performance from the Poles here.
Why? Well, as we alluded to ahead of Thursday’s opening encounters, Latvia are in dire straits. The Wolves’ only competitive wins in five years have come against Andorra and in the Nations League they failed to beat Andorra, Georgia and Kazakhstan (W0-D4-L2), managing only two goals across nine hours of action.
Slavisa Stojanovic’s men have won once away in competitive football since 2011 – against Andorra in September 2016 – and the visitors were cut to ribbons by Macedonia in their opener. Latvia lost 3-1 and were beaten 3.73–0.76 in the Expected Goals (xG) battle, conceding 25 shots and seeing nine opposition strikes hit the target.
To make matters worse, goalkeeper Andris Vanins was forced off in the first-half and will be absent here, along with midfielder Andrejs Ciganiks who received two second-half yellow cards. Already with a small pool to select from, the Wolves could quite easily be put to the cleaners in Warsaw this weekend.
I like the look of backing Poland to win both halves at 20/21 (Boylesports), while the 11/8 on Poland scoring Over 1.5 Goals in the first-half appeals at 11/8 (TitanBet). Both Portugal and Holland have enjoyed cushy home triumphs against Latvia over the past two qualifying campaigns, whilst the Poles have notched at least twice in 11 of their last 12 home qualifiers.
Slovenia v Macedonia | Sunday 24th March 2019, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Having talked up Macedonia’s recent progression ahead of Thursday, it was nice to see Igor Angelovski’s outfit showcase their ability in a one-sided 3-1 success over Latvia in Skopje. As mentioned above, Macedonia fired in 25 shots and racked up an Expected Goals (xG) figures of 3.73 to get their qualification campaign off to a winning start.
Housed in a relatively open Group G alongside top seeds Poland, Austria, Israel, Latvia and Sunday night’s hosts Slovenia, the Red Lions firmly believe they have an outside chance of securing a place at the European Championships for the very first time. And I think the Balkan boys can make their mark in this weekend’s contest in Ljubljana.
Macedonia cruised through a cushy Nations League pool but have been upsetting the odds for a while. Across all contests, the Red Lions have suffered only two defeats in their past 18 matches (W11-D5-L2), even picking up a point in Italy during that sample. Spain (x2) are the only side to dispatch the underdogs at home by more than a one-goal margin in five years.
The visitors appeal around the 3/4 mark with a +1 goal start on the Asian Handicap market but I’m going to take Macedonia just to score at 19/20 (Sportingbet). The Red Lions have notched in 15 of their last 18 across all contests, including in games against Spain and Italy. Angelovski’s men also grabbed a goal in four of their five away World Cup qualifiers.
Slovenia have secured a solitary success in 12 games, silencing one opponent during that same sample. The hosts picked up just one point in home and away encounters with Cyprus and Norway in the Nations League, leaking in each match, although they were unfortunate not to collect top honours in Thursday night’s trip to Israel.
Matjaz Kek only took charge in November and despite having a world class goalkeeper in Jan Oblak, his defence lacks any sort of star quality and is likely to come under pressure from the likes of lively Enis Bardhi, Goran Pandev and Ilija Nestorovski here.
Poland v Latvia – Poland to win both halves (20/21 Boylesports)
Poland v Latvia – Poland to score Over 1.5 first-half goals (11/8 TitanBet)
Slovenia v Macedonia – Macedonia to score (19/20 Sportingbet)