Belgians to be outfought if not beaten by Welsh
Tonight sees Wales host Group B leaders Belgium at the Cardiff City Stadium, and the visitors’ slender advantage – they top the group ahead of the Welsh on goal difference – will be very vulnerable. Belgium will be without suspended skipper Vincent Kompany while Marouane Fellaini, their top scorer so far in Euro 2016 qualifying, is also injured. There are of course plenty of other decent players in the team – not least Eden Hazard, who is expected to wear the captain’s armband this evening – but without that physical presence in the spine of the team, Wales have a real opportunity to test Belgium’s resolve.
Plenty of wincing in Dublin
Scotland play in the Aviva Stadium tomorrow against a Republic of Ireland side that they beat back in November, and if that reverse fixture is anything to go by then we’re in for a bone-breaking encounter. So desperate were both sides for the points that technical skill made way for physicality, and the game resembled a rugby match more than it did football. Two group matches later and both sides look like they must win if they are to achieve their respective ambitions, so there’s little reason to suggest a different type of game to the one we saw at Celtic Park. Crunching tackles, shirt pulls and yellow cards. Bring it on!
Another step forward by Michael O’Neill’s side
Half way through Group F and Northern Ireland are in the second Euro 2016 qualification spot, four points clear of the nearest challenger in Hungary. Things could get even better for the surprise package of the group, though, if they beat leaders Romania – ahead by a point – and sit back on top of the table. The defeat in Bucharest is Northern Ireland’s only match they haven’t won in the group so far, and Michael O’Neill’s men will have learned their lessons after that 0-2 reverse. With everyone fit (or at least, declaring themselves fit for squad selection), O’Neill is set to keep with his favoured starting line-up – Paddy McNair for Conor McLaughlin at right back perhaps being the only possible change – and with the Windsor Park crowd behind them they can have enough to get what they need.
Group winner decided in Cardiff
If there is a winner in tonight’s game between Wales and the Belgians, expect that side to keep their place at the top of the qualifying group for the remainder of the campaign. Closest to them are Israel, who only trail by two points but having lost poorly to both sides at home already – 0-3 to Wales, 0-1 to ten man Belgium – aren’t truly a threat to the top two. Following an impressive goalless draw in Belgium, Wales will fancy themselves to edge ahead tonight and doing so will surely mean qualification if not winning the group.
Scotland picking off on the break
The ‘group of death’ generally means Scotland and Republic of Ireland have few opportunities to play on the front foot, and having won the previous meeting the Scots now have the luxury of going to Dublin with an anticipation of Ireland’s approach. Trailing two points behind Scotland and Germany (and another point from leaders Poland), Ireland look as if they have to win this weekend if they are to harbour any realistic hopes of qualifying, which plays into Scotland’s hands. Knowing the Irish have to come at them, Gordon Strachan’s Scotland side can set up to sit deep and prepare for any counter attacking opportunities, with Ikechi Anya the perfect outlet to cover a lot of ground and quickly turn defence into attack. A win for the Scots would be a huge step forward to at least a play-off place, and what could be a full house of Home Nation qualification. Don’t let us down Tartan Army!