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World Cup Qualifiers Preview

Portugal

The race for the 2022 World Cup began on Tuesday evening. 55 European teams will compete across the ten qualifying groups for their place for the finals in Dubai next year.  In the first round of fixtures, there have already been some shock results. France was held 1-1 at home to Ukraine, Turkey stunned the Netherlands 4-2 and Slovenia beat 2018 finalists Croatia 1-0. But during these early stages of the qualifying campaign, all teams still have a chance of getting into a good position in their respective groups.

In the second round of fixtures this weekend, some of the biggest teams in the competition face off. Norway host Turkey in a competitive Group G clash, while Belgium travel to the Czech Republic in a tough clash between two of the favourites in Group E. Portugal’s new look squad face a tricky tie away to Serbia in Group A.

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Norway v Turkey

Norway comfortably beat European minnows Gibraltar 3-0 away in their opening Group G fixture on Tuesday. The visitors could have scored many more but for the heroics of Gibraltar keeper Dale Coleing. Norway have won four of their last five World Cup qualifiers and they are unbeaten at home in their last four qualifiers. Ståle Solbakken’s have only lost two of their last 19 internationals on home soil and scored in all of these matches.

Turkey produced one of the shock results on Tuesday evening as they beat the Netherlands 4-2 in Istanbul. It was Turkey’s second victory in their last nine international matches and takes them to the top of Group G. Turkey have struggled for form and drawn five of their last nine internationals. Turkey is also winless in their last four away matches, drawing three and losing one. Their last win away from Istanbul was a 2-0 win over Andorra in 2019.

Sander Berge could return for Norway this weekend but Fredrik Midtsjö (ankle) and Jörgen Strand Larsen (hamstring) were omitted from the squad through injury. Cengiz Under could be back in contention for Turkey after a recent hamstring injury.

Turkey made a flying start to their World Cup qualifying campaign but face a tough trip to Norway this weekend. A draw is the likely result as Turkey proved they have the quality to take on their top opponents in Group G.

Norway – 13/10

Turkey – 21/10

Draw – 11/5

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Czech Republic v Belgium

Czech Republic were round one’s highest scorers this week as they defeated Estonia 6-2. West Ham’s Thomas Soucek was in top form and netted a hat-trick for his side. The Czech Republic have won three consecutive international matches and three straight World Cup qualifiers too. They have also won six of their last international at home and have scored in their last 16 home matches in all competitions.

Belgium had to work hard for their 3-1 win over Wales on Tuesday evening. Gareth Bale gave Wales a quickfire lead but a positive display from Belgium in the second half gave them all three points in round one. The result extended Belgium’s winning run to five straight games. They have also won 16 of their last 18 matches in all competitions. Belgium defeated Iceland 2-1 in their last away match but suffered a 2-1 loss away to England in October last year, their only away loss in eight matches.

Ondrej Kolar (skull fracture) and Alex Kral (knock) could return for Czech Republic this weekend. Vladimir Darida also returns from suspension.  Eden Hazard (muscular) and Axel Witsel (achilles) are ruled out through injury for Belgium.

Belgium will be the clear favourites to win this weekend. However, the Czech Republic will put up a fight at home and a score draw could be a good option for this fixture.

Czech Republic – 17/4

Belgium – 3/5

Draw – 3/1

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Serbia v Portugal

Serbia played out a thrilling 3-2 against the Republic of Ireland in their opening Group A match this week. The result extended Serbia’s unbeaten run to five matches following back-to-back 0-0 draws in friendlies against Panama and the Dominican Republic. Serbia have also won four of their last five World Cup qualifiers and kept three clean sheets in this run. Stojakovic’s side have also won their last two internationals at home following the win over Ireland this week.

Portugal nearly made a stuttering start to their qualification campaign this week as they just edged past Azerbaijan with a 1-0 victory. Portugal was wasteful with their chances and almost got caught on the counter several times by a disciplined Azerbaijan side. But Portugal have won four of their last five internationals and have only lost once in their last nine matches. They have also won ten straight World Cup qualifiers – a winning runs stretching back to September 2016.

Alexander Kolarov and Adem Lajic were omitted from the latest Serbia squad and Luka Milivojevic retired from international duty recently. For Portugal, Rui Patricio is doubtful with a head injury but Raphael Guerreiro should return from a recent knock.

Serbia will be a tough side to beat on home soil but Portugal should record a comfortable victory in Group A this weekend.

Serbia – 15/4

Portugal – 7/10

Draw – 11/4

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Ukraine v Finland

Ukraine ended a three-match losing streak in spectacular fashion on Tuesday evening as they held France to a 1-1 draw in Paris. It was Ukraine’s first draw in nine matches and ended a poor run of six losses in their last seven matches. Despite their recent struggles, Ukraine have been in good form at home and have won 10 of their last 12 internationals on home soil. In their last home fixture, they beat Spain 1-0 in a disciplined performance.

Finland earned a point in their opening Group D match as they drew 2-2 with Bosnia and Herzegovina on Tuesday evening. Finland have lost and drawn their last two internationals following a run of five straight wins. They have also drawn their last three World Cup qualifiers. Away from home, Finland have won three of their last five matches and been prolific in front of goal, scoring in their nine successive away games.

Taras Stepanenko (muscular) Viktor Tsygankov (calf) were omitted from Ukraine’s squad but West Ham forward Andriy Yarmolenko was called up after recovering from a recent knee injury. Fredrik Jensen (thigh) and goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky (achilles) are ruled out for Finland.

Ukraine have been excellent at home recently and will be determined to progress from Group D after a positive result in France. However, Finland is a dangerous side with plenty of quality so a score draw is likely this weekend.

Ukraine – 4/6

Finland – 5/1

Draw – 12/5

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