There are no Premier League fixtures this weekend due to the amount of 2014 World Cup qualifiers taking place, mostly on Friday. That is when England will begin their quest on the road to Rio as they travel to Moldova. Roy Hodgson will have to do without the likes of Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole, Andy Carroll and now Adam Johnston, but nevertheless it will be a disappointment if they cannot beat a side ranked 138 places below them in the international table.
A sterner test awaits on Tuesday when they face a Ukraine side that they beat 1-0 in the Euro 2012 group stage, and another 3pts would set Roy’s boys up nicely in group H.
Like England, most of the main contenders face the prospect of playing two matches in the space of five days, including group D rivals Netherlands and Turkey who meet in Amsterdam. Turkey failed to make Euro 2012, and will be extra keen to impress against the Oranje who did not win many friends in the Ukraine and who are now coached by Louis van Gaal for a second time. It would be no surprise if this were to end up all square.
In group I all eyes will be on new France boss Didier Deschamps as he bids to turn a squad full of individual talent into one that is finally capable of going all the way. His first match in charge is an away trip to Finland, and the former Marseille coach will want to impress with a win before entertaining Belarus on Tuesday.
Among the rest of Friday’s fixtures, Northern Ireland will do well to get anything out of their visit to Russia in group F, but their southern counterparts in group C can be optimistic of getting at least a draw in Kazakhstan. Granted the bubble did well and truly burst at Euro 2012, but Trapattoni’s side are generally well regimented.
As for Wales, they may have home advantage against Belgium in Group A, but the visitors recently put four goals past the Netherlands, and can boast some quality players such as Hazard and Fellaini to name but two. An away victory here looks very much on the cards.
Euro 2012 runners-up Italy get their group B campaign under way in Bulgaria on Friday, before hosting Malta on Tuesday. The latter game looks a penalty kick for Prandelli’s side, but Bulgaria will be no pushovers and a draw would seem a likely conclusion.
Scotland supporters will have to wait until Saturday when group A opponents Serbia are the visitors. Passion and endeavour should ensure at least a point for the home side.
As for the reigning World Cup and Euro 2012 dual champions Spain, they have a much easier start with a friendly against Saudi Arabia on Saturday before making the journey to Georgia on Tuesday in group I. Del Bosque’s men have been known to slip up en-route to the later stages, so think twice before putting the mortgage on in that second match.