Belgium’s Easy Task: Devour San Marino and Earn a Place in the 2020 Euros
Perfection has its own reward, and in the case of Belgium, it is being the first country to clinch a spot in the pan-continental European Championships as the next group of qualifying matches begin Thursday. All 10 groups will have two match days in the next six days that will further separate the wheat from the chaff for the 24-nation field for next year’s grand tournament.
Belgium, who are in the midst of their Golden Generation after a third-place finish at the 2018 World Cup, are all but certain to be the first team in the field. The Red Devils are staggering favorites — -7,000 according to the FanDuel Sports Book to maintain their 100 percent record in Group I versus minnows San Marino (+10,000).
Let’s take a spin through the Thursday’s matches and get the skinny for who’s on track to qualify and who needs to right their respective ships.
Group I 2020 Euro Qualifiers
Even without injured playmaker Kevin De Bruyne and talisman center back Vincent Kompany, there is no reason to believe Roberto Martinez’s side will leave Stade Roi Baudouin in Brussels with anything but the three points needed to sew up a spot. Belgium won the reverse fixture 4-0 in San Marino, and Martinez is leaving nothing to chance – Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku and Real Madrid winger Eden Hazard are leading the line in a strong first XI that also includes Spurs’ defensive pairing Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.
Russia can also clinch a spot but need some help as they chase the Red Devils for group honors. The Sbornaya are -200 favorites to beat Scotland (+600) in Moscow, but the first match of the day between Kazakhstan (+115) and Cyprus (+250) must end in a draw (+230) to give them the chance to clinch.
Russia rallied for a 2-1 win at Hampden Park last month, with an own goal by Scotland defender Stephen O’Donnell proving decisive. The Sbornya are eight points clear of both Kazakhstan and Cyprus and can clinch a spot Sunday in Cyprus with a victory if they fail to seal the deal at Luzhniki Stadium.
Group C 2020 Euro Qualifiers
The Netherlands (-650) will play their match in hand at home versus Northern Ireland (+1,400), and a victory in Rotterdam would see them level with both Germany and the Green and White Army on 12 points while also knocking Michael O’Neill’s side to third in the table. The Oranje, who are looking to avoid a failure to qualify in back-to-back major tournaments, control their own destiny having already split their two matches with Die Mannschaft.
O’Neill has two major personnel issues as Norwich City left back Jamal Lewis withdrew from the squad due to a knee injury, and Hearts striker Conor Washington is sidelined after suffering a torn hamstring last month. That injury could prove more troublesome for Northern Ireland, who have scored just seven goals in their five qualifiers.
Germany is the odd team out in the first matchday and will play at Estonia on Sunday.
Group E 2020 Euro Qualifiers
Group E could finally see some separation or tighten further as the top four teams are all in action Thursday. Group leaders Croatia (-320) host Hungary (+800), entering this contest one point better than both the Magyars and Slovakia through five matches. Hungary, though, dealt the Vatreni their only group loss, recording a 2-1 triumph in Budapest in March.
The World Cup runners-up gave themselves a margin of error with a 4-0 road thrashing of Slovakia last month, but they also gave some of it away with a disappointing 1-1 draw at Azerbaijan last time out.
Wales (+195), meanwhile, have a chance to play themselves back in the hunt this week starting with Thursday’s match at Slovakia (+155). Y Dreigiau are playing their match in hand with this contest but will be without Aaron Ramsey as the Juventus midfielder deals with an abductor injury.
Wales boss Ryan Giggs is hoping Ramsey, who has not featured for Wales in 11 months, is available for Sunday’s crucial encounter at home with Croatia. Gareth Bale, who opened his international scoring account versus Slovakia in 2006, looks to add to his all-time leading haul of 32 goals with the Welsh.
Slovakia, who will be interested spectators Sunday, have split their previous two home qualifiers but did win 2-1 at Hungary last month.
Group G 2020 Euro Qualifiers
Group leaders Poland (-1,050) can take a huge step towards qualifying if they can defuse an upset bid by minnows Latvia (+2,300). Sitting on 13 points – two better than Slovenia – the Orly have conceded just two goals in their six matches and should have their way in Riga as Latvia have scored just once while shipping 21 goals.
Slovenia (+125) look to keep the heat on Poland with a tricky road tie at Macedonia (+230) after playing them to a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture in March. A failure to claim all three points could open the door for Austria (-280) to move into second place as the Burschen host Israel (+700). Both Macedonia and Israel are on eight points, and a victory by either or both could create some chaos.