The 2018 World Cup is getting ominously close and, if you’ve not decided who’s going to win it yet, there are plenty of friendlies this weekend that might help you make your mind up.
England take on fellow World Cup qualifiers Nigeria as Gareth Southgate tries to find his best team before he has to take on the likes of Belgium in Group G. The Belgians aren’t taking it easy though as they take on 2016 European Champions Portugal. Other clashes between qualifiers include Brazil vs Croatia and Spain vs Switzerland. Meanwhile, Germany take on Austria who failed to qualify for the World Cup Finals.
Nigeria vs England
Gareth Southgate appears to have moulded his mainly young England Team into a unit that is hard to breakdown, a fact proven by five clean-sheets in their last six games. The opposition was significant too, with Brazil, Germany, and the Netherlands all failing to find the net in recent friendlies.
England haven’t exactly been prolific at the other end of the pitch though, where they also failed to score against Germany and Brazil but scored once in each of the other four games. However, Harry Kane was absent from the squad in four of those games, and his return certainly exponentially increases England’s chances of winning games. Therefore, England may well frustrate Nigeria before sneaking a goal or two. The obvious bets look to be England to win to nil or for there to be less than 2.5 goals.
Belgium vs Portugal
Portugal may be the European Champions but they are over 2½ times of the price of Belgium to win the 2018 World Cup. However, built into those odds is the prospect of them finishing second to Spain in their World Cup group, the result of which could see them have to take on one of the higher-ranked teams in the round of last-16. Meanwhile, Belgium are favourites to top their group and could well get an easy draw to the quarter-finals.
This is a one-off friendly though and it’s Portugal who boast three straight wins over the Belgians, the latest of which came in a friendly in 2016 before Portugal went on to win Euro 2016. Portugal need to find a bit of form too as a recent 3-0 defeat won’t have been good for confidence, something Belgium won’t be short of after wins over Japan and Saudia Arabia.
However, it will be interesting to see if either team want to showcase their full potential to the watching world so close to a big tournament. A tough result to predict but Belgium perhaps look short at around even-money against a team of Portugal’s class.
Austria vs Germany
Every football fan and his dog know that Germany don’t give too hoots about friendlies and, however they perform against Austria on Saturday, it’s likely they will be in their pitching in the last few games of the 2018 World Cup Finals. Germany romped through World Cup qualifying, recording some effortless big wins against the likes of Norway and San Marino. They’ve took their foot off the gas since then though, doing just enough against the likes of France and England to not lose to their potential World Cup rivals rather than try and beat them into oblivion.
Therefore, it’s easy to see the Austrian team, who haven’t qualified for the World Cup Finals, having much more to prove and they’ll surely want to entertain their home fans. A win over Germany would certainly do their world ranking some good and many players will want to prove they’re worthy of inclusion in their manager’s plans for next year’s Euro 2020 qualifying. Therefore, laying Germany could be the way to go.
Brazil vs Croatia
33/1 World Cup shots Croatia started their tour of South America with a 2-0 defeat by Peru but acclimatised quickly to bounce back with a 1-0 win over Mexico. However, Brazil should provide a much more severe test for them if past head-to-heads are anything to go by. Brazil beat Croatia at both the 2006 and 2014 World Cups, winning 1-0 in 2006 and 3-1 when playing at home in 2014.
However, their friendly prior to those two matches produced a draw. Brazil have looked in a serious state of mind of late though and, though they couldn’t score against England in a 0-0 draw, they’ve since beaten fellow World Cup qualifiers Russia 3-0 and Germany 1-0 in Germany. That last result saw them shorten in the World Cup outright market to favourites from joint favourites with the Germans.
The world may be expecting some samba shuffles at the World Cup but it could well be that Brazil have at last learned that defence can’t be abandoned after Germany humiliated them at home in the 2014 World Cup. Therefore, Brazil will probably want to strike a little more fear into their World Cup rivals by winning this match before travelling to Russia, and they may well win to nil.
Spain vs Switzerland
A Spanish team won the Champions League again in 2018, so it’s no surprise Spain have been cut slightly since for the World Cup. However, though Spain won three of the four head-to-heads between Spain and Switzerland prior to the 21st century, it was Switzerland who won their last match at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
However, that didn’t stop Spain going on to lift the trophy. Spain haven’t been as good since though, exiting early in the 2012 Euros, the 2014 World Cup, and at Euro 2016. The recent friendlies Spain have played have been intriguing though, with a 5-0 win against Costa Rica followed by draws against Russia and Germany and a 6-1 win against Argentina.
Switzerland have also been on the mark though, winning 1-0 against defence-minded Greece before showing their attacking potential with a 6-0 win over Panama. Therefore, with both teams capable of scoring goals, and probably in an attacking mood after their latest wins, this could be a friendly goal-fest, whoever wins.