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World cup Qualifiers – Round 2 preview

Domestic football has taken a break recently as top players from across the globe join up with their national teams. 55 European teams kicked off their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaigns this week. In round one there has already been a few shocks. The Netherlands were stung by Turkey and lost 4-2, France were held to a 1-1 draw against Ukraine and Portugal just edged past a stubborn Azerbaijan.

Another round of fixtures kick off this weekend. Many top nations will be gunning for the top spot in their respective groups, hoping to avoid the dreaded play-off spot! Below is a selection of the top games to keep an eye on in round two of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

Norway and Turkey both won their opening Group G fixtures on Tuesday evening. They met in Oslo this weekend and a win for either side could put them in a commanding position. Norway is impressive at home, however. Ståle Solbakken’s have only lost two of their last 19 internationals on home soil and scored in all of these matches. Turkey will be buoyed by their win over France. But, they are winless in their last four away matches, drawing three and losing one. They will have to be at their best to take anything from Norway!

Czech Republic v Belgium is set to be a cracker after both sides recorded big wins in round one. The Czech Republic dismantled Estonia 6-2, with West Ham’s Thomas Souceck bagging a hat-trick. Belgium came from a goal down to defeat Wales 3-1 in their opening game. Roberto Martinez’s side faces a tough test in Prague. The Czech Republic has also won six of their last eight internationals at home. But Belgium has won 16 of their last 18 matches in all competitions – making them favourites for this one.

Before the qualifiers began Serbia v Portugal seemed a certain win for Portgual. However, after they scraped past Azerbaijan 1-0 and Serbia impressively defeated Ireland 3-2 in their opening game, this match could be closer than expected. Serbia has won four of their last five World Cup qualifiers while Portugal has only lost one of their last nine internationals. This could be a close match as both sides look to take control of Group A.

Ukraine v Finland may not appear like the biggest fixture of the weekend. However, both sides come into this Group D match in decent form. Ukraine did extremely well to take a point from France in their opening game. Meanwhile, Finland drew 2-2 and was denied a win by a resilient Bosnia and Herzegovina in their first match. Ukraine head into this match on a run of 10 wins of their last 12 internationals at home. But Finland is no pushovers as they have won three of their last five away.

Players to Watch

  1. Burak Yilmaz

35-year old Lille forward Burak Yilmaz was on top form in Turkey’s 4-2 win over the Netherlands. Yilmaz scored two quick-fire goals in the first half to stun Frank de Boer’s side as Turkey recorded their second win in eight matches. For Lille, Yilmaz has scored nine goals in 16 starts and has 27 goals for his country. The veteran forward could prove the difference in Turkey’s key clash against Norway this weekend.

2. Aleksandar Mitrovic

Serbia was heading for a loss in their opening match against Ireland until Aleksandar Mitrovic came off the bench in the second half and put the Irish defence to the sword. Mitrovic equalised with a sensational lob and headed in a second to put Serbia in front. They eventually won the game 3-2 and Mitrovic’s contributions were game-changing. The controversial striker has endured a tough season at Fulham but he often delivers for his country, having scored 38 international goals in 62 appearances.

3. Teemu Pukki

Finland striker Teemu Pukki has been electric this season. The Norwich forward continued his red hot form in Finland’s 2-2 drew with Bosnia and Herzegovina, netting a brace. Pukki’s goals took him level with Finland’s all-time top scorer Mikael Forssel with 32 goals. However, at the ripe age of 30 years-old, Pukki is likely to surpass Forssel’s long-stand record. Pukki will surely be targetting the Ukraine match this weekend to reach this illustrious milestone.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger!

There are few big clashes in the second round of World Cup qualifiers. Therefore, we expect some of the bigger teams to record big wins this weekend over some of the European minnows. However, closer encounters could happen in Norway v Turkey, the Czech Republic v Belgium and Serbia v Portugal.

The international fixtures are a great chance to check out some of the up and coming talents on the continent. Some of the less high-profile fixtures also provide cracking entertainment. Certainly worth flicking through the matches if you have a spare afternoon this weekend!