Belgium v Poland
Roberto Martinez will be expecting a response from his side following their shocking 4-1 defeat to the Netherlands last time out. Martinez labeled it as a ‘wake-up call’ for his side who looked miles off it. Worrying times for the Red Devils and I strongly question the motivation of their players right now for these internationals following a long, hard season for many of their players who represent elite European clubs.
One such player is Kevin De Bruyne who questioned these international fixtures labeling them as ‘unimportant’. He said “For me, the Nations League is unimportant. We have to play those matches, but it’s a kind of practice campaign. Everyone has had a very tough season.” Belgium certainly did look like a side who had taken their foot off the gas on Friday night as they were 4-0 down to the Dutch in Brussels within 65 minutes.
Poland are certainly a team capable of troubling a Belgian side who aren’t quite at it. Poland head to Brussels having picked up seven victories from their last 10 matches in all competitions and have forward options that would be the envy of most international teams in World Football. This is evidently proven by the fact that following their 2-1 win over Wales last week, they have now scored in each of their last 19 games in all competitions. Lewandowski despite his issues at club level will lead the line and will be supported by the likes of Napoli’s Piotr Zielinksi and Fiorentina’s Krzysztof Piatek in the attack.
Belgium despite their poor display against the Dutch and general poor form in recent months, still managed to get on the scoresheet. It is something they simply always do. The goal against Holland means the Red Devils have now scored in 45 straight internationals, a run which is now approaching 4 years since they last failed to find the net. Poland will fancy their chances of an upset tonight but at odds of 4/5, BTTS has to be the stand-out best bet in this one.
Wales v Netherlands
Wales have done it! Their 1-0 win over Ukraine in Cardiff on Sunday saw them qualify for their first World Cup in 64 years. There were jubilant celebrations in the Welsh capital with both players and fans partying long into the night.
It wasn’t exactly a deserved victory for the Welsh. They were outplayed by Ukraine pretty much from minute one and only a deflected Gareth Bale free-kick saw them through. Wayne Hennessey put in a MOTM display which Bale described as the ‘best he had ever seen’ and who can argue as the visitors racked up an xG of 2.40 on the night with 21 shots and 9 landing on target. If the Dutch are on it as they were against Belgium this could be quite the battering in my opinion against a much rotated and likely unmotivated Welsh side.
The Dutch arrive in fine form too following their 4-1 battering of Belgium last time out. They are unbeaten in their last 10 in all competitions (7 wins & 3 draws) and have generally impressed under Louis Van Gaal since their shock last-16 exit to the Czech Republic at Euro 2020. He has pretty much a full complement of players to choose from too and is expected to go strong on Wednesday night as they look to seal another 3 points.
Wales meanwhile are expected to make wholesale changes. In honesty, I wouldn’t be surprised if a number of the players and coaching staff aren’t still nursing a hangover from the weekend. Based on some of the players Instagram stories the partying went way beyond just Sunday night and there will undoubtedly be some tired bodies/heads for the hosts.
I watched the Ukraine game and the ease at which they cut through the Welsh midfield must be a worry for Rob Page although he probably won’t care at this moment in time. Although results have been decent, performances haven’t really matched up and they have lost the xG battle in 4 of their last 5 games. Holland average 6.7 shots on target per game this calendar year and have registered at least 5 shots on target in 4 of their last 5 games (the other being 4 shots on target against Germany). Wales will be much-changed and hard to gauge how much motivation and concentration will go into this game following the sheer high of Sunday night.
Scotland v Armenia
Huge game for Scotland on Wednesday night and vitally important they respond following the disappointment of both the result and the display against Ukraine. Ukraine showed they are a capable side as we all knew but some proportion of the blame lies on both the manager and the players for ‘bottling’ it on the biggest of occasions.
Despite the Nations League being viewed by many as not that important for many nations, it certainly is for Scotland and here is why: Winning League B would guarantee a place amongst the second seeds for Euro 2024 qualifying and therefore an easier draw. Finishing second in Euro 2024 qualifying would then offer automatic qualification for the Euros in Germany.
It won’t be plain sailing though as Armenia arrive in Glasgow in fine spirits following their hard-fought 1-0 win over Ireland over the weekend. They will line up in their usual variation between 5-4-1 and 5-3-2 in order to frustrate Scotland for as long as possible and try to nick something from a set-piece, long range strike or counter-attack just as they did against Ireland. Scotland aren’t exactly expansive in their play either, something Steve Clarke has received a little bit of criticism about recently and I don’t believe are capable of hammering Armenia.
My thoughts are that Scotland really should win here, their odds of 1/3 support this but there is little value in that selection alone. Adding under 3.5 goals boosts the odds substantially to 4/5 and given the xG For stats (Or lack of them) of both these sides I can’t really envisage this being a high-scoring affair. Armenia’s average xG for is a measly 0.4 per game this calendar year and against top 50 ranked sides is far lower having registered 0 against Norway, 0.21 against Germany, and 0.4 against Romania. this has the potential to be a much closer contest than many people are anticipating but at home, Scotland really should have enough to get the job done in what will likely be a narrow victory.
Ireland v Ukraine
I mentioned in the Wales write-up just how impressed I was with Ukraine on Sunday in their World Cup playoff defeat. On another day they could have won that game by 2/3 clear goals and if it wasn’t for rotten luck and Wayne Hennessey playing the best game of his 16-year pro career then they would be playing in the World Cup this winter.
Zinchenko and Malinovsky in midfield is a formidable duo and technically they are streets ahead of what Ireland have to offer and should easily win the midfield battle. Yaremchuk and Yarmolenko in attack offer both quality and experience and I fully expect them to be able to score at least once in Dublin on Wednesday night. Ukraine prior to the Wales blank have actually scored in each of their last 9 internationals which highlights they are a side who can consistently find the back of the net. The underlying stats also support this with the Blue & Yellows having registered an average xG of 1.84 this last calendar year and having scored an average of 1.53 goals in that time too.
The Republic of Ireland return to Dublin following yet another embarrassing defeat against relative unknowns. The 1-0 defeat to Armenia adds to the ever-growing list of defeats to minnows which also includes the likes of Luxembourg amongst others. Their backline looked rusty against Armenia and that is understandable when you consider two of the back three in Shane Duffy and Nathan Collins managed less than 20 Premier League appearances this season.
Some may argue Ireland are strong at home and to an extent this is true. They have however in the past year conceded at home to the likes of Azerbaijan, Luxembourg, and Finland. Ukraine are far superior to all of these sides and the underlying numbers suggest will create a host of chances in this one. I expect them to find the net at least once in Dublin on Wednesday night.
Written by an Andy verified content writer
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