EUROPE: World Cup – Qualification
Time: 2:00 PM
Venue: Central Stadium (Kazan)
A 4-2 win for Belarus in the opening round of World Cup Qualifying (WCQ) seems a distant memory, as two WCQ losses on the bounce has brought FIFA’s #89 ranked nation back to reality. Although going down just 1-0 to the Czech Republic last time out may be considered a decent rebound after suffering their biggest-ever defeat the round before, an 8-0 thrashing by Belgium.
Appearing at a major tournament for the first time as an independent nation seems unlikely then for the Belarusians, especially after claiming only a single victory in each of their last two WCQ campaigns. Couple that with beating a top-50 ranked team just once in nearly five years – and that was in a friendly vs Greece – and it could be a long road for manager Mikhail Markhel and his men.
Opponents Wales, on the other hand, are looking to avenge a disappointing 4-0 exit in the Round of 16 to Denmark at Euro 2020, by attempting to qualify for their first WC finals since 1958! Three points from their opening two games is their current return, as the ‘Dragons’ aim to win at least 50% of their WCQ games for the first time since the 1994 qualifiers.
Although regarded as a better Wales team today than most of the past, they travel to Russia’s Kazan for this game with a depleted squad due to injuries – including to Aaron Ramsey – as well as visa issues. They’ll see this game as a must-win, and can draw on the last time these teams met in a WCQ group – that was for the 2002 finals, where Wales’ only win that campaign came vs Belarus!
Players to watch: Belarus forward Vitali Lisakovich scored a brace in the opening round vs Estonia, while Welsh captain Gareth Bale has assisted four of Wales’ last five goals in competitive action.
- Belarus’ form in last 5 matches: LLLWD.
- Wales’ form in last 5 matches: DLLWD.
PREDICTION: Over 1.5