Andorra (FIFA rank: #153) are punching above their weight in Group I of the 2024 European Championship qualification (ECQ), as after two rounds they occupy a lofty fourth position (D1, L1) following a surprise draw away to Kosovo in their last game. They’ve only scored once though, so if they are to have any chance of staying there, they’ll need to offer more in attack – it’s now more than 18 months since they scored 3+ goals in one game (W4, D3, L7).
Home comforts haven’t always helped them either, as they’ve failed to score in two of their last four internationals here (W1, D2, L1) and have only ever won a single ECQ home fixture, losing every one of the other 30 such games! A record so shocking hardly bodes well as they take on Switzerland (FIFA rank: #12) having lost both previous H2Hs in fixtures that produced exactly three goals.
The visitors have made a flying start to their ECQ campaign with comprehensive wins over Belarus (5-0) and Israel (3-0) marking them out as the obvious team to beat in this group. The Euro 2020 quarter-finalists have won their last five ECQ fixtures while conceding just once, which suggests they should be far too strong for a side ranked 141 places below them.
While each of their last three ECQ defeats did come away from home, those were much trickier tests as they came against sides ranked inside FIFA’s top 60. In fact, Switzerland won their last three away games against sides ranked outside of FIFA’s top 100 by scoring an average of 4.33 goals per game!
Players to watch: Albert Rosas has scored three of Andorra’s last four international goals, each of them coming in fixtures that witnessed exactly two goals. There could be more action than that if Switzerland’s Zeki Amdouni nets as he scored in both of his country’s ECQ wins this term – those games produced eight goals.
Hot streak: None of Andorra’s last six ECQ fixtures (W1, D2, L3) witnessed scoring after the 65th minute.
New Spain manager Luis de la Fuente’s third game in charge sees him take his side to the De Grolsch Veste stadium in the Netherlands, as they gear up for a UEFA Nations League (UNL) semi-final tie against old foes Italy. It’s a replay of the 2021 UNL semi-final showdown, where Spain put an end to Italy’s world record 37-game unbeaten streak with a 2-1 win, only to lose the final to France by the same scoreline.
De la Fuente’s appointment was confirmed after Luis Enrique’s departure following a disappointing 2022 World Cup campaign, and his tenure got off to a flyer with a 3-0 win over Norway in Spain’s bid for Euro 2024 qualification. However, the harsh realities of senior international management set in for the former Under-19 and Under-21 coach, whose side then lost the following game 2-0 to Scotland, so he’ll be looking for a reaction against the Azzurri.
Things are looking up once again for the Italians after missing out on the 2022 World Cup, having topped a tough UNL Group that featured Germany, Hungary, and England to feature in the showpiece finals. Roberto Mancini will be looking to translate that form across all competitions, although like opponents Spain, they could only manage a win and a loss from their opening two Euro 2024 qualifiers.
Prior to the last time these teams met in the 2021 UNL semis, Mancini’s men got the best of their Spanish counterparts en route to winning the delayed Euro 2020. However, there is little to separate these juggernauts in their recent meetings, since the record of the last six ties is split evenly (W2, D2, L2), suggesting this could be another tight affair.
Players to watch: Spain’s Álvaro Morata scored their 88th minute winner against Portugal in their final UNL group game to get them here, with that being one of six times across his last seven international goalscoring outings he’s netted the match opener. Meanwhile, Italy’s future may lie in the hands of Mateo Retegui, whose international career has started with two goals in his first two appearances for the Azzurri.
Hot stat: Spain have seen the same half-time result replicated after 90 minutes in ten of their last 12 matches.
A bittersweet weekend was had by all sporting the colours of Mallorca after they suffered their joint-heaviest defeat of the season when going down 3-0 to Almería, extending their poor run of form with only one win in five La Liga (LL) matches (D1, L3). It’s not all doom and gloom though, as an even more fruitless run by relegation-threatened Valladolid ensured Mallorca have finally earned mathematical safety!
The Pirates will return home with a skip in their step, as it’s arguably been their record of losing only once in their last 12 home outings (W7, D4) that’s renewed their top-flight status. Perhaps the absence of a relegation threat will allow manager Javier Aguirre to let his hair down, considering a starving Iberostar Stadium has seen a league-low 30 goals rattle the nets all season.
A team who doesn’t quite yet enjoy the perks of safety is opponents Valencia, although they seem well on their way having avoided defeat in five of their last six matches (W4, D1). The last of which was a massive statement of intent when they beat juggernauts Real Madrid 1-0, which saw them reach the much-heralded 40-point mark in a game unfortunately marred by racist abuse.
Ruben Baraja’s men might consider it job all-but done then since that points tally would’ve been enough for safety in each of the last ten seasons, but it’s only enough for a five-point buffer to the drop zone ahead of this round. Maybe hitting the road is just what Los Che need to seal the deal after winning two of their last three away matches (L1), a record in stark contrast to going without victory in their ten league matches on the road prior (D2, L8).
Players to watch: Mallorca’s Lee Kang-in haunted his former club Valencia when he scored the winner in a 2-1 victory in the reverse fixture, and therefore will look forward to welcoming his past employers with his four goals since then all coming at home. Valencia’s Justin Kluivert might be looking to land the first blow at the other end, having scored the match opener in seven of his last ten goalscoring outings.
Hot stat: Only five of Mallorca’s last 31 home games against Valencia have ended level (W12, L14).
The weight of expectation has been lifted off the shoulders of the Elche playing squad, and it appears to be translating into some more positive results. A 1-1 La Liga (LL) draw away to Getafe last round was enough to seal their long-anticipated relegation, but it also continued their most profitable period of the season following back-to-back home wins against Vallecano (4-0) and Atlético Madrid (1-0).
The home faithful will be grappling between whether to enjoy these rare victorious moments or lament that they’ve come far too late when heading to the Estadio Manuel Martínez Valero for Elche’s penultimate LL home game. Current Elche boss Sebastián Beccacece, who has previously described his stewardship of this team as a long-term “investment”, insists the team are approaching every game “as a final” rather than taking a nothing to lose approach.
It’ll be fascinating to see how Sevilla, one of three clubs (alongside Barcelona and Real Madrid) to have beaten Elche by a 3+ goal margin this calendar year, treat the remainder of their LL season with a UEFA Europa League final sure to take some priority. Already enjoying the best start of any manager in Sevilla’s history, the opportunity for caretaker boss José Luis Mendilibar to etch himself into club folklore deserves some of his attention.
The reactions of bitter disappointment from the playing squad to Sunday evening’s 0-0 draw with Real Betis suggests they haven’t turned any focus away from LL just yet, particularly with seventh place (UEFA Europa Conference League qualification) just two points away heading into the round. Following four consecutive LL away wins ‘to nil’, another trip could be what they need to quickly put a derby disappointment behind them.
Players to watch: Elche will be hoping Lucas Boyé is rediscovering his best form, particularly as he has scored in three of their last five LL games that were won or drawn. For the visitors, Youssef En-Nesyri has scored Sevilla’s first goal 11 times across all competitions this season, including in the reverse H2H.
Hot streak: Elche have completed 54 consecutive LL games without a 0-0 draw, whilst Sevilla’s 0-0 against Betis was their first of this LL season.